"I think entrepreneurship is at the heart of who we are in terms of the American promise and the American dream. You have to go back to the fundamentals -- for the first time in human history, we decided to trust the people to govern themselves. That releases all kinds of creative energies. I remember interviewing a writer and historian for my baseball series. He said, when Americans are studying 1,000 years from now, we’ll be known for three things: the Constitution, baseball and jazz music. And what all three things have in common is that they’re improvisatory. The . Constitution is the shortest constitution on Earth. It’s four pieces of parchment that is able to provide us with this improvisatory space. And baseball has infinite, chess-like combinations. And of course, the heart of jazz music is all about improvisation, not playing the notes on the page. And so entrepreneurship is an extension of that, or a manifestation of that."
Most of the associations that make up the "American Dream" are universal aspirations. In particular, the great intangible - the element of "freedom", is not at all unique to the US.
Maybe two things stands out in my mind as typically "American" - and at their best, they can take the universal elements of "the dream" and add a particular flavor of heroic and hopeful quality to it. To me, they are (1) the faith in individualism, specifically, as a vehicle for achieving "the universal dream" (2) a faith that each generation really has a chance for a fresh start and overcoming whatever obstacles may be in their way.
But both of these are only partial claims, there are tons of exceptions. To the first, a great many collectivist subcultures woven into the national character - and so many concrete examples of "progress" in national life leveraged that exception - and if you look at countries around the world that have in actual fact achieved a better version of the dream, they are especially likely to have blended individualist and collectivist values.
Anyway much of this all is a cocktail of mythology and marketing. One can believe in the American dream or the universal dream all you want, but in practice, it means for the lower and middle class, working hard, buying a house in the suburbs, spending 2 hours a day in a car, making the same trip again and again and again. (mass transit? that's for the commies!). For the top 20%, it means training your kids from a young age for vicious competition, and simultaneously doing anything to preserve a positive attitude and a safe distance from the ugly realities.
I think it is this last part which is made fun of by people outside the US sometimes - and also what Hunter S. Thompson latched on to with his unique sense of humor. (A Mark Twain of the 70's, in his own way?).
The American dream is necessarily vague, since it has to simultaneously have meaning to classes at opposites end of the pecking order. If you did the classic "Venn diagram" exercise, drawing circles representing the way the dream looks from a pair of such opposite-end viewpoints, and if you watched how those circles moved over, say, the last 40 years... how would that animation look? When people say the "death" of the American Dream, they mean the circles are moving apart. Is that true? For the material aspirations people have, and the aspiration for security and better life for their kids - of course not, the circles overlap. But as I said earlier, those those aren't the uniquely American elements. Leave them out of the analysis. For the specifically "American" elements of the American dream, the more intangible, non-material, ideal... that unity of vision is getting pretty shaky.
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