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What the 'American Story' Includes

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The most important element of the 'American Story' is The American Dream. Although today that phrase is often narrowed to the limits of the consumer culture, there is a larger American dream that is still alive in our country -- that is the dream of a fair, prosperous, and free nation willing to try new ways to get things done. Parts of this dream form a section of the narrative I call The American Nation as well.

This dream includes the feeling that we are the 'can do' people, who can turn on a dime to do the impossible better than anyone else. As individuals, we have hope that we can better our situation in life by our own efforts because we believe in a piece of our story the MP has labelled Free to Succeed. (More detail on these story elements can be found in Some American Story Elements That Evoke Core Values and Some American Metaphor Categories).

But we also depend on cooperative communities of honest and well-intentioned neighbors to help us reach our goals (Small Town Security). And there are several other important American narratives about shared social struggle in our common cultural heritage and actual history. These are the 'Us vs Them' face-off stories. Some are about owners vs workers or slaves, or about the rich vs the poor or immigrants.

Others are about dominant whites vs people of color. These narratives break the conventional American taboo against admitting that class or race matter in America, but they also include important aspects of the larger American story: 'can do,' 'the good community,' fairness, equality and opportunity, among others.

Most of all, we are action types, on the move, in motion toward a better future (We're On A Roll). Most of us still believe that the better future we seek will come to us by doing things in new ways, by means of science and technology (Man to Superman). But, optimistic as we are, we also are quick to condemn The American Nightmare--secrecy, deception, lies, secret deals, invasion of privacy and violation of other basic rights, ignoring or breaking the rule of law, going too far, breaking the budget, betraying the public trust, cheating the public, discrimination and unfair business practices.

And we hate failure. We like to succeed, individually and as a nation. (A set of four other American story elements frequently used in politics can be found in the writings of Robert Reich: 'mob at the gates, rot at the top, the triumphant individual, and the benevolent community.' See the American Studies section of the Selected Sources and Links for bibliography.)

Of course, the overall 'American Story' includes both conservative and progressive mini-stories. (See Blue, Red, and Purple for more detail about how these story elements line up.) In The People's History of America, Howard Zinn tells the story that when enough of the oppressed act up enough, progress occurs. Bill Moyers has recounted the many ways progressive reform movements have worked in American history.

Boston College sociologist Charles Derber's book, Hidden Power, also provides valuable background and 'how to' suggestions for carrying this task forward. The goal of all of these writers is to help us become more aware of our own enduring cultural DNA as progressives. They point to the guiding narratives that show us how to act on the best American vision now.
- Link to the next section of this essay: Answers to Objections