If you watch any television at all, you will notice that some terms and phrases catch fire and burn through every conversation among the dunce he...I mean, talking heads. When George W. Bush was president, Dick Cheney said that something went "beyond the pale." What the heck does that mean? But in no time, the phrase was used at least once, sometimes more often, by every commentator on television.
I looked up the phrase and found an excellent explanation on www.phrases.org/uk (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/beyond-the-pale.html). The definition includes some Jewish history in Russia and the date of the first use of the phrase which has to do with palings, as in a fence. Originally it dealt with keeping certain groups of people outside the normal society.
As with so much of what is discussed these days, the phrase was repeated over and over and over...well, too many times. This also happened with the word "disingenuous" and more recently with the phrase "kick the can down the road", when someone talked about our inability to deal with the American debt crisis.
Now the phrase of the day is "American dream", as in, "People come to our country to pursue the American dream," or "People are not able anymore to achieve the American dream." As it so often happens with a vague term, the phrase takes on various meanings, depending on which person is using it.
"American dream" is so vague that it really doesn't have any meaning. In a conversation these types of phrases are like static on the radio and snow on the television. It's indistinct sound and a hazy whiteness that interferes with true understanding.
America is a country of individuals, a country, more than any other, that allows for expression of the individual. In defining "American dream", there is no collective aspiration that is common among all our citizens. There is no American dream.
There are millions of dreams, though, particular and peculiar for each individual. People with cancer dream of surviving another day, of seeing the sun come up and having no pain. Mothers who have worked decades at minimum wage jobs dream of watching their children live a financially secure life. Homeless people dream of sleeping in a dry, warm bed. Pastors dream of conducting a committee meeting where no one gets angry. Corporate executives dream of having 24 hours uninterrupted by phone calls and anxious assistants with unbalanced spreadsheets.
I went to college as a young woman, not because of lofty aspirations, but because I really had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I had no money. I had no job. I had no idea what I wanted to do. People look at my life and say that I have accomplished the American dream. No, I have not. Anything I have accomplished is only through the grace of God, with no foresight on my part. I could never have dreamed the things that have actually occurred in my life. Reality, while disconcerting and surprising at many times, has turned out overall to be much better than anything I could have planned.
Each of us has a dream of some kind, but there is no American dream that all of us have. Raised by parents from the "greatest" generation, I realize that there is work to do, and no matter what I'm doing, I need to commit everything I have to it. So things haven't worked out the way you thought they would? Margaret Rucker was the administrator of what was called the Department of Welfare in the 1970s in Mercer County. She once told a woman who was experiencing difficult times to "get up off your knees". In other words, stand up and do what you have to do. The opportunity to do just that is the only dream that Americans have.