THE AMERICAN DREAM By Brazilian Guest Writer Urariano Mota Translated by Michael McLaughlin

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I don’t know which is the more terrifying: the American Dream or the American Nightmare.

The dream? All of us on the margin of the Anglo-Saxon world know what that is: a satiated life, wealth, immense buying and selling power, the reward gained in the end by the self-made-man. And the man could be anyone of us, black, yellow, half-cast, almost white or almost WASP. On this road, on this way, to all who arrive in the land of the US of A have only to practice what is in the Manual “Here a person is poor simply because he/she so desires”, in order to become a best. And being a best, in a word, is the American Dream.

To be a best, the best, is more than the superlative of good or well. To be a best, for the modest, is to be the best in one’s profession, or in one’s work. In the American Dream this means more than just giving one’s best in any activity. It is more than the person getting involved in his/her work. It is conquering all the others. It is knocking down all the others in your profession. It is being the boss, the chief. It is more. It is being the tycoon, the magnate, the godfather, the big-shot, God, ultimately the all-powerful, the supreme. This, for those who know the price of such a goal, is terrifying, because it is something anti-human; and because it also contains a heartless and inhuman lie. It is the paradox of a swindler. If the best was created for everyone, no one will ever be the best. On the one hand, this superlative demands that all the others be overcome and conquered. On the other, say the swindlers, the rest are also the best. That is so because the United States continues to be the land of opportunity, for all, for every one…

Though all may not attain the dream, let’s create a flashback, which is a way of thinking. When we recall that the extraordinary buying power for everyone demands the counterbalance of everyone’s selling power to all, we are getting into something deeper than a thriller. By the simple fact that this universalises, no, not universalises, unifies everyone and everything to the useful quality of goods. How much a kiss is worth, a hug, a love, this is not asked. One calculates, with the checkbook in ones hand: how much does a kiss cost, a hug, an affectionate look? One pays in dollars. The person, beauty itself and creation are transformed into something debased, wicked. But the poor, we know, the miserable all over the world are not disposed to feeling very philosophical or in the mood to discuss esthetics. They lack everything, food, stones in the kidney, a house, a shelter, on the street or in prison, what does it matter, and because of this they follow the rainbow, for the pot of gold which is at the foot of the rainbow. The next chapter of this search, we know is a vacuum, a dive into outer space.

The American nightmare, for the majority of people, was September 11, 2001. That image of the plane perforating one of the twin towers, like a needle perforating a tumour, and from it bursting forth pus in the form of flame, and then the other, to ratify and confirm the absurd that terror was happening in the land where the rainbow always forms, and then the crumbling of the steel, of the concrete amidst screams, shock, dilacerated bodies, which was the incarnation of the nightmare in North American lands. The common man takes it as a nightmare because the common man believes what he sees and what is repeated idiotically ad nausea. But the nightmare and its counterpart, the American dream come before, well before…

“Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit

Blood on the leaves

Blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck

for the rain to gather

for the wind to suck

for the sun to rot

for the tree to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop”

This flashback to this one of Billie Holliday’s eternal songs is neither forced nor gratuitous, touching as it does on the dream and its siamese twin, the nightmare, when we put it alongside what has been happening over recent days. The photos, the reports of what was left after the passing of hurricane Katrina give a far better picture than anything we could approach. In place of blacks hanged in the fields of Southern USA, we have blacks, multitudes of blacks, in despair, cut off by flood waters, in football stadiums and on the streets of New Orleans, and in such numbers and presence that they seemed to make up 100% of the population of the city. There is no doubt that New Orleans is a city of white minority, but not capable of producing such a large number of black corpses that were harvested by Katrina. And the reason for this strange crop is not difficult to find. The blacks were unable to gain a place among the best, since they are among the poorest of the population. Or, if you wish to invert the order: since they are the poorest, they are unable to gain their place among the best.

They are “those who chose to stay behind”, as was divulged immediately, in the first moments, by the great press of the land of opportunities. And with this they wanted not only to refer to those who take delight in being below the poverty line, but also highlight the fact that the victims did not leave, and did not heed the warnings about the catastrophe (natural, naturally), because they did not want to, from laziness (people who are well known for their laziness), or from negligence (people descendant from negroes, negligent, of course, but this written in parenthesis). And why then did they not flee to a better place, supposing that there was some hospitable place in the neighbourhood, in the Southern USA?

Chris Floyd, a journalist for CounterPunch, explains: “Obviously the vast majority of those who failed to flee are poor. They had nowhere at all to go, no means whatsoever to sustain themselves and their family in another place. While no doubt there were people who stayed behind because they chose to do so, the majority stayed because they had no choice. They were caught in their poverty and many paid for this with their lives.” Hence the 100% presence of blacks among the fruits of the hurricane.

What is strange is the side that the photos do not reveal. We don’t know yet if this is by force of the patriotic press. The fact is that while on September 11th 2001, the strong impact came through images, here in New Orleans, in the wake of Katrina, the horror is coming through reports:

“Toxic chemical products as well as gasoline are flowing just like sewerage. Bodies in the state of decomposition can be seen floating in the area, as well as coffins with mortal remains that were unearthed by the force of the flood… The police locked themselves inside their own police stations from fear of looters, shoot-outs and the gangs that have taken over the city.” Or when one refers to the conditions in the shelter (did you say shelter?!). No, the Sports Gymnasium: . . .

“Children sleep in the midst of trash. Cocaine sacks block up the toilets. On the walls beside the soft-drink machines, that were destroyed by adolescents, there are blood stains. The Superdome, until last week a modern sports stadium, has become a stage on which more than 20,000 people, who went there in search of shelter after the arrival of the hurricane Katrina, are in terror.

– We are like animals, urinating on the ground, says Taffany Smith, rocking her three week old child, Terry. With the other hand she is holding on to a precious bottle of mineral water – the object of disputes that turn into aggression… A man jumped down from a height of 15 meters, shouting that there was no more use in living… During the day, seven bodies were found next to the stadium.

– Not even a dog is treated in this way. I buried my dog – screamed Daniel Edwards, pointing to an elderly lady, dead in a wheelchair, unaided… Because of the heat and the fetid smell, others preferred to sleep outside on the terrace, and some took off their clothes and walked around the place naked.

April Thomas, who took refuge in the Superdome with her 11 children, set up a rotation system for family sleep… It is a hospice here. We have to ward off aggressors constantly. We have to fight for our lives. When I awake, the first thing I think of is: “Where are my children. Are they all here?”

And then, to contain the chaos, to impose order, Bush brings back some troops from Iraq… with orders to shoot to kill, as they were trained to do and as they did with the rebels in Iraq. One is dealing with a war operation. No, worse. One is dealing with a war to dominate with mortal repression negligence, laziness, or rather to resolve with blood the great anarchy of north-american capital. Who cannot even organise the defense of a city below sea level, a city with the majority blacks, undoubtedly, but even so a north-american city. So the question arises: What crazy script writer, what paranoic artist, what perverted writer, what neurotic imagination would be capable of filming, painting, writing or imagining such a nightmare? The scientists, those damn people who are not in communion with Bush’s fundamentalist State, have announced that “the period of hurricanes from the Atlantic ocean is only at the half way stage, and there is still a 43% probability of another great hurricane reaching the coast of the United States in September”.

When we had thought that we had gone through the worst, we receive such a forecast. This is beyond a nightmare. It seems we have at last plunged into the true north-american dream.