This is not a failure of policy but a failure of love.

Peggy Noonan, excerpts from What’s Become of the American Dream? Part of the problem is definitional. It isn’t just about houses, cars and material prosperity:

I want to think aloud about the American dream. People have been saying for a while that it’s dead. It’s not, but it needs strengthening.[…]

The American dream was about aspiration and the possibility that, with dedication and focus, it could be fulfilled. But the American dream was not about material things—houses, cars, a guarantee of future increase. That’s the construction we put on it now. It’s wrong. A big house could be the product of the dream, if that’s what you wanted, but the house itself was not the dream. You could, acting on your vision of the dream, read, learn, hold a modest job and rent a home, but at town council meetings you could stand, lead with wisdom and knowledge, and become a figure of local respect. Maybe the respect was your dream…

How did we get the definition mixed up?

I think part of the answer is: Grandpa. He’d sit on the front stoop in Levittown in the 1950s. A sunny day, the kids are tripping by, there’s a tree in the yard and bikes on the street and a car in the front. He was born in Sicily or Donegal or Dubrovnik, he came here with one change of clothes tied in a cloth and slung on his back, he didn’t even speak English, and now look—his grandkids with the bikes. “This is the American dream,” he says. And the kids, listening, looked around, saw the houses and the car, and thought: He means the American dream is things…But that of course is not what Grandpa meant. He meant: I started with nothing and this place let me and mine rise. The American dream was not only about materialism, but material things could be, and often were, its fruits.[…]

What ails the dream is a worthy debate. I’d include this: The dream requires adults who can launch kids sturdily into Dream-land. When kids have one or two parents who are functioning, reliable, affectionate—who will stand in line for the charter-school lottery, who will fill out the forms, who will see that the football uniform gets washed and is folded on the stairs in the morning—there’s a good chance they’ll be OK. If you come from that now, it’s like being born on third base and being able to hit a triple. You’ll be able to pursue the dream.

But I see kids who don’t have that person, who are from families or arrangements that didn’t cohere, who have no one to stand in line for them or get them up in the morning. What I see more and more in America is damaged or absent parents. We all know what’s said in this part—drugs, family breakup. Poor parenting is not a new story in human history, and has never been new in America. But insufficient parents used to be able to tell their kids to go out, go play in America, go play in its culture. And the old aspirational culture, the one of the American dream, could counter a lot. Now we have stressed kids operating within a nihilistic popular culture that can harm them. So these kids have nothing—not the example of a functioning family and not the comfort of a culture into which they can safely escape.

This is not a failure of policy but a failure of love. And it’s hard to change national policy on a problem like that.



  1. Impossible to read this and not weep. Not only for America.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great analysis, if depressing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dreams are born in new countries with new hopes. They must evolve over time as everything changes. Nothing can stay the same. It may make us feel sad, but it is reality.
    That is why people moved away from the old ways in the very beginning. Perhaps it is time for us to move and claim a new place and dream.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First, agreed on the failure of love, always. And dreams change with generations. My grandparents came from Europe with dreams to escape poverty and political oppression, so that became their focus. They succeeded – wildly, in fact – by the time we grandkids grew into adulthood. But like all human beings, I think, we take ‘what’s here and now’ – the being born on 3rd base, to tweak your own meaning a bit, as a baseline. Until we’re older, we don’t really take much time to reflect, ‘Hey, duh, wow, we’ve come a long way from grandpa’s time …’ We simply aspire to more. It’s human nature to expand, or we’d all still be stuck in caves. But.

    What’s the baseline now for kids if not education? But it’s far from free – and try getting a good job with just an undergrad (which we covered for our own girls – this is not always the case). So on they go to grad school and the debt mounts up. The Debt. So onto the wheel they go, and to assuage some of the angst about how ever to pay back what is owed, they take small pleasures where they can. Vacations on credit cards, even necessities on credit cards. Before they know it, they’re bound and shackled to the government and banks. (And we wonder why money and things are a focus?) College debt is this generation’s mortgage. Where’s the dream now?

    Good post as always, David. Food for thought. It just feels like we’re on a runaway train. I’m with Val on the new collective vision. Priorities could use some serious reordering.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I understand the vision that Grandpa had, it’s sad to lose so much of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. it’s so important to remember, to understand, and to strive for –

    Liked by 1 person

  7. everydayeconomix says:

    This is such an interesting viewpoint. I totally agree with you David and I wish more people would read this too. People always want to assign blame to something – it’s crucial that the blame is assigned correctly.

    I would appreciate it if you could check out my new blog ( It would mean a lot to me.

    Thanks for this post and have a good day.


    Liked by 1 person

  8. So much here, in the post as well as the comments. I, too, feel like we have lost our way, and I’m not sure how to get back to center.

    I heard a story this past weekend about kids so concerned with losing their ‘streak’ on Snapchat while on vacation that they share their password with four or five other friends so that they can ‘maintain and nurture’ their feed (or whatever one has on Snapchat–don’t know, don’t use it, don’t care), but you get the idea. All I could think was ‘Where are we going here?!’ My biggest pre-vacation concern as a kid was making it to the library to secure a pile of books that I could take on the road with me to read. I readily admit that I was a bit of an (ahem) nerd and there weren’t the same distractions that there are in today’s environment, but still….

    Where’s our family time? Where’s the conversation around the dinner table? Where’s the learning for the love of learning, rather than for the next big paycheck?

    I look around and feel so worried for our world.

    Liked by 2 people


  1. […] via This is not a failure of policy but a failure of love. — Live & Learn […]


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