As the New York Times reminds us, the meaning of the phrase “American dream” has become saturated with the toxicity of ugly materialism. Yet when James Adams coined the term in 1931, he had meant the “American dream” to be actualized on a moral, rather than a monetary plane. Home ownership and possession of cars larded with technical trinkets were not part of the promise of America in Adams’ “The Epic of America”:
[The American] is the dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are.