Every July 4th, America’s Independence Day, always puts me in a reflective mood.

I’ve sworn the oath to protect the US constitution three times in my life -- once to become a naturalized citizen, once to work at the Commerce Department, once to work at the White House.

Three times is likely more than the average for most naturalized citizens.

Three times is almost definitely more than the average for most natural-born citizens, who just get “America” by default, for free, and often for granted.

So I’ve always taken the concept of “America” seriously.

One element of the immigrant experience that’s often underappreciated is its intentionality -- millions of people who, for one reason or another, convinced themselves that going to a totally foreign land to pursue an abstract notion called the “American Dream” is worth all the sacrifices in the world. It’s a level of intentionality that few natural-born citizens have empathy for.

But what is the American Dream, really? And is it still worth pursuing?

The popular understanding has always had a materialistic overtone -- a two-story suburban house with a two-car garage, becoming a millionaire (more recently, a billionaire), etc. Because of this bent towards materialism, there have been thousands of articles written in the last few years proclaiming this version of the American Dream dead -- an unattainable mirage and a false promise. And if the American Dream is indeed a pursuit of money, wealth, and materialism, then it is dying, because there are now many other places better suited for that pursuit than America.

But I think there’s a broader, truer version of the American Dream that has nothing to do with money.

In a world where no one can choose where they are born, the American Dream is an environment, where you can be who you want to be and not be bothered.

This version is more abstract, perhaps less inspirational-sounding, and hard to make Hollywood blockbusters out of. But it’s closer to the true motivation of all the immigrants who came to America throughout its history to build it.

Many people have come (and still want to come) to America, just so they can be left alone to be who they want to be. Some of them are ambitious and driven -- these are the ones who are celebrated. But many more aren’t. They are just happy to live in a safe place where they can do their best work for their family, community, religion, school, health, and a whole set of needs that don’t need a lot of money. It’s a simple-sounding set of needs that, unfortunately, most countries don’t offer to meet and protect.

Thus, the measuring stick of this uniquely American offer is its capacity to accept differences, because it’s an open invitation to anyone whose differences were not accepted in their countries of origin.

In a sense, it’s the opposite of patriotism and nationalism, which prefer consistency and homogeneity. It’s the opposite of the celebration and pageantry often seen on July 4th (or any independence day of any country for that matter).

When I wrote “Can the US ‘Out China’ China?” a few weeks ago, I stressed the two fundamental elements of American Exceptionalism: immigration and rule of law. The result of a thoughtfully open immigration system protected by the rule of law is the precondition for this truer version of the American Dream I laid out to stay alive.

Keeping this dream alive requires more Americans, both naturalized and natural-born Americans, to grow their capacity to hold more differences in their head, so, collectively, the country can grow its capacity to do the same.

It is a tall order and a high bar. That’s why most other countries don’t bother trying, but do enjoy exploiting America for failing to try. And the people who want to try are still coming to America, building its dreams and singing its praises.

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三次可能比绝大多数“移民入籍公民”(naturalized citizen)的平均次数要高。

三次应该肯定比大多数“土生土长公民”(natural-born citizen)的平均次数要多。他们得到的“美国”是默认的,免费的,理所当然的。


移民经历中经常被忽略的一个因素是其“意向性”(intentionality)-- 全世界数百数千万的人,出于各种原因,说服了自己去一个完全陌生的地方追求一个所谓的 "美国梦", 并愿意付出难以想象的牺牲。这种“意向性”,很少土生土长的美国人能在这点上产生共鸣。

但 "美国梦 "到底是什么?它还值得追求吗?

对“美国梦”的普遍大众理解总是带有物质主义的色彩 -- 两层楼的郊区大房子加两辆车的车库,成为百万富翁(最近是亿万富翁),等等。由于这种物质主义的倾向,在过去几年里,有成千上万的文章宣称这一版的美国梦已经死亡,它是一个无法实现的海市蜃楼和虚假承诺。如果美国梦确实只与金钱、财富和物质主义挂钩,那它可能确实已经在死去,因为现在有许多其他地方比美国更适合这种追求。




许多人来(并且仍然想来)美国,是为了能找一个地方成为他们想成为的人。有些人雄心勃勃,富有抱负 -- 这些人经常被赞美,但更多的人不是这样的。他们更平淡些,只想开心的生活在一个安全的地方,可以为他们的家庭、社区、宗教、学校、健康和一系列不需要很多钱就能达到的需求做想做的事情和贡献。这一套需求看似简单,但在大多数国家并没有条件和环境去满足。