Frank Rich: In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream

In Behold, America, a fascinating new look at “the entangled history” of “America First” and “the American Dream,” out this fall, Sarah Churchwell unearths a 1900 editorial in the New York Post fretting about how multimillionaires “are very rarely, if ever, content with a position of equality.” The paper hypothesized that “the American dream,” a term not yet in common parlance, could be ended by their greed. A similar 1908 editorial in the Leavenworth, Kansas, Times, again invoking “American dreams,” championed “the equitable distribution of wealth” while making pointed note of the vast discrepancy between the pay of an insurance-company executive and a headmaster: “Why do we accord highest place to money mongers and lowest place to teachers of ideals?”