2
A shared culture

Chapter 1 considered the claims of those who assert that the US is a divided and fractured nation. However, their arguments represent only part of the overall picture. Despite the cleavages and fissures, there are also unifying ideas that draw Americans together into a common nationality. These include a belief that the US offers the promise of upward mobility and principles such as selfreliance, democracy and freedom. For some commentators, notions such as these define what it means to be ‘American’. Indeed they were dubbed the ‘American creed’ by Samuel P. Huntington in his book, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Huntington 1982: 14). This chapter surveys and assesses these beliefs.


Mobility and the American dream

The ‘American dream’ is a familiar phrase. It is, however, defined in different ways. It has sometimes been used to describe the aspirations of those seeking to break away from the constraints of conventional life and escape to the American west. It has also been used – much more narrowly – to refer to the prospect of individual home ownership. However, it is most commonly employed to describe the belief that individuals can – with sufficient commitment, application, and initiative – achieve almost unlimited goals, bringing forth material reward. This is underpinned by the belief that the US offers boundless opportunities and possibilities. A contrast is often drawn with other nations, where, it is said, an individual’s standing depended upon his or her inherited class position. The belief that the US is an open society offering upward mobility is widely accepted. In her study, Facing Up to the American Dream, Jennifer Hochschild concludes that Americans – including those on low incomes – are ‘close to unanimous in endorsing the idea of the American dream’ (1995: 55). James Truslow Adams (1878–1949), a historian, referred to ‘that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for

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US Politics Today
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Tables vii
  • List of Boxes ix
  • Preface and Acknowledgements xi
  • 1 - Differences and Divisions 1
  • 2 - A Shared Culture 20
  • 3 - The Us Constitution 33
  • 4 - The Us Supreme Court 52
  • 5 - Congress 79
  • 6 - The President 102
  • 7 - The President and the Executive Branch 135
  • 8 - Federalism- The Role of the States 157
  • 9 - Political Parties 177
  • 10 - Elections and Campaigns 209
  • 11 - Interest Groups and Lobbying 249
  • 12 - Ideologies, Issues and Controversies 271
  • Appendix I- A Brief Chronology of the United States since 1789 289
  • Appendix II- The Us Constitution 293
  • Index 309
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