There’s a difference between wanting to make America great, and wanting to make America great again. I would like to believe every American wants his or her country to be great, just as every citizen wants their country to be great. To be as awesome as it can be. We want our country to prosper. Who doesn’t? But as soon as you add that “again” at the end of the statement, everything changes. You presume that America used to be awesome, fell from that awesomeness at some point in the past, and now has to be put back to that state of awesomeness. And of course, that begs the question: what made America so great before, and why isn’t it that way now?
“Make America great again” isn’t just an aspiration. It’s a subtle way of putting America of today down.
Let’s switch the context a little, and maybe it’ll become more clear. If I went up to my wife and said “I want our marriage to be great,” I think she’d smile and nod and agree with me wholeheartedly. Whose marriage couldn’t be even better than it is right now? But if I said “I want our marriage to be great again,” there’s a whole ton of baggage that little word brings with it. The discussion that would follow that statement would probably be much more somber, because it automatically implies I don’t think our marriage is great right now.
Let’s bring this to pop culture. Before the Star Wars prequels came out, I think all the fans shared the same dream: they wanted the prequels to be great. And then after the prequels had run their course and we came to The Force Awakens, I’d say most fans had a new dream: they wanted Star Wars to be great again.
Now that we have that little grammar lesson out of the way, let’s talk about what it means to be great. There’s an easy game to play: ask someone to point to a time when America was great, and then point out all the things that were going wrong in America at that time. So for example, if you were to say “America was great when it was founded,” I can come back with “except for that whole slavery thing.” Or if you were to say “America was great when it beat Hitler,” I could come back with “except for that whole Japanese internment camps thing. Oh yeah, and segregation.”
Fact: America has never been 100% great. This country has certainly done a lot of great things, but it’s always had plenty of troubles to go with those great things. Being great in an aspiration. Thinking you’re great is putting on airs.
Do you want America to be great? I’ve got a suggestion for you. Remember the Statue of Liberty ? Big green lady, standing with a torch held high, just outside of New York City? Ring a bell? Remember the poem that’s inside it? The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus? Let me quote it to you as a refresher:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Read that poem through, then read it again two or three times more. You want to talk about great? That’s a great poem. That embodies so much of the aspects of greatness that America once had, and which we’ve fallen away from. If there were one area where I wish we could truly make America great in again, it would be this one. For us all to remember that we are a nation of immigrants. That there was a time when there was no “illegal immigration,” because we’d take anyone. If you could get here, you could live here. You could be part of us, and we’d call you our own. We didn’t worry about what language you spoke, and we didn’t care what you did on Sunday. (Of course, even as I’m writing this, I wonder if it was ever truly like that, but even if it wasn’t, it’s still the aspiration I wish America had today.)
Trump’s rhetoric is about as far from that as you can get. And as I look around for rhetoric that more matches his, I find it in one place, again and again. A man who spoke of bringing his country back to greatness. Of how it was being assailed from all sides, and how drastic measures had to be taken to protect it. Who then said:
“It seemed that only a miracle in the twelfth hour could save [America]. We [Republicans] believed in this miracle. Our opponents ridiculed our belief in it. The idea of redeeming the nation from a decline extending over [eight] years simply by the power of a new idea seemed to the non-[Republicans] fantastic nonsense. To the [Muslims] and the other enemies of the State, however, it appeared to be the last flicker of the national power of resistance. And they felt that when it had disappeared, then they would be able to destroy not only [America] but all Europe as well.”
All I did was replace “Germany” with “America,” “National-Socialists” with “Republicans,” and “Jews” with “Muslims” (as well as tweak the number of years to make it match Obama’s two terms as president). Seriously. Go read that speech by Hitler. (Well, maybe not all of it. That guy gave some seriously long speeches, and his rhetoric isn’t worth your time.) I’ve made the point equating Trump to Hitler before, and I’ve done it tongue in cheek, but how can you watch something like this and not be disturbed? (Warning: seriously vile language ahead.)
I’d like to think any sane individual who discovered these sorts of things going on at rallies he was running would be in a rush to make sure they stopped. To distance himself as far from that mind set as possible. Trump doesn’t seem to care to.
You want to make America great? Start putting an end to this filth. The only part of “Make America Great Again” I can get behind is the thought that we could maybe go back to the way things were before Trump fanned all this nastiness and embraced it with open arms. Because I’ll be the first to say America was greater before Trump than it is today.
Somewhere along the line, some Americans seem to have become so focused on being “great” that they’ve forgotten how they came to be “great” in the first place.
I would love my country to be a force for good in the world. To be an example that others would love to follow, as opposed to a threat that demands others get in line. A country where the rich help the poor, because the rich remember what it’s like to be without. Where there’s a bit less worry that the poor are “milking the system” and a bit more worry that the system might be failing some of our neediest citizens. Where the needs of individuals are placed before the needs of businesses.
This is going to devolve into a soap box. (I know. Too late!) So I’m going to end things here. All I came here today was to say that I want America to be great. And right now, the one clamoring the loudest for greatness seems to be trying the hardest to get us as far from greatness as possible.