This is a meditation on bad air as a defining bodily, temporal, political, and atmospheric condition of the twenty‐first‐century American Dream. In 2020, the novel viral respiratory illness COVID‐19 stole the final breaths of nearly 350,000 Americans (and severely damaged the lungs of many, many more). George Floyd and Daniel Prude, unarmed and Black, were suffocated by the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Rochester, New York, respectively. Protesters marching in the streets for racial justice were tear‐gassed under milky skies. Wildfires raged up and down the West Coast of the United States, thickening the air in the mountains, in the valleys, in the woods, in the cities, with particulate matter. And doctors found a malignant mass in the right lung of this author's mother. This essay uses the double meaning of aspiration (to inhale and to dream) to trace the myriad ways our collective breathing is central to, and curtailed by, the American Aspiration. Grounded through the breath, it traces the deep entanglements of global pandemic, climate change, state violence, and lung cancer, and their combined social, political, and environmental implications for Americans’ collective flourishing, or collective strangulation. Carried on the polar jet stream from rural Oregon, to the streets of Minneapolis and Rochester, to the tobacco plantations of the American South, it is a rhetorical exercise in breathless grief, in having the wind knocked out, in going up in smoke.

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