What comes to mind when you think of the United States? Possibility? Land of opportunity? Hope? Success? We are all familiar with the concept of the American Dream as the idea of equality and opportunity that any person working hard can achieve upward economic mobility in the country. It refers to hope, shared both by the admirers of the United States of America and by the inhabitants themselves, that through courage and determination everything is possible.
In “the land of free”, you can succeed regardless of what class you were born into and where you are from. But in a country that is torn apart day after day and is collapsing from the inside, does it still make sense to talk about the American dream?
At a time when the country is confronting three overlapping crises - as stated in the New York Times - the coronavirus, an economic collapse and a reckoning with racism and injustice, the American dream has become pure theory and only a dream, indeed. George Floyd’s murder while in police custody left the world in a state of shock. Or rather, just a part of the world; the part that believes in social justice and demands a change in the current socio-political climate.
Police violence is structural in a country like the USA where there has been centuries of brutal repression. In fact, America boasts the most violent slavery system in history, which formed the basis of economic growth in the United States and England: from the indigenous people exploited to build settlements, to the black slaves used in plantations.
On the 25th of May, the 46-year-old man was killed by a white police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds even when he was pleading for his life. We all know what happened after: his death set off protests that spread across the country in the blink of an eye. American citizens have streamed in the streets shouting Black Lives Matter and demanding justice. The truth is that we have seen riots against racism and police brutality before, starting in the 60s with the civil rights movement. Why was this time different?
Beyond recent events, America was already facing a huge crisis, one of the biggest in its history. A sense of dissatisfaction was felt by the majority of its citizens. It all started with the current coronavirus pandemic that has been consuming the country with the worst COVID-19 outbreak on the planet, with over 2 million confirmed cases and - as of today - 117,527 victims. The US government refused to learn from other countries that were already fighting the virus and, in doing so, decided to dig its own graves.
Even worse, studies have shown how the risk of death by coronavirus among black people and some minority ethnic groups is significantly higher compared to those of white ethnicity - so much for those who said the pandemic would have been a great equaliser.
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The US didn’t make health a priority in response to this invisible enemy. A plan to address the coronavirus was missing from the government’s emergency response, that prioritising saving the economy, but without success. On the 14th of April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) declared a state of emergency for the world economy, as we entered the coronavirus recession, also known as the COVID-19 recession or the Great Lockdown. It is said that this will be the most severe global economic downturn since the Great Depression, and that it will be "far worse" than the Great Recession of 2009.
The dizzying growth of the American economy, which was the cornerstone of Donald Trump’s promises, officially ended with the closing of Broadway theaters and sports leagues, such as basketball, baseball, hockey; when New York shut down its doors, as did major cities across the country and all of California’s and Florida’s beaches, and airports stopped all flights in and out of the States. The country's total lockdown was a hurricane for the number one economy in the world. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percentage points to 13.3 percent in May, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 2.1 million to 21 million. Even though some have been able to go back to their job, with the easing of restrictions, tens of millions are still out of work and the unemployment rate remains higher than in any previous postwar recession.
The desire for justice and equal rights for black people. Too many viral demonstrations of police killings. An invisible and deadly disease. An economic catastrophe. This is how America reached a breaking point. This is how the American dream has fallen apart.