A nation’s role in the world is never static.  Its “greatness” is gauged by its ability to offer its citizens opportunity to improve their lives, its ability to protect them and secure their safety, and its ability to conduct mature relations with sister nations.  Policies must adapt to new realities to achieve these goals.

But being “great” is relative.  Great compared to what.  Between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States bestrode the world like a colossus.  But during that period two things were happening: globalization and the rise of other powers.

Globalization included the formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the imposition of oil exporting embargoes, the rise of foreign competition in manufacturing, and the beginning of mass migration of low-wage workers, among many other changes.  During this period Japan rose, then fell, and China rose, then at least for now plateaued, and Russia arose from the ashes of the Soviet Union to re-exert its territorial ambitions.

As other powers ascend and decline, our “greatness” is measured against theirs.  Though we face constant challenges, regardless of what Mr. Trump or anyone else says we still have the highest standard of living, the strongest economy, and a military superior to all others.  So, the rhetorical promise to make American “great again” is nonsense…on stilts.

If that rhetoric is code word for pushing other nations around, then count me, and I would believe most other Americans, out.

But “greatness” in the 21st century is measured by leadership in securing the global commons.  That means sharply reducing carbon in the climate, establishing trading rules with Asia, maintaining stable currencies, adopting sensible immigration rules here, in Europe, and elsewhere, keeping terrorists in their burrows, and promoting human rights.  Little regarding any of these challenges is heard from Republican presidential candidates, as much as anything because this agenda does not lend itself to military solutions and does require diplomacy and international leadership.

Speaking of which, former Governor Palin, a darling of the right, receives adulation for mocking any suggestion that carbon-consuming humans have anything to do with a warming climate, even as Alaska is in the news for importing trainloads of snow so that the annual Iditarod dog-sled race can be held.  Oh, my.  Irony…on stilts.

Meanwhile, Trump rallies are populated by those who elected the current Congress and are furious that it has not shut down our government as promised.  This has not happened primarily because those on the far right of the conservative movement have not figured out a way to preserve government services valuable to them while eliminating those same services for those who do not share their beliefs.  And their “leaders” seem unable, or at least unwilling, to explain this to them.

One thing does unite angry progressives and angry conservatives—corruption of our government by special interests and moneyed elites.  The failure to penalize anyone responsible for the collapse of financial markets in 2008 makes me as angry as anyone.  And both parties are responsible for the deregulation of those markets.  No one paid a price for the disastrous Iraq war and no one paid a price for the massive loss of homes and jobs caused by financial deregulation.

When accountability and responsibility are lost due to corruption, that is the time to be concerned about America’s greatness.

9 Responses to “America is Still Great, and Other Thoughts”

  1. Gary Hart Says:

    On reflection, any essay on America’s relative greatness must note too disturbing facts: one is the estimated 47 million Americans still below the poverty line; and the other is the relative stagnation of incomes for middle Americans for the past several decades. If Mr. Trump or anyone else is serious about restoring “greatness” these are the two matters that must be addressed.

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Well, Hell will freeze over before Mr. Trump understands those two matters, let alone think up a policy to address them.

    But, I do recall that there are a couple of candidates talking about this … now, what are their names … …

  3. Bill Pruden Says:

    America’s true greatness is found not in our power or our economy or the comfortable lives that so many of us are privileged to lead, but rather in the way we have sought to build a society, a distinctive democratic experiment that is different and inspiring. When Thomas Jefferson penned the words “all men are created equal” and his Continental Congress colleagues approved them as part of the Declaration of Independence, he put forth a goal which “we the people” have spent 240 years trying to achieve. We have shaped and expanded that phrase to include women, former slaves, and “the huddled masses yearning to breath free,” and in doing so we as a nation have become ever stronger. But is has not been smooth (witness the Civil War) and it has not been without its turmoil, but it has been a process in which strong and visionary leadership has played an important role. As a teacher I have spent countless hours working with students who, like us adults, are continually engaged in a battle between their better and lesser selves. Politically, we as a Nation been similarly engaged. The lesser selves have been appealed to by skilled demagogues like segregationists Theodore Bilbo, Strom Thurmond, and George Wallace to name a few, while anti-Semites like Father Coughlin have been no less powerful in their efforts. Happily, over the years their efforts have been countered by visionary and determined leaders like Lincoln and FDR and JFK who asked what we could do for out country and Lyndon Johnson who promised that “we shall overcome” and changed the political landscape in making it so. Unhappily the current generating of aspiring political leaders all too often appeal to our lesser selves and more than ever we need candidates who will counter those efforts by looking to our distinctive roots and principles and instead move us forward on the road to achieving that goal articulated so eloquently by Jefferson so many years ago. Thank you, Senator Hart, for your continuing efforts to remind us of those principles and for offering an example of a political leader who has and continues to look beyond himself to the best in “we the people”–for in the end it is us, the people, wrestling to defeat our own lesser selves who can–and must move us forward.

