America and the Rest of Us

American flag

We seem to never tire of reading about United States, from analyses of the society and its changing role in the world, to, what is more common, gossip about the rich and the famous and the bold and the beautiful. More recently the voice and views of presidential contender Donald Trump is increasingly getting bandwith.

When an argument comes around that pronounces the American dream as dead, and goes on to argue the case convincingly, it is of course gefundenes fressen (Fast Company 2015). The argument or rather the causes for this pronounciation rests on the undisputable fact that the United States ranks among the lowest of developed countries in terms of upward mobility. The source refers to the so-called "Horatio Alger myth" in explaining this. The argument is, essentially, that Americans still cling to the storyline that was repeated throughout his production of almost 100 titles, namely that of a "rags-to-riches" narrative:

"Impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty." (Wikipedia n.d.a).

I associate another myth, one that may be understood to go some way towards explaining the Horatio Alger myth, including why it never was important. This is the metaphor "melting pot" (Wikipedia n.d.b.). Commonly applied to United States, it was understood as managing to assimilate and integrate its many-cultured population into a harmonious whole with a common culture and values (Wikipedia n.d.b). As is well known by now, the melting pot theory did not work. Or rather, it worked to some degree for a certain minimum set of Americans, including the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), and people of European descent more generally.

Lars T Soeftestad

(1) Image credit: Mike McQuade, for Fast Company. From Fast Company 2015.
(2) Permalink. URL:

(3) This article was published 31 July 2016. It was revised 14 May 2022.

Fast Company. 2015. "The American dream is dead: here's where it went." 8 September 2015. URL:
Wikipedia. n.d.a. "Horatio Alger." URL: (accessed August 2018).
Wikipedia. n.d.b. "Melting pot." URL: (accessed August 2018)