In an era of radical change such as ours, comfort is often sought in reconstructing conditions that existed before the change began. That seems to be the central organizing principle, to the degree there is one, for the current U.S. Administration. “Make America Great Again.”
I am unable to identify any instance in human history where an effort such as this has been successful, for the very obvious reason that economic, political, and security conditions that existed two or three decades ago, or more, simply cannot be recreated. Building walls, dismantling international markets, authorizing pollution, privatizing education, and much else will not restore “greatness”. While we return to the 1960s, the rest of the world moves on following rules we are choosing to ignore.
Furthermore, the basic premise of the stop history movement is wrong. Despite his efforts to create conditions of disaster, President Trump inherited a country that had the largest, most productive economy on earth, that had the most powerful military in history, that led coalitions to maintain stability, address climate change, and create trade regimes built on policies we promoted, and that built coalitions against terrorism.
Even discounting for traditional partisan rhetoric, the Trump effort to describe a nation in ruin doesn’t withstand a moment’s inspection. But, apparently the theory is that if you wish to return the country to a past that never existed, you must first grossly mischaracterize where it finds itself today. Our current afternoon in America is at least as successful as the previous “morning in America”, but that success must be dismantled in order to justify uprooting health, environment, and education advances and a large network of hard-earned international agreements and alliances.
There is no “greatness” in thumbing our nose at our allies and dealing with other nations rudely. There is no “greatness” in cancelling health insurance for millions. There is no “greatness” in leaving polluted air and water for our children. There is no “greatness” in increasing an already wide income gap. There is no “greatness” in the denial of the Statue of Liberty’s welcome.
There is no system of logic or reason that supports an idea that retrenchment to a previous age where our strength depended largely on the weakness of others will make us “great” again. If, as some have speculated, some in the White House envision an Armageddon between the Christian West and a Muslim caliphate that doesn’t exist and that apocalyptic bloodbath is the path to greatness, then God help us.
Most Americans, a very solid majority, do not see the road to the restoration of “greatness” paved with the stones of nationalism, religious orthodoxy, a rigid cultural conservatism, ethnic purity, intolerance, and authoritarianism. Nor do they see a return to a Darwinian culture of devil take the hindmost as the path to a secure, just, and principled American Republic.
America is not just a state. It is a society. In terms of our shared public and natural resources, our common wealth, we are all in this together and we possess a moral imperative to improve that society for future generations.
That imperative is the guiding light toward a truly great America.