A new American dream

Opinion by Gülin Ustabas
Feb. 20, 2018, 5:00 a.m.

The American dream of the last century is no doubt vanishing and being replaced by a new global dream. Although people have gained insider information about the problems within the U.S. as a result of better connecting networks worldwide, America is still appealing to people from around the world and influences global trends.

The reason behind this attraction is the emergence of a new American dream: a globalized world where the actors are not countries, but individuals; of a world that allows people to form connections with others all around the world voluntarily, instead of out of the convention of having the same nationality. The U.S. has initiated this concept of globalism and established itself as the hub of international interpersonal connections, where we are now closer on the individual level. The fact that the U.S. is still appealing to individuals comes from this image it created.

The old American dream has now disappeared. Citizens and immigrants alike had a dream of America where they envisioned a prosperous future through hard work. Gone are the days when the U.S. upheld the image of a country of infinite possibilities for immense amounts of immigrants, students and workers. Not everyone who is born here enjoys the same benefits, let alone everyone who sets foot on American soil. Conditions for foreigners have deteriorated, as their access to jobs and privileges, such as passports, that come with citizenship has become more and more limited. There is an approved visa ban, and even those who aren’t banned can face hardships when applying for visas. It is getting harder and harder to settle in America and have the resources to pursue the American dream, but there does not seem to be a decline in people wanting to pursue a life in U.S.

In addition to logistical problems such as visas, because of global media there is no reason for immigrants to regard the U.S. as “the greatest country in the world.” It has a shockingly high rate of income inequality compared to its peer developed European countries. Compared to countries like Denmark and Norway, U.S. falls short in GDP per capita and overall well-being of individuals while dealing with serious human rights issues. One of the worst atrocities the nation faces is gun violence, terrifying especially in educational settings. Given all this, it seems perfectly valid to ask why the U.S. still attracts so many immigrants, and what sustains its reputation as the greatest country in the world.

The answer to this is globalization and its consequence: the new American dream. This new American dream does not involve a country that offers the promise of equal opportunity for prosperity through hard work, but rather an active and dynamic center of global connections. Following its dominant role in the world in the previous century, the U.S. is one of the most important actors for the emergence and development of globalization. It is a country that speaks the simple and universal language of English, administers most multinational corporations, and maintains accessible college applications. It is still a reachable place where everyone can come together while preserving their uniqueness, and tolerance is still constantly pushed by a remarkable portion of the population who strive to welcome people from all backgrounds despite the growth of discrimination. The new American dream promises its followers that each of them can be themselves and still be part of an international community.

America set the paradigm by opening up its opportunities to people of different citizenship and facilitating the bureaucracy for these aspiring individuals. For example, European universities are now pushing for more English language programs aimed at foreign students. Due to the American model, it’s now normal for individuals to live in another country and have roots everywhere in the world.

If there is something that America does better than any other country, it is placing value on the individual. This individualism differentiates the U.S. from many other countries. Although individualism can cause personal problems for individuals not used to living in such a society, it can also help them connect more with their own aspirations and make them focus on building up themselves as a stand-alone person. By placing the ultimate emphasis on the individual as the primary unit of society, individualism benefits the ideal of an international community with persons defined in their own terms and not necessarily the larger ethnic/religious/racial community they belong to.

The individualism of the new American dream can promote a less divided world. Through individualism, we first build up our own self and then seek voluntary connections to the rest of the world, forming meaningful relationships that are beyond the scope of ethnic communities and nation-states. We are not seen primarily as a citizen of a state, but rather are defined as an individual. Although individualism may at first seem a lonelier option than collectivism, in the long term it gets rid of the boundaries that would form if we were to belong to a community by default, allowing us to select our own belonging.  International connecting factors such as organizations, conferences, programs and partnerships unite a wide variety of individuals under different settings, putting the emphasis on the commonalities we choose to share in things like personal interests.

The international trend set by the new American dream is not immutable, but continuing globalization leads to more societies desiring to be a part of the system. But America and the world should be wary, because America influences global trends, and it is now heading in the direction of populism and isolationist policy. In the coming years, we may come to see that America’s withdrawal today presaged the world’s future. As a leader of the more connected and humanized world, America should work to end its shift towards nationalism and populism. This would help ensure the new American dream.

This new American dream retains the hope element of the first one, and takes it one step further by influencing the persons to get in touch with the rest of the world while perceiving themselves as individuals independent from their citizenship, realizing they have opportunities for themselves in many locations and consequently pushing for their countries to become more communicative. It is “American,” because it stands by the founding principles of America and the first dream: individualism, aspirations and personality. This is truly a dream, because it finally gives us the chance get connected beyond borders, establish ourselves as individuals willingly and proactively engaging with the world as opposed to being disconnected: through this dream, we would be able to finally incorporate individualism as a means to unlock each person’s potential while building meaningful connections that assemble newer and stronger communities.This dream, by its core principles, would be the movement that alienates the populism, racism, discrimination and fascism that tear people apart.


Contact Gülin Ustabaş at gulinu ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Gülin Ustabas is a freshman from Istanbul, Turkey, studying Philosophy. Here on campus, Gülin works as an Associate Editor for SURJ and as a SARA Ambassador, and is a member of SWIP and SIG. When she is not writing for excessive amounts of time, she enjoys learning new languages, traveling, drawing and listening to any kind of music. She is passionate about political philosophy and human rights.

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