Persistent inequality, stubbornly high unemployment, outsourced jobs, skyrocketing college tuition and
stagnant income growth have Americans anxious about the future. Has
the American Dream -- the
belief that anybody who works hard enough can move up the economic ladder -- become
merely a talking point for politicians? How does a nation with increasing
diversity and inequality keep the dream alive? Despite two long economic
booms in the 1980s and 1990s, the dream has been fading for many Americans.
In Pursuing the American Dream: Opportunity and Exclusion over Four Centuries (University Press of Kansas, 2004), Southern Methodist University Political Scientist Cal Jillson explored the origins of this cherished American ideal and the modern impediments to achieving it and recommended ways to keep it alive in the 21st century. But rather than being rejuvenated over the past decade, doubts about the American Dream have only deepened. These deep doubts were on stark display in the remarkable 2016 presidential election cycle. On waves of white angst over social change and middle and working class despair over lost jobs and deteriorating incomes, Donald Trump swept to victory promising to make America great again. Populist anger was evident but solutions to the nation’s social and economics tensions were not.
Cal Jillson’s new book, The American Dream in History, Politics, and Fiction (University Press of Kansas, 2016), offers a new and somewhat darker view of the prospects of America’s long-held dream. Jillson demonstrates that the American dream touted by our political leaders and their elite supporters have always been challenged, even rejected, by our literary elites. Our great presidents, from Jefferson and Lincoln, through the Roosevelts to Reagan and Obama, have touted America as a land of opportunity, open increasingly to the striving of all of its citizens. But just as consistently, our great novelists, from Hawthorne and Melville, through Twain and Dreiser to Irving, Roth, and Morrison, have warned that fate and fortune, to say nothing of race, gender, and poverty, check and often crush the aspirations of too many. The troubled climate of our own time suggests that the dream is in doubt. The American Dream in History, Politics, and Fiction shows that it has ever been thus – our politicians and elites encourage Americans to dream and to strive while our great novelists warn that dangers are many and defeat all too likely.
Scholars and teachers of American Political Thought may be interested in how Jillson uses The American Dream in his teaching. No satisfactory American Political Thought exists so many teachers struggle for interesting and convenient ways to organize their courses. Jillson uses The American Dream to show how American Political Thought, and the American Dream as its central organizing idea, have adapted, evolved, and been challenged over the course of American history. Individual chapters cover American political and intellectual development, the clash of our political and literary elites, from first settlement through the founding period and the eras of Jackson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, the 1960s, and on into our own times.
The American Dream in History, Politics, and Fiction is Jillson’s seventh book. Both of his American Dream books can be ordered through Amazon or from the University Press of Kansas by phone at 785-864-4155 or from their website at http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu. To learn more about Jillson’s media activities, call SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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