Honorable Mention

Introduction: Toby Loeffler

Continuing Lecturer, Writing Program




Nathan Maffei

"The Great American Myth: The American Dream"

Instructor: Toby Loeffler

“I sought to examine through an empathetic lens the political discourse surrounding the topic of welfare as it relates to the American Dream.”

- Nathan Maffei

Hi I’m Nathan Maffei, author of the paper The Great American Myth: The American Dream. The process of writing on a topic you are really passionate about can be challenging because there is always more to say on the subject but never enough time or space. I had to learn to limit myself to a narrow, but very in-depth scope for this paper which I had so much to write about. My writing professor, Toby Loeffler, really challenged me to constantly improve my writing by encouraging thoughtful analysis that digs deep into the core of a complex argument. He especially helped me with the process of initially articulating an argument though a laid back free write to create a natural progression of the argument I would later develop into this paper. Where writing was once more rigid and formulaic, it soon became a very adaptive and organic tool to express my passion for American politics.

In the contemporary American political climate, empathy is a value that has been almost entirely discarded during our debates with people who have differing ideals. My writing class itself explored the deep divide of American politics that has created two separate Americas—a blue America and Red America separated by an “invisible wall”. With this in mind I sought to examine, through an empathetic lens, the political discourse surrounding the polarizing topic of the welfare state as it relates to the American Dream: which is the notion of hard work alone being sufficient to achieve economic success. Key in this discourse is the idea that public perception can massively influence two groups of people to have wildly different narratives on the same thing.

I will now read an excerpt from my paper: The Great American Myth: The American Dream from Section 4 Dependency, Decadence, and Deviants that touches on the presence or absence of welfare stigmatization among Americans and Europeans respectively.

Many Americans view welfare as simply a charitable handout to those who fail to achieve economic independence that stigmatizes recipients. In contrast, Burkhauser, a professor of economics at Cornell University, explains that, “Employed Swedes are comfortable paying cash transfers to fellow citizens who don't work, because they attribute it to bad luck, not laziness”(qtd in Glazer). This alternative view suggests that welfare should be an inherent right of citizenship for the unfortunate instead of charity. Sarah Glazer in "Social Welfare in Europe" describes Europe as “a place where social solidarity and protection from poverty are assured, compared to the more individualistic sink-or-swim philosophy of America”. This sink-or swim approach has placed great value in the act of being economically sufficient while deeming economic dependency as deficient. Welfare is not a guaranteed right, but a badge of shame.

In attributing welfare dependency to decadence, the meritocratic nature of the American Dream places a stigma on welfare recipients. Patrick M. Horan and Patricia Lee Austin observe in their article “The Social Bases of Welfare Stigma” that welfare carries a stigma of being a “deviant” and a “social liability”. Horan claims, “that the internalization of the negative evaluation associated with a stigmatized social role (such as participation in a public welfare program) is one of the most damaging of the possible responses” (656). In stigmatizing the individuals who use welfare programs the system itself becomes, by association, a system for “deviants”. An endless cycle is created where welfare recipients are devients for being on welfare while welfare itself is labeled a deviant institution for providing for deviants.

 

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