  4. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    I would suggest that we not just look outwardly when seeking to measure the Greatness of a Nation relative to the Community of Nations with whom we share this World. There are all kinds of metrics accepted as valid by the United Nations for this purpose which can be compared to a median standard determined by that same body to assess place on the Civilizational continuum. We will probably find each member state has strengths and weaknesses. Metrics are always good when attempting to counter the subjective bias we all exhibit when evaluating ourselves.

    How do evaluate the “greatness” of an individual person? There are so many standards. What are the metrics? What on Earth do human beings value in each other? What qualities do we want to develop in ourselves and what are the qualities that we deem require some level of conscious management? These are questions worth asking ourselves in our quieter moments.

    I would suggest that the intrinsic “greatness” of any nation state is predicated on the “greatness” of each individual citizen.

    I would at this point draw attention to “The Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee”. This law is in my view an important foundation stone of Our Constitution. The Iroquois nation contributed much to the early survival and development of America both physical and governmental. We need to raise attention to this contribution not just in academic and political discourse but in the day to day awareness of each and every citizen. Elevating the Pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas in Our Esteem and Affection would in my view be a powerful boost to realizing what I feel was originally intended for all the people residing here. America, I believe was to be a melding of Pre-Columbian and Old World civilizational models and that this melding would produce a truly unique civilzational model that would contribute substantially to the evolution of Global Civilization.

    I believe that it is in this that we can consider our “Greatness” to be expressed.

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    Thank you all, as always. Love your humor, Ms. Miller.

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:


  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Okay, you know the situation around here is pretty tough when a smiley face must await moderation. Sheesh.

  8. Charles Hertz Says:

    Spot on Mr. Hart!!

  9. Chris R. Says:

    Senator Hart,

    Well greatness is, of course, a matter of opinion. If greatness is synonymous with having the highest standard of living, according the the United Nations Human Development Index, the United States is presently 8th behind Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland:
    (Thank fully, we are still ahead of Canada, eh?)

    Now, if we are to measure greatness based upon how many of our fellow citizens are now incarcerated, or how many Americans are now hopelessly in debt from financing their (over-priced) higher education, America can still claim to be the greatest in that regard. Why is it that our universities have created so many graduates who can’t fulfill the requirements to satisfy corporate America’s demand for high-tech jobs such that foreign nationals must be imported to fill these positions? Is that because American universities have lost their greatness, or are those tech visas being abused to lower wages and bind employees to one company?

    With regard to the estimated 47 million Americans living below the poverty line, could that be the result of 30 years of a neo-liberal economic policy which has extolled the necessity of exporting jobs while importing workers? Where has the Democratic Party been on that issue? Might Donald Trump simply be rebutting that economic presumption (like an old school Democrat) which both parties in Washington, D.C. have embraced without questioning while the ruling 1% have expanded their oligarchy?

    Lastly, who determined that Mr. Trump’s rallies are populated mostly with those who elected the present Congress? Senator Cruz appears to be the darling of the Tea Party, and Senator Rubio appears to be the favorite of the Republican establishment. Mr. Trump does far better in the open primaries where independents and registered democrats can cross-over and vote for him, and he usually loses in closed primaries and G.O.P. caucuses. Lastly, consider what might happen in November with the African-American vote if Mr. Trump were to run on a ticket with Dr. Carson…

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