Why Do We Vilify the Rich and Successful?
In spite of our current economic climate, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the American Dream. Growing up North of the border, I was exposed to my fair share of anti-American sentiment. I think a lot of Canadians have a bit of a chip on their shoulders about the Superpower to the South, whose media inundates us. Not me though. I always wanted to live on the U.S. side. As a kid I coveted the exotic candy bars and the newest Atari games, and as an adult, all things like Pottery Barn that took forever to cross the border. Okay, so I’m shallow and easy.[SIGNUP]
But there’s more to my American envy. Canada considers itself multicultural and in doing so, bends over backward to accommodate the traditions of every person who arrives from every place on planet. They’re the consummate hosts, obviously, but in doing so a lot of Canadians feel like their country has lost its identity, traditions and customs. Political correctness prevails and the populous seems to feel collective guilt for uttering anything they fear might conflict with the beliefs and traditions of every other culture. This is a totally different mentality than that of the American melting pot. The melting pot ideology is, from my understanding, meant to encourage the people who immigrate from other cultures to join in celebrating the things that are truly American. Thanksgiving is a perfect example. I always had the impression that America doesn’t feel the need to apologize for itself. Therein lies the difference. Canadians are always apologizing. People magazine’s latest (Canadian) Sexiest Man Alive, Ryan Reynolds, is quoted as saying, “We can apologize virtually on demand. For anything.”
Along the same lines as the melting pot is the American Dream. There really isn’t a Canadian Dream per se, other than just getting by. In Canada the system works almost against you; getting ahead is really, really hard. The more financially successful you are, the more aggressively you are taxed, which is similar to here, but the cost of living is much higher, plus there’s really steep sales tax on everything. Add it up and getting educated, working hard and achieving success doesn’t really pay off as much as it should. The American Dream is a different animal. Goals are actually attainable through hard work and perseverance. Examples abound all around us.
Which brings us to what I really don’t understand. Why does it seem like success is a dirty word here? A predominate issue in the recent election was increasing the tax burden on the wealthy. Party politics aside, I couldn’t help but notice how often the word “wealthy” was spat out in the manner we usually reserve for “evil” or “disease.” It seems commonplace these days to blame a lot of society’s ills on the wealthy, but aren’t the wealthy the people who have achieved the American Dream that we all want? Why the negative connotation? Should the rich feel guilty for being, well, rich? Wouldn’t any of us sign up to join that demographic in a second? (Hello, Powerball?) Is it that other American phenomenon that you build them up so you can knock them down? Actually, that one might be British … Sorry.
I’ve rubbed shoulders with a few wealthy people since I moved here, and it’s been my experience that these are the people who give back most generously. I honestly can’t imagine where we’d be without their foundations and charities. They fund-raise and support hospitals, cancer groups, abused women, children’s causes, the homeless and hungry, special needs and police charities, animal rescues and schools. Not to mention the arts. The generosity I see is incredible and inspiring. This is exactly what happens when Americans achieve the American Dream — they give back. Which is one reason I’m thankful to live here. Another is J. Crew, which still hasn’t crossed the border. Happy Thanksgiving.