As a writer in search of novel ideas that reflect our world and the significance of its past, I have recently found myself struggling to comment upon anything of importance without encountering the influences of the presidency of Donald Trump.
This politically inspired version of writer’s bloc may have something to do with my belief that friends and family with opposing political views should talk more politics, not less, as many counselors suggest. Even in my daily life, it seems as if Trump is everywhere.
For example, my basketball buddy, Rick, voted for Trump. Each time the president stumbles, I ask Rick if he has any regrets. His standard reply focuses on Trump’s conservative judicial appointments, particularly the Neil Gorsuch selection to the US Supreme Court. Rick is a religious man and he believes we have moved too fast and too far on the domestic front. He preferred other Republican candidates for the brief moment he was given a chance to pipe in. In the end, his disdain for Hillary trumped his legitimate hesitations about Trump. I disagree with him on many accounts, but I respect the integrity with which he holds and expresses his views.
My golfing buddy, Bob, also voted for Trump. The two of us were recently paired with two others to fill out a foursome. As we wandered after our errant tee shots on the fourth hole, there were two groundskeepers in the middle of the fairway doing some work. They were on their knees, reaching down into the water sprinkler box. It was a hot day and they had bandanas wrapped around their heads. Bob commented that it looked as if they were praying. Golfer X said they must be planting a bomb. Golfer Y asked why in the world would they want to blow up a golf course. Just like that. There was no mention of Trump but, like I said, he just seems to be everywhere.
At the heart of Donald Trump is his challenge to Make America Great Again, which lays bare the question of what exactly makes America great.
The most obvious thing to me that makes America great is that we can all decide for ourselves what makes America great. Here’s my list.
I think America’s greatness lies within her ability to tolerate divergent views. More than two hundred forty years ago, when this whole America-thing got started, the tolerance extended only to the views of white males over the age of twenty-one who owned property. That may not sound like much, but it was a start. We’ve come a long way on this one. So much so that I’ll venture to say that most of us enjoy living in a country where all kinds of people can speak their minds; even though some people seem to speak their minds a lot more than others…like white males over the age of twenty-one who own property, for example.
I also think America is great because she has the ability to acknowledge injustice and to correct it with the full force of her laws and their foundation. The US Constitution is a testament to this principle of moral growth and flexibility. We may not always live up to it but, by golly, we wrote it down. It’s nice too that, when necessary, we have neighbors who are willing to muster the courage to take a knee when all others are inclined to stand. Of course, many of those standing have been egregiously offended by the guy who kneeled at the wrong time. Correcting injustice is dirty business, after all. For instance, you may not be aware that the movement to abolish slavery really upset a great number of slave owners.
In my mind— and as a descendant of immigrants, I must admit my bias here—America’s greatest virtue is the country’s willingness to welcome others at our shores and our borders; not only for those with strong backs, but those with the spirit to imagine a better life for themselves and their children. I know some of us fear these strangers but, hey, even if there is no room in our collective, amnesia-prone hearts for those fleeing war and oppression, there is certainly some room in Montana or Nevada or North Dakota.
America is great, too, because we embrace the global responsibility that comes with so much military and economic power; the ability to meet that responsibility with a moral clarity equal to her strength. We still try to do this, right?
Looking forward, I believe America’s greatness is maintained by her commitment to educate the citizenry, not with the propaganda of the day but with the full breadth of human knowledge that makes each of us free and independent thinkers. Setting the example for all of us, the president doesn’t read books, freeing him from all the influences of propagandists like William Shakespeare, John Locke, Mark Twain, and David McCullough. (Cool, too, is the country’s affinity for sarcasm which, by the way, other less-than-great countries simply do not allow.)
In that respect, it must also be noted that America is great because she is always striving to overcome ignorance with enlightenment, a challenge we must visit from time to time because it seems that every generation emerges with its own unique brand of each.
A corollary to this final principle of American greatness is that sometimes—and I have Rick, Bob, and the president to thank for this—we just need to see what raw, unenlightened ignorance looks like.