The American Dream is a Propagandistic Dream

Weekly Debates

The Society convened today to debate a topic that questions the heart of our nation itself: Resolved: The American Dream represents propaganda more than truth. The American Dream, or the ethos of prosperity through hard work and individual freedom, began developing as a method for encouraging early settlers to expand westward into unfamiliar lands and to create their own future. The creed continued as a golden spark attracting immigrants from other countries from the 16th century to modern times. Just how true is the idea that the U.S. is an ideal place to live with the opportunity to succeed for all who work hard, regardless of circumstances of birth?

Chancellor Andrew Marsh (COL ’13) of California began his speech with a provocative statement: “I offer myself as proof of the American Dream representing more propaganda than truth. I stand to inherit eight figures for doing absolutely nothing. I am not an exceptional person — not the most witty, smart, nor charming — but I have money, which directly or indirectly me more opportunities in this country than the average person.” Chancellor Marsh asserted that the American Dream’s assumption that everyone begins on equal footing is a far cry from the society that we have today. The middle class has dwindled along with opportunity, which is nonexistent for some who are no less American than he is. “The luck of birth lands people more opportunities than others,” Chancellor Marsh concluded.

Mr. Benjamin Snow (COL ’13) of Washington countered Chancellor Marsh’s opening by offering himself as an exemplification of truth of the American Dream. “A life handed to you on a platter isn’t the American Dream,” Mr. Snow contended, “We seek a better life; not a perfect life.” He said that there is no one doomed by their birth to be nothing because they have an opportunity to work hard and create a better life for themselves, even if it’s a long and difficult journey. He noted the exceptional quality of the American Dream, as evidenced by its ability to stay alive and thrive as its antithetical notions of fascism and communism had boomed and busted. “Right now, this country is closer than ever to its creed that all men (and women) are created equal,” Mr. Snow said.

Mr. Quinn (COL ’15) argued that the American Dream could not represent more truth than propaganda until every American has equal educational opportunities and can be free from the despotism of hunger. Ms. Muldavin (COL ’15) countered that just because not everyone who works hard achieves the American Dream, doesn’t mean that the ethos is propagandistic. “You need to have a special quality that makes you American to have the American Dream,” she said. Mr. DiMisa (COL ’15) challenged the American exceptionalism espoused by the negation. The American Dream is alive and well for some but dead for others, and “those at the bottom of society — the ones born into poverty — might choose another country to thrive,” he said. Mr. Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) said that the most important fact of the American Dream is that people are not locked into a social strata based on who their parents are. Everything else is nonessential: “The American Dream is not getting everything you want, but being able to have the opportunity to get a little more.” Vice President Christensen (COL ’15) framed the concept of equality of opportunity as “if given the same person, level of hard work, and intelligence, they can be expected to achieve roughly the same amount, then the American Dream would be true.” Mr. Desnick (COL ’13) disagreed, arguing instead that we should be debating whether people can achieve roughly the same amount from wherever they started. Using a marathon analogy for life, he said, “It’s not about whether everyone can get to mile 30, but whether someone starting at mile 20 can reach mile 22, and whether someone starting at mile 3 can accomplish roughly the same in their lifetime.”

Mr. Donovan (COL ’13) contended that some of the floor speeches have lured us into a false sense of security that problems of equality of opportunity in this country have been eliminated. While significant progress has been made, social ills continue to persist. “What propels us through progress is dissatisfaction with the status quo,” he concluded in favor of the affirmation. Mr. RisCassi (COL ’13) pointed out that the incredible progress Mr. Donovan mentioned is evidence that the American Dream is alive and well: “There’s no other place where such rapid socioeconomic growth has been possible. Every country has its problems — what other place has achieved perfectly equal opportunities for everyone?” Ms. Wynter (COL ’14) said that the point is not whether the American Dream exists, but whether we work towards it. “Once it’s accomplished, it’s no longer a dream,” she said, “Dreams are goals we should be striving towards.” Ben Mazzara (COL ’15) took on the concept of propaganda directly, defining it as a lie that we tell people to get them to do what we want. From that, he concluded that the American Dream represents more truth because hope is still alive in this country. Ms. Krawczyk (SFS ’15) finally inserted immigrants into the conversation, pointing out that throughout history, they have been targeted around the world for propagandistic claims about a dreamy life in the U.S. “In the end, many of them were exploited for their labor and unable to achieve a better life for themselves due to widespread discrimination and unacceptably low pay,” she said. “From the way that the American Dream was deployed in recruiting campaigns in India, China, and Mexico, among other countries, it was absolutely more propaganda than truth.” Mr. Wang (NHS ’15) emphasized the focus on relative gains over absolute gains, insisting that the American Dream is true as long as people are able to achieve their relative conceptions of happiness.

In his closing keynote, Mr. Snow stated that a vote for the negation is to acknowledge that the American Dream is real, and that opportunity makes America great. “Immigrants don’t come here expecting it to be easy; they come for an opportunity. It’s a shot to enter the race,” he said. He pointed out that our country is constantly innovating, growing, and improving, despite “the best effort of our politicians,” and this trend is symbolic of the American Dream. Chancellor Marsh compared the American Dream to “a check we’ve written but refuse to fill,” promising equality of opportunity for all but tragically falling short. He emphasized that society does not provide equal opportunities of achievement for everyone who has worked hard, noting how much easier it is for the wealthy to get further in life due to their incredible advantages.

The Society voted 18-1-11 to affirm.

Merrick Points

Mr. Dulik: 5
Mr. Snow: 4
Mr. Petallides: 3
Ms. Wynter: 2
Mr. Donovan: 1

Merrick Totals

Mr. Dulik: 16
Mr. Spagnuolo: 15
Mr. Snow: 11
Mr. Petallides: 11
Mr. Donovan: 8
Mr. Berryman: 6
Ms. Wood: 5
Mr. Wilson: 5
Ms. Wynter: 5
Ms. Ringwald: 3
Mr. Askonas: 3
Mr. Ahmed: 3
Mr. Dinneen: 1
Mr. Quinn: 1

There will not be a debate next week due to Georgetown’s spring break. Enjoy the week off!

ELD,

Chloe J. Krawczyk

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