What Does it Mean to Make America Great Again
A friend of mine and I were discussing the upcoming presidential election and in talking about the candidates my friend took issue with Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” To my friend, this slogan really means “Make American White Again.” I don’t interpret the slogan that way and I am writing this article to express what “Make America Great Again” means to me, and what it means to many who probably hold my same views.
As an immigrant to the United States, I believe I am qualified to speak to this issue. Although I am white (Irish/Scottish/Canadian heritage) I grew up in the ethnically and racially diverse city of Vancouver, and for most of my adult life have been in inter-racial relationships (my two fabulous daughters are both from an inter-racial marriage).
As such, I perhaps do not carry with me the historical preconceptions about race and motivation that seem to permeate much of American thinking. It is clear to an outsider that the historical underpinnings of American cultural thought are heavily influenced by America’s history as a country where some citizens practiced slavery, and where relations between blacks and whites, even after the abolition of slavery, cannot be held up as ideals of harmony and cooperation. In America there is clearly a divide in thinking about race relations and that divide crosses the boundaries of race, religion, education and economic status.
However, stating that Make America Great Again is akin to Make America White Again makes two assumptions—both of which make no sense. If making America white again were to also make America great again, then you would have to conclude that being white necessarily makes a country great. But we have many countries that are white that are not great. Just look at Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia, France, and on and on. So there must be something else that made America great other than white folks. Also, branding all whites with a similar brush is not only unfair, but illogical. Whites in American come from such far reaching places and such diverse cultures as Iran to Ireland. We have whites whose customs and religions are as diverse and distinct as those of non-whites. If we’re going to make America great again by making it white again, which white is it? Irish white, Iranian white, Italian white, Greek white, Lithuanian white?
In 1989 I moved to an America that I believed to be great. I know there are those who think Canada is just like the United States, but it is not. There is no place on earth like the United States. The United States was great because it developed a system that gave people the freedom and liberty to pursue their economic dreams regardless of their economic status, religion, race, or gender. Individuals, acting in their own economic interests without government coercion or direction, created all of what makes America great. Innovation, economic vitality, increasing well-being for people of all classes, and the ability for people to truly achieve the American Dream – working hard and knowing that your children will live a better life than you and that someone born to the wrong parents, in the wrong neighborhood, of the wrong social class and of the wrong economic class could achieve wealth and power historically reserved for barons, earls, kings, queens and other people of title and peerage.
So how did this happen? How did American become great? Was it the people? Well America was settled primarily by people from western Europe. But many other countries settled by people from western Europe are not great, and never were. So it couldn’t have been the people. What about natural resources? Well, many other countries have vast natural resources, but they aren’t great and they never were. So it couldn’t have been natural resources. What about culture? Well, immigrants to the United States have brought their cultures to America for hundreds of years. But the countries from which those cultures come are not great, and never were. So it couldn’t have been culture.
So why is it that America became this great nation? Having eliminated other logical possibilities one has to turn to the uniquely American form of government. Rather than a “top down” government it was a “bottoms up” government. The government was there to serve the people, the government spent most of its time on keeping the country safe from invaders and external threats, and the government did very little to interfere with the daily lives of citizens going about their business, engaging in enterprise, accumulating wealth, practicing their faith, and bettering their lives and the lives of those around them. Under that form of government, the United States prospered like no country ever before. Its economic engine roared, its intellectual endeavors accelerated, its innovation reached peaks never before seen and its people, even those at the very bottom of the economic scale, saw improvement in their lot like no place ever before.
So what happened to this great America? Google the phrase “American Dream is Dead” and you will find hundreds of article by thinking people who espouse the idea that the American Dream is dead. If the American Dream is dead, then we can conclude that America is no longer as great as it once was, because there was a time when that American dream was very, very real. Why is it that household income has not gone up in 15 years, that people are not able to retire at 65, that we have 50 million people on food stamps, that Black unemployment in inner cities is close to 60% and that million upon millions have dropped out of the workforce and simply given up the idea of working for a living?
Some people blame the uber-rich. But we’ve always had uber-rich people. When the American Dream was still alive we had Carnegies, and Rockefellers, and JP Morgans. Some people blame the big corporations. But we’ve always had big corporations. When the American Dream was still alive we had Standard Oil, Levi Strauss, Edison and General Motors. So what changed? Well, maybe we should ask what didn’t change. We are still a country with vast natural resources. We are still a country populated by immigrants. We are still a country with a mix of cultures, religions, ethnicities and races.
So let’s go back to our question—what changed? The major change in American in the last 70 years has been the change in the role of government from what is was historically. The government (federal, state and local) has gone from a negligible participant in the economy and our lives to the proverbial elephant in the room. Government policy, control and regulations have stamped out the America Dream and crushed what made America great. Combine that with a legal system where attorneys now act like highway robbers of old, and you have a recipe for disaster. On the one hand the government has strangled entrepreneurship by over-regulation of everything from capital markets to building codes, and on the other hand the government has engaged in a campaign to make everyone, from the homeless person in the park to the largest of industrial enterprises, more dependent upon government largess.
In a system designed to entrench power and economic prosperity to an elite group that believes it knows best how each of us should orchestrate our lives, we have seen the crushing of all that made America great. The system that allowed the economic engines to roar, innovation to reach peaks never before seen and rising prosperity for all has been crushed by power hungry elitists who really don’t believe in the American system of government, but think that in exchange for government handouts and a safety net, citizens should do the biding of those who “know best.” The “bottoms up” form of government that made American great has been transformed into the very “top down” government that kept all of the other countries in the world from achieving what America achieved.
To me, the phrase “Make America Great Again” has nothing to do with whites but everything to do with unleashing the power of the individual, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, religion or gender, to fire up the economic engines and innovation that fueled America’s greatness in the first place. The degree to which America is no longer great has a direct relationship to the degree to which freedom, free will and liberty has been lost.
My biggest concern about the slogan “Make America Great Again” is that it is the slogan of Donald Trump’s campaign. As sincere as he might be about wanting to make America great again, he can’t do it. Only the people can. And the people will. If the government (and the attorneys) just get out of the way.
Author: Michael Manahan
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