Do the US Presidential Candidates Meet the ‘American Dream’?

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

Declaration of Independence, 1776

The American Dream. It is a belief professed in America’s culture, literature, advertising and schools; the idea that one can truly do anything or be anything in America as an American citizen. Developed by Thomas Jefferson as part of the ‘Declaration of Independence’ in 1776, it is flaunted as part of America’s proud past. While in theory it is hopeful and fair, politics has fallen short of what it means to provide equal rights for everyone. It is now used to gain public support, rather than to deliver on its promises. Anyone can profess the American Dream, even if they are racist, homophobic, or believe injecting bleach will cure the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

On the 3rd of November 2020, all eyes will be on the USA as Americans cast their votes in the 59th Presidential election. The effects will have a profound impact, not only on domestic issues but politics across the globe. The two main candidates, the Republican Donald Trump and the Democrat Joe Biden, have conflicting views on immigration, healthcare, racism, the climate crisis and COVID-19, just to name a few. Wildly differing perspectives add fuel to the political fire, and over the next couple of months each candidate will do everything they possibly can to take up residence in the White House. Perhaps the only two things they have in common are their fight for votes and their use of the American Dream narrative to do just that. 

Trump is appealing to the white working-class American, promising his supporters that he’ll ‘make America great again, again.’ He pulls on the heartstrings of the individual, professing that each of his voters can achieve personal excellence and financial gain. Though Trump professes this in his speeches, he denies marginalised groups the opportunity to achieve this great dream. Just one of the many examples is his attitude towards the Black Lives Matter movement. He has repeatedly denied the existence of institutionalised racism, suggesting that violent protests are far more of an issue than the devastating reasons people are protesting. He plays with fears and drives division to maintain each individual with the idea that they can achieve, despite most never actually having the opportunity to do so. In other words, he uses the nationalist American Dream to win votes and fails to deliver. 

Biden is appealing to those who believe in equality for all. In his speech at the Democratic convention he said that unlike the Republican party, ‘united we can, and will overcome this season of darkness in America.’ His specifics are much clearer. He wants to tackle climate change, racial injustice, the current global pandemic and the economic depression, in a way that Trump has been unable to do. His unifying speech brought together many well-respected leaders to explain why everyone should have the same opportunities in education, healthcare, careers and more. Biden has called this election ‘the battle for the soul of this nation,’ – a suggestion that this election will highlight what Americans hope their future will look like. 


Joe Biden speaking at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention in Altoona, Iowa. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Whichever party wins, these two campaigns make it clear that the ‘American Dream’ is fundamentally flawed. It promises two paradoxical ideas, absolute equality for all and individual excellence. It is near impossible to successfully have both. The question stands, as one of the biggest global powers, which would you rather American politics reflect: fundamental equal rights for all or power for the select individual? All will be revealed come November.

Issie Stewart

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