Thursday, September 6, 2018

Make America Great...for Everyone

Is America great? Has it always been great? Or did it fall out of greatness awaiting President Trump to put it right again? To answer without resorting to knee-jerk patriotism (yes, always has been and always will be great!) or knee-jerk criticism (no, cue list of every sin our government has ever committed), we have to look back at our history to honor our achievements and acknowledge our mistakes. We also have to acknowledge that greatness is not perfection, and that perfection can be strived for, but will never be achieved.

America’s Founding Fathers (sexist?) built a new system of government through a process of debate and compromise and eventual consensus, which was great. The first government, ruled by the Articles of Confederation wasn’t great, though. The federal government could not raise money through taxes and depended on voluntary contributions from the states. There was no executive or judicial branch. So the Constitution was written and ratified 12 years later. And within a couple of years the Bill of Rights, ten amendments protecting individual liberties, was passed. Great then? Yes and no. Certainly for property owning white men, early America was pretty great. In most cases, they were the only ones allowed to vote, go to college, own property. Universal suffrage was not one of the rights included in the Bill of Rights. And then there’s the little matter of slavery and the three-fifths rule, which counted enslaved people differently than others in creating Congressional districts. So, it’s a little hard to promote America’s greatness while slavery existed. Oh, and our treatment of Native Americans. When other countries treat groups like we treated Native Americans, we call it ethnic cleansing or genocide. We excuse ourselves by saying it was a different time and that slavery and colonialism were widely practiced in the world. 

Historians emphasize wars. Our Civil War showed an inability to solve our “original sin” of slavery peacefully, is surely not a measure of our greatness, and our various wars of expansion in the 1800’s aren’t either, though there may still be some who subscribe to the “manifest destiny” theory that God granted America to white Europeans from “sea to shining sea.” Our interventions in WWI and WWII demonstrated a great ability to mobilize massive armies and coordinate with our allies to defeat enemies around the world. By the end of WWII, with much of the world a smoking ruin, our soil and industries virtually untouched, and the only country with “The Bomb,” we looked and felt like a great power. This is the America Donald Trump, the son of a successful real estate developer, was born into and remembers as great. 

But inner city and rural poverty, discrimination and racial segregation meant that it was not great for everyone, even for many returning soldiers. Many women, having kept our factories humming while men went off to war, lost their jobs and were told to go back to housekeeping and raising babies. And the Cold War, when we fought to prop up corrupt governments in Vietnam and elsewhere against the expansion of Soviet and Chinese Communism, ultimately showed the limits of the American military. Not so great.

It’s hard to make the case that America was great for most African Americans, for Native Americans, for many women, and even for many poor people in America for most of its history. And yet, America, as a country, has done great things during the last two hundred plus years. Our inventiveness, hard work, and productivity have produced the most thriving economy in history, creating a robust middle class. We’ve made great strides in education, technology, medicine, science, energy, and yes, eventually we keep making improvements in the areas of civil rights and equality for all. And that is pretty great. And our Democracy, with all its flaws, has gradually become more inclusive, our society less racist, our laws more just. 

Most Americans, even, I think, many Trump supporters, realize that President Trump is not great for America. While they may believe that he has their economic interests at heart, they realize that his attacks on anyone who is critical of him are demeaning the office of the presidency. Few Americans are so racist that they support his tirades against Muslims and Mexicans or think that there is equivalency between people marching with Tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us” and those who protest against those ideas. At its greatest, America has shown the world it can unite people to solve problems for its citizens, and yes, absorb immigrants and celebrate their transition into Americans. 

Our court system and the many advocacy organizations that have brought suits in the last two years have shown American greatness by stopping or slowing many of President Trump’s worst executive actions: the Muslim ban, his effort to repeal DACA, the separation of families. However, Republican politicians find themselves in a terrible quandary. So far, very few have shown the courage to stand up to his bullying nature as he hijacked their party through his false promises, propaganda networks, and loyal followers. Some are resigning to avoid having to further compromise their principles, but too many now seem to be bending the limits of our Democracy to protect him: attacking our justice system, threatening the special counsel, seeking to hurriedly install a Supreme Court justice without releasing his full body of work, one who may supply a crucial vote in support of Trump’s executive powers. If they will not rise to the greatness this moment demands, then we Americans must rise up, peacefully, and vote them out, replacing them with a Congress that will hold Trump accountable and investigate his wrongdoings.

Hopefully, this period in the history of our great country will be seen as only a brief detour from the steady progress we have made to make America great…for everyone.