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Trump and the American Dream

Today feels like one of those days. Mr Trump has been elected President of the US. It matters because of the kind of campaign he has run. There were two key characteristics: a complete lack of shame and a willingness to pander to whomever to get into power.

This resulted in a misogynistic caricature of a man who promised a return to the glory days of US hegemonic power, and implicitly aligned that with the patriarchy of which he was self anointed head. It was a campaign in which he was willing to attack and blame everyone except his own kind. A campaign which was the culmination of a relentlessly forged narrative of success, of the self-made man, of the personification of the American Dream.

Unlike the current President who would have us give him the opportunity to lead, I say he has already been given that opportunity and failed.

His election legitimises the means of his campaign, his misogyny, his bigotry, his attacks on the very architecture of public discourse, and of course his brutish swagger and fear-mongering.

All this is validated and we are lessor for it.

So what’s ahead?

The reality is Trump probably only wants power to line his pockets and to mythologise his brand by creating a legacy of Trump the King.

The dangers are two-fold: first, the eroding of the commonly educated populace of which all democracies are fundamentally premised; and, second, the precedent he sets. The first is bad enough though fixable. In the early nineties, after some twenty-odd years of struggle the denizens of Queensland were able to throw out a similarly corrupt and patriarchal demagogue and put systems in place to prevent it happening again.

The second, the precedent he sets, the legitimising of his style of campaigning is far more dangerous, as it has opened the door for a candidate equal with Trump’s lack of shame and self idolatry, yet with a saviour complex and a religious fervour that would see the end of the life on earth as just a stepping stone to paradise. Trump’s victory will make such a candidate more likely across the globe anywhere there is a disenfranchised middle class, anywhere where multiculturalism and fear-mongering allow easy scapegoating of minorities, anywhere people are overworked, under resourced, and scared for tomorrow.

Where we went wrong?

The truth is it is the Political Left that has failed the under-educated, the traumatised, the desperate and the destitute. We have been too quick to dismiss the role of luck, unable to recognise the importance of help, unwilling to accept that everyone has a bad day, can get sick, or can fall foul to circumstance.

Such realities don’t fit well with The Dream in which we want to believe. The Dream that reassures us we deserve everything we have, that we are solely responsible for our own fortune, that with a bit of hard work and innovation we can make it, that success is earned only. Trump leveraged our desperation to still believe.His success shows us the myth is alive and well, but it is only a myth. There is no panacea of the patriarchy. Whatever Trump’s polices turn out to be they will at some deep level be contingent upon this myth, and so will almost certainly fail to address the real concerns of the economically disenfranchised.

Where to From Here?

We must begin to realise that in our increasingly globalised and oligarchised world that wealth and success are not synonymous. We must acknowledge that luck, help, privilege, family, teachers, social infrastructure, and even government plays a greater role in the outcomes of people’s lives then hard work and determination.

We must look past this Dream and recognise its sinister opposite: that if you’re poor it’s your own fault. The Dream for many is a nightmare of self blame and torment.

If egalitarianism is the goal of a free and open democracy we must recognise that it is contingent upon economic freedom. The fight for social justice is impossible without the fight for economic justice and in the fight for economic justice we must acknowledge that The Dream of the self-made man is dead.

We must recognise a person’s worth is far greater than their bank balance, portfolio or headshot. We need social systems that give care and help to those in need, to the marginalised and unfortunates among us, for its own betterment society must accept the price of social infrastructure that gives people the chance to turn their lives around. We need life-long education grounded in truthful descriptions of the world we live, and public discourse built on the common trust that lies and fraud only hurt us all.

Let us recognise this as we look forward, as we find our new leaders who exemplify our ideals of equality, harmony, and hope. Let not our discourse denigrate into self-denial or blame, let us show there is still civility in this world.

More Reading

Williams, R. (2016, May 15). How “The Self-Made Man” Myth Feeds the American Dream. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from
McElwee, S. (2016, January 25). America’s dangerous “self-made” mythology: Why our ideas about upward mobility are seriously misinformed. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from
Miller, B., & Lapham, M. (2012). The Self-made Myth: And the Truth about how Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
vanden Heuvel, K. (2012, March 2). Challenging the Self-Made Myth. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from
Published inBlogPolitics