In our country, we have all heard about one particular dream. Our parents likely mentioned it. We might have heard about it from a teacher or pastor or a friend. We’re expected to know what it means for us. At the same time, most of us have a hard time explaining it.

It is the American Dream.

It conjures up images of opportunity, bettering ourselves, building community, and maybe even a white picket fence. We hear stories across generations of the dream fulfilled and passed along, of parents leaving a better future for their children.

Lately, many of our leaders have suggested that the American Dream is fading, that without the right policy solutions or political characters we will lose what has made us great. Without their significant changes, they contend that we will wake up from the American Dream and realize it was nothing more than wishful thinking based on the past success of others.

Before he became president, then-Sen. Barack Obama correctly identified where we are as a nation:

You hear a lot about the divisions in our country. About how we’re becoming more separated by geography and ideology; race and religion; wealth and opportunity. And we’ve had plenty of politicians who try to take advantage of these divisions – pitting Americans against one another, or targeting different messages to different audiences.

Although he was referring to his political predecessors, many Americans still agree with that statement seven years later.

Our televisions, computers, phones, and mailboxes carry a steady stream of division that is eerily similar across the political spectrum. Each message carefully designed by consultants, “experts,” and cronyists is targeted with laser precision in an effort to affirm our own perspectives while subtly portraying our neighbors and aspiring public servants as potential enemies that would take from our wallets, our families, and our future.

We disagree fiercely about the best path for our nation, but we should know better than to expect collective agreement from a nation run by free people. While we may be frustrated by those who oppose our ideas, stifling their voices is the death knell of our liberty. We will disagree, but we must not miss that we are heirs to the same dream.

The dream is not a comprehensive societal plan handed down by government; neither is it a Hobbesian state of nature with every man against every man. The American Dream embodies the radical idea that truly free people with different interests and lives could agree upon, and responsibly operate, a form of government strong enough to protect liberty without controlling society.

Before Washington’s culture took its usual partisan toll on then-candidate Obama, he made a statement that captures the grand vision that likely catapulted him to office:

America is the sum of our dreams. And what binds us together, what makes us one American family, is that we stand up and fight for each other’s dreams, that we reaffirm that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – through our politics, our policies, and in our daily lives. It’s time to do that once more.

Even if Washington culture and partisan politics may have since clouded that vision, he was right. It is the same vision of unity captured in our pledge: “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In 1931, James Truslow Adams, in his book The Epic of America, described the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

Some are likely to cling to the first part of that definition and others the latter, but there is only one American Dream. It is our responsibility to make it an American reality for this generation and the next.

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