The land of opportunity must provide opportunity


The American Dream.

There are many different perspectives on what that phrase actually means, and I suppose it can mean different things to different individuals, as we all have our own paths and obstacles in this zany board game we call life.

For some, the American Dream might simply be the opportunity to live in a society that permits each person the right to speak his or her mind. For others, it means the Rockwellian utopia of having a family, a loyal dog and the house with the white picket fence. For some, it’s hitting the Powerball or creating an invention by accident that lands you a zillion dollars and the opportunity to mingle with “the beautiful people.”

For me, it’s pretty basic. The American Dream is what you make of it. The term carries with it a feeling of hope — that if you keep your head down and work hard, you can have a good life, and that you have the potential to set up your kids to achieve whatever it is they hope to do with their respective lives.

To some point, that version of the American Dream still holds up today. We hear stories about people like Dr. Ben Carson and others who overcome rough starts in life and ascend to terrific heights through their own skills and determination. I have a good friend who entered the Marine Corps as part of a plea agreement with his attorneys and prosecutors when he was an out-of-control teen, and is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement, with one child attending Stanford University on a full academic scholarship and the other following his father’s footsteps into the Corps.

We’ve all heard stories like this and, to me, that is truly achieving the American Dream. Anyone can ascend to whatever height they put his or her head to, as long as they have the skill and determination to get there. People climb the sociological and economic ladders because of what they do, not due to which house they are born in.

But, of course, that isn’t the reality of it, is it? People who have more are obviously in a better position to provide their children more and better opportunities. And that’s fair. That’s one of the attractive draws to a capitalist society for me — we work hard to try to give our children a better opportunity, be it better schools, private tutors, internships with friends, whatever.

However, I do argue that our current system stacks the deck against people trying to improve their lots and improve the starting lines for their future generations. This is not a Republican or Democratic or Libertarian or Green Party or whatever-affiliation-comforts-you argument. This is about human beings, and a nation that prides itself on equality and fairness going the same direction as many other nations around the world, and it disturbs me.

A briefing paper by OXFAM, found on oxfam.org, describes how that infamous “1 percent” controls so much of the world’s wealth, and how they use that advantage to maintain control. A few numbers from the report particularly stand out to me:

• In 2015, just 62 individuals had the same wealth as 3.6 billion people. This figure is down from 388 individuals as recently as 2010;

• Since the turn of the century, the poorest half of the world’s population has received just 1 percent of the total increase in global wealth, while half of that increase has gone to the top 1 percent.

The Citizens for Tax Justice and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group also co-authored a recent report on U.S. companies hiding a total of $2.1 trillion abroad, without paying taxes on corporate profits. The study argues that approximately $620 billion is lost to the American economy because of these hidden assets. Apple, American Express and Nike have a total of $199.1 billion abroad. Think these monies could stimulate the economy and offer some opportunities for others here if these corporations played by the same rules the rest of us have to in this nation?

I have a challenge for both major political parties in this country — specifically for those individuals elevated by their parties to run for, and eventually hold, public office. It’s pretty basic by nature, but wholly important if we truly want our country to be a place of opportunity for all.

Stop the politics and grandstanding and focus on building a nation where a working family can live with dignity. If Dad and/or Mom works 40 hours a week, he or she should be able to keep hot meals on the table, a car in the driveway and new clothes on the backs of their children.

Rich people deserve to be rich, if they earned the money themselves or inherited it from earlier generations. I believe that, and trust me when I say I am far from a socialist. We should advance because of our own merits, and those who work harder or do better should be able to acquire more than those who just coast through life. Without that proverbial carrot on the end of the stick, how will he innovate? How will we grow? How will we teach our children and grandchildren to give their all?

This isn’t about “entitlements” or handouts, it’s about affording people the opportunity of the American Dream. It’s about better distribution. It’s about working families not only being able to have their slice of the proverbial pie, it’s about working families being able to buy their families a pie.