By Tom Ehrich

There are two “American Dreams,” and both are under assault. It’s time to push back.

The first American Dream – the one people usually think of – is the belief that, in our free society and open economy, anyone can get ahead with sufficient effort, making upward mobility possible for oneself and one’s children.

The other American Dream is the idea that this nation stands for something noble and inspiring, that some people will come here seeking those values and others will admire and emulate them from afar.

In fact, the dream of opportunity has crashed and burned. American people work harder than ever, but with nearly all economic gains going to the greedy few, the vast majority fall farther and farther behind. Family income is stagnant, functional joblessness is worsening, education no longer opens doors, and the visible symbols of the dream – such as home ownership, decent cars, family health – seem distant.

The dream of standing for something, meanwhile, is being buried, drowned and torched by the unleashing of bigotry, rage, nativism and intolerance by the right-wing and its standard-bearers. The nation that inspired the world, with its religious pluralism, its ethnic diversity, its open society and its freedom from the repression plaguing other nations, now finds itself struggling to embrace any values worth valuing. We have become a frightening force in an already- frightened world. If America can’t be “the land of the free and home of the brave,” what hope can be found anywhere?

When we distrust our own freedom, when we shrink in fear from the challenges of a pluralistic world, when we fixate on a totally phony version of Christianity, when we edge close to embracing repression of the hated other – and, in time, the repression of all -- the dream dies. And not just the dream that led oppressed minorities to believe they had a chance, but the dream that has stirred all of us to salute our flag, serve our country, pay our taxes, sing our anthems.

The power-grabs and wealth-grabs of the few are poisoning the well from which we all draw sustenance.

This is an important election year. Even more important is our determination not to be afraid. Not to cave in to the fear-mongers. Not to let challenge send us into hiding. Not to grab what we can before the bottom falls out. Not to stop trying for justice. Not to shrug it off when decency is assaulted, when minorities are assaulted, when the vulnerable are assaulted.

The world is a better place when people dream. We Americans aren’t the only dreamers, of course. But our dreams have inspired millions. When we let our dreams die, the bullies win, the greedy win, the unjust and hateful win.

I don’t have a clever formula for pushing back. I just know that it starts with me and with you.

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