What is America?



What Is America?

My mother came to this country close to a hundred years ago, from Europe. As an eight year old child, she heard her parents tell her that where she was going �the streets were paved with gold!� I�m sure there are still many who come to this country, having heard a similar story; and that is the trouble: what is the reason so many immigrants, from around the world, come to this country? Why do they often undergo hardships, and even peril, to come to an unknown land? Is it the prospect of striking it rich; is it only a type of greed that draws them here? Or, is it the fantasy that in this land �hard work will overcome!� The Nazis promised the people of the Auschwitz concentration camp the same 1 � and they found it to be not only a lie, but also a one-way ticket to a freedom from all cares � death!

The problem is, as a recent book made quite clear 2 , hope can often be a tragedy! In other words, things just may not work out the way we hoped they would, in fact, very often they just don�t! My mother found that out when she landed here, and ended up sleeping on the floor the whole of her first year in America, instead of that comfortable bed she slept in, in her home, in Europe � a rude awakening, for a gullible young child!

But, maybe, that is the correct definition of just what America is; not just the idyllic fancies of a bunch of greedy dreamers, but the realizable hopes of a people who are determined to not allow even a single hope to be unrealizable; by the united way in which all participate to make hopes and dreams a triumph, instead of a tragedy! Hopes, in America, are a collective endeavor, a part of not just one mind, but always dependent on ALL! And, that is what that old phrase, �The American Dream� really meant. Not greed, but the process the ALL of America created, to always make ALL really mean ALL, not SOME!

And, if we see this, we come to realize why that �American Dream� that was supposed to be America is now a lie! 3

America is no longer the ALL, that bold phrase �We the People� in our Constitution was meant to be. The ALL has been tainted by a ruthless economy that pits us against each other, and has turned ALL into SOME, by destroying the equality America was founded to preserve � because, as long as money makes one American better than another, America no longer is America; and American freedom, founded in the ALL, of a united diverse people cannot be! Equality cannot be inequality, just as a free people cannot be slaves. And that is what the new God of �Money�, we have placed our trust in, has done to us: it has made us a society of masters and slaves.

Yet, the tragedy our hope has become, won�t allow us to realize this. The disparity that this country was founded to eliminate has now become so commonplace that we take it as inevitable, instead of the failure of a people, who are no longer a united people. Our diversity, which once was our greatest treasure, is now a dividing line that keeps us from ever realizing our dreams. Thus America has become the land of empty slogans, instead of the land of a people who make hope a triumph.

Hope was supposed to be more than a word in America; it was supposed to be that driving force that made Americans work together to overcome everything and anything that got in their way of that thing they called their �American Dream� � that dream that could never be anything else, but the realizable hope they succeeded in realizing, because they all worked together to make it that way. But now the American Dream has become the American tragedy; the tragedy of a people so terribly divided, and bitter, their hopelessness has become the only dream they have; and even when they realize all their dreams, they cannot be happy, because they cannot trust anyone, and they can never feel safe.

America has become just one more paradox in a world full of them. The paradox that the infinite potential of a single united people could not make that potential anything other than an �unrealizable potential� � a failure, that could have been a triumph.

So what is the element that keeps that potential from ever being realized? It is the very same element that keeps us from ever being the humanity we also never were; the humanity that keeps us divided from each other, and bound only to the selves we constantly think of as all there is. The problem is that the ALL we are, is a part of each of us � not something outside of us. And, if we want a better life, through having all our hopes and dreams fulfilled, we can only achieve that by giving everyone else that very same chance, and also letting them fulfill all their hopes and dreams. It was that spirit that created America, not the greed that is now destroying it.

It is within our power to redefine America, as it was originally meant to be defined � by giving it back to the ALL it was originally created to be. As Americans, rich or poor, we must overcome those names, and see ourselves as all the same � once we do that, we will make America the place it was meant to be, a place where the streets are not �paved with gold�, but a place, where everyone let everyone be all that they had the potential to be, not just as Americans, but as truly HUMAN beings, with truly, liberty and justice for ALL. That was, or perhaps, is, America. The difference between the �was� and the �is� is us! What is America? It is, in the final analysis, WE THE PEOPLE � ALL OF THEM!


1 See my essay: �Arbeit Macht Frei!�

2 The book �Hope: A Tragedy�, by Shalom Auslander, Riverhead Books, a member of The Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, 2012.

3 See my essay: �American Dream � Or American Lie

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Originally Published:

January 3, 2013


July 4, 2014