The American Dream We Grew up Believing In? Spoiler Alert: It's Dead.

Image via Bryan Burke/Flickr

My politics is an expression of my generation — that group between Generation X and the millennials, a group who was brought up by the Internet and remembers a time without it, a group who came of age remembering an American Dream that no longer exists.

I am sitting here safe and warm, in a house owned by my husband that is deeply in hock to the bank, doing sex work and writing articles while he works as a therapist and collects a pension that he had to take early. None of this is what I was raised to expect. My earliest political awareness was of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of South African apartheid, the collapse of Communism, the end of history. And shortly after, the dot com boom promised a bounty for those of us who raised ourselves as the Internet raised itself, from scattered networks to global disruptive force.

My parents told me I could be anyone, could do anything. I could be a senator, a scientist, an eminent writer. And so, I went to university and studied politics in the hope that I could make a living making change. But when I left university I made close to minimum wage in grocery stores and sandwich shops. I couldn't get that lifetime job I was raised to expect, building a practice and a discipline, safe on a happy and functioning team, year after year.

I was raised to see my struggle as personal failure, and 10 years ago, I did. I was severely depressed and anxious, which didn't make my working life any easier. I hung my failure up on the wall, a damning trophy smeared with shit and smoke. But my politics told me that nobody around me was achieving the American Dream any better than I was; the housing bubble burst of the late 2000s confirmed it. The era of being better off than one's parents was over.


More importantly, my Marxism told me to look around me: to understand that the black and brown people of America never had a chance at that Dream, not even a bite of it. My self hatred at my supposed failure was born of privilege and false expectation, and my love of justice melted it away.  

As I enter middle age, I know that I may never own a house, as my parents did. I am in Britain, where we have socialized health care, and I know that I must fight against the rapacious Tory plans to privatize it. I know that I might have to weather retirement on my own, if the powers that be devastate our pensions. The future is a gamble, a black box, a whirlwind of potential instabilities in peace, climate, economy that I cannot begin to predict.

I grew up in an age of hope and despair, loving apocalyptic movies because they promised me that humanity could withstand any storm, could survive and thrive. I was afraid of the melting ice caps, the rising oceans, and I remember seeing Waterworld as a child and being fascinated, inspired that humanity could make life-giving water out of piss. More recently, Snowpiercer gave me a sense of the world at present, and crystallized my greatest fear: As we compare Clinton and Trump, we merely debate who is at the luxurious front of a train that is about to head straight off the cliff.


My adopted country's Jeremy Corbyn and my homeland's Bernie Sanders inspire me, not Trump, who evokes the gilded 1980s of my childhood, and not Clinton, who my mother and father offered me as a role model. They are great old trees of understanding, who reach back in their roots as far as the vibrant socialism of the turn of the last century, to the dawn of the Labour movement, to the Jewish socialists, immigrants who agitated in Yiddish, in Brooklyn. And their branches and buds and tender leaves reach out to the millennials, who grew up without ever expecting the American Dream, and who are bold enough to dismantle a capitalism that never offered them anything but zero hours contracts.

There are millennial image macros wherein a baby boomer asks, "Why are you on your phone so much?" The millennial replies, "Why did you wreck the environment?" Or, "Why did you destroy the economy?" The gallows humor captures the millennial spirit: They are honest about what is going on, direct, and angry.

They speak meme as a native tongue, and see Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat as I used to see the Post Office: as a public utility, as a given. But where they expect universal surveillance and universal connectivity I distrust both. I remember a world without Internet, and I remember when authorities in Egypt and Libya turned service off to thwart the protestors, led by youth and organized online, who built the Arab Spring. The Internet gives me my livelihood and my political platform, and I know, in my bones, that it could be gone in a second, if the ruling classes needed it.

But I will use it while it is here, speak it as my second language, with awkward enthusiasm. The Internet brought Corbyn to power, as unprecedented masses elected him online as Labour leader. It helped Bernie win the fundraising stakes month after month. Rather than evoking the aggrieved entitlement of the displaced whites who are clamoring for President Trump, I fight for a new dream, inspired by millennial action and hopeful courage: a future where everyone has a universal basic income, and access to housing, education, health, and employment.


Margaret Corvid has both zits and wrinkles. She is a professional dominatrix and writer based in the South West of the UK and appears regularly in The New Statesman, The Establishment, and in many other places online.