I recently watched a new documentary by Judd Apatow called George Carlin’s American Dream that celebrates the life and career of the stand-up comedian-turned-social critic. Perhaps most infamously known for being arrested in 1972 for his “Seven Dirty Words” routine, Carlin continued to push the envelope through his decades-long career.
The documentary ends with one of Carlin’s most powerful monologues on the psyche of America and all its dysfunction: “It’s called the American Dream,” he says, “because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
The documentary resonated deeply with me. I’ve watched Carlin’s work before – finding him darkly irreverent, cynical, and sometimes too heavy for my own sensibilities. However, something about the documentary – inside this current time and place – made his words ring remarkably true.
As we celebrate the 246th anniversary of this nation, as we grapple with a tarnished democratic system that has so many cracks in it, as we watch hearings detailing a historic attempted overthrow of the electoral process … I find myself wanting to reconnect to the American Dream that I grew up with, having had a child’s faith in its truth. My adult understanding – that large majorities of this country do NOT have access to the American Dream, that social, economic, racial, and gender inequity is the norm, that “rags to riches” doesn’t happen often, that the democratic system is corrupted – does not prevent me from wanting to believe in the Dream.
I wanted to take an intentional moment to think about why I believe the American Dream is still within reach, and, as a guiding principle, still worth fighting for.
For many, the American dream is about opportunity… to make money, to make your own way, to make a name for yourself, to SUCCEED. For others, it’s about equity, personal value, freedom, and choice; to be whoever you want to BE. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I suspect we could have a debate on the reality of each of the statements below, but I still believe that America — unlike many places in the world — is a country where:
- Everyone has opportunity, no matter who they are, where they are from, what they look like, or who they love
- Every child can receive a free public education
- Entrepreneurship and innovation are encouraged as a force for good, creating jobs and setting foundations for future generations
- You can come from anywhere and be anything you want
- Private-public partnerships marry the best of capitalism and policy
- Our military takes an oath to the Constitution, not the President
- The Constitution, not any one person, (still) holds our loyalty and core values
- Our diversity is our social and economic strength
- You can follow your personal calling; to do what you want is incredible freedom
- Each generation is allowed to pass on the fruits of its labor to the next
- No one is above the law
- We are all equal
As I write this note, Roe v Wade is gone, and half the country has fewer rights than it did before the Supreme Court went rogue.
And yet. I still believe.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”Martin Luther King, Jr
“I have a dream,” Dr. King once pronounced … and that is the American Dream I still hold dear.
Charitable Ventures, President & CEO