Had Rip Van Winkle woken up today from his slumber he could not have missed how much of the fabled American Dream has changed. Let us presume that he fell asleep when Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States. He, then, must have gone to sleep with some really encouraging words his president said. "The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account and hire somebody else … is the great principle for which this government was really formed."
In America, the scenario today is not what Lincoln so emphatically professed. In fact, it is diametrically opposite. In the United States, wealth inequality is appalling today. And, unfairness is rampant.
The bottom forty per cent of the American barely has any wealth. The middle class today is barely distinguishable from the poor.
Even the rich, who comprise top twenty per cent of the demography are somewhat better off having only seven per cent of the national wealth. Top one per cent of the population, who we may say the super rich, have and control whopping forty per cent of the country wealth. This one per cent take home almost 25 per cent of the national income today.
In 1976 they took home only nine per cent of the national income. Their earning, in the last thirty year, has nearly tripled showing how inequality in the United States has grown.
It is abysmal today and it is growing still. American dream has soured.
There can be no debate on the fact that American Dream has gone for a toss and the reason for that is not that the rich have grown richer and income inequality has taken an appalling proportion. American dream has gone awry because of what US Senator Marco Rubio called "opportunity inequality" which has stunted social mobility — transition to higher levels of economic existence or condition.
Equal opportunity had been the "central moral promise" of American Dream which laid stress upon "merit and hard work rather than … the circumstances of one's birth" as principal qualifications for getting opportunity to excel and move upward.
This was certainly the key and basic philosophy that gave birth to American Dream when Rip Van Winkle went to sleep. But alas! It is no more so in America at present. Subsequent US presidents and administrations have remained cynically oblivious of their moral responsibility to keep the "central moral promise" of American Dream going.
Among them the Republicans have been the worst. The party had, for too long, remained utterly disengaged and indifferent to the plight of the poor.
It offered nothing to address the economic and other problems of those who remained in the shadows of society. Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio may feel fortunate that his parents became a part of the generation that carried forward the "central moral promise" of American Dream.
Their first years in America, like most others' of their generation, might have been difficult. But they got the equal opportunity to move ahead and come out of the trap of the circumstances of their birth by hard work and perseverance.
Those were the days when anyone, men and women, black and white, Christians and non-Christians, could move ahead because they had the equal opportunity or the chance to work their way into a better living. This is lacking in America today.
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free, said Goethe. This is what is prevailing in the United States today. With Rubio we agree that it is still a country where hard work, sincerity and perseverance can earn any one a better life. Yet, it is now a country where opportunities are available in trickles, where opportunities are offered more on the basis of to which family you are born rather than merit. In the United States equal opportunity is fast becoming a misnomer.
Therefore, we saw the explosion — Occupy Wall Street. More and more Americans today are refusing to accept the stagnation; they believe they have the right to pursue happiness; they have their dreams; they want to be socially mobile.
President Lyndon Johnson was wrong to believe that America would win the war against poverty. He did not see the future, his posterity and their sins which made one of the most visionary American president wrong in his conviction.
One per cent or at best the top ten per cent of the Americans have defeated the nation in its war against poverty. They have kept a vast majority of their fellow citizens virtually starving.
Senator Rubio says, from 1979 to 2007, income for the highest-earning Americans grew more than it did for anyone else. From 1980 to 2005, over eighty per cent of the total increase in income went to the top one per cent of American earners.
Wall Street occupiers sent a message to that one per cent Americans. The message said, dear one per cent we fell asleep for a while. Just woke up. Sincerely, ninety nine per cent. Ninety nine per cent of the Americans did not wake up to bring in any revolution or to pull the government down. They simply wanted to tell their government that they too are integral parts of the American Dream, for them social mobility isn't happening, they are not getting equal opportunity to achieve what they aspire.
Rip Van Winkle wants to sleep again never to wake up in the United States.
The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman