Looking for the Big Dream

As China dreams big, the American Dream is shrinking before our eyes.

Michael Woolf, author of “Fire and Fury: The Trump White House,” quotes the U.S. President as having said frequently to his staff, “Big things, we need big things. This isn’t big. I need big. Bring me big. Do you even know what big is?”

I remember when America dreamt big. President Kennedy’s Peace Corps which sent young American volunteers abroad to help in the development of poor countries was big. So was the enactment of the Foreign Assistance Act, and his plan to land a man on the moon. President Johnson’s Great Society of large social programs (Medicaid, Medicare) were big. Even President Nixon’s decision to go to China and open it to the world was big.

But since the late 1970s, America’s dreams seem to have gotten smaller, or have backfired. The neoconservative dream of democratizing what it perceived to be authoritarian governments, especially in Muslim countries, only led to wars, burnt cities, and displaced people.

Anti-Trump late-night TV stand-up comedians, of course, will pun their way into our living rooms by saying, He has a big ego. But to me, there’s something about bigness that hounds American presidents. And yes, Mr. Trump has a big ego – most leaders do – looking for a big idea. But where could he find it in the midst of creeping American insularity that he himself appears to favor? You can’t be big and inward-looking.

In the movie (and later, Broadway play) “Sunset Boulevard,” Norma Desmond, the fading star, memorably says, “I am big. It’s the picture that got small.” Can this same ailment be afflicting America and its current President? Is Donald as vain as Norma?

As China dreams big (the Silk Road and Belt), the American Dream is shrinking before our eyes. I hope our American friends wake up from their Rip Van Winkle sleep. They can start by truly helping the “shit hole countries,” as Mr. Trump so crudely put it last week, or leading the charge on climate change. But how can America dream big when it is itself in a big fiscal and financial shit hole, and its politics is in such disarray?


About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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