Making America Great Again
To the foreign observer, it might be hard to appreciate just how abnormal 2017 has been in America. As a citizen, I assure you, there was not even a facade of normalcy; even the weather was weird. Every day there is a new Tweet or threat, an attack on a female senator or foreign leader. We have no idea who is the next in line for “sexual harasser of the week” or what the fall out will be from his resignation or abdication. Every night, like clockwork, there’s another episode in the “Who Colluded with Russia” Netflix series. It needs a better title. And then there was Roy Moore. He was not a nightmare kids; he was real. And he has not yet conceded.
Politically, the United States has had a difficult 2017. History will tell us if it gets better from here. God can only hope.
It will not surprise you to learn that I could care less about “Making America Great Again.” America was plenty ‘great’ until a bombastic lunatic gave credence to our uneducated and ignorant fears that others were taking what rightfully belonged to white Christians of European descent. Throughout her 230 year history, America has had moments of greatness. But she has also had moments of darkness. This is one of them.
My blog, “Truth Matters,” has reflected some of the darkness we have experienced, particularly in 2017. It has been an outlet for me as my own sanity has been tested by this president and this Congress. I find it truly unbelievable that day after day, the government that I love and find historically profound continues to march steadily towards an abyss from which we may never recover. But if at all possible, I would like to try something a bit more positive as we head into the new year. I want to study what has made America “great.” But to do that, we cannot start and stop with historical events and their impact. Rather, it is more important to focus on the concept of what makes America unique.
There have been many great civilizations from the Persians and the Romans to the British Empire and the Incas, all have contributed something back to humanity and world history. But American civilization is unique. And I’m going to spend time talking and writing about what makes this country and our culture different from all the others. Because it is that uniquity that has made us great, not just during the wars that we won or during the movements that we now celebrate. It is that uniqueness that threads its way throughout the course of our history, ebbing and flowing in events, sometimes noticeable and sometimes inconspicuous. But it is always there. It is the thematic uniqueness of America that will always be there; that will persevere regardless of generation or time.
The Idea of America
It is the “Idea” of America that makes us unique. Ancient Rome did not have an “Idea”, nor did the Incas or the Aztecs. When you think of ninth century dynastic China, there is no “idea” of that culture that comes to mind. But America has themes. We have concepts and eternal truths. We believe in precepts that have inspired freedom and democratic seeking peoples around the world. We uphold ideals and truths for the entire globe and speak for the oppressed. We speak out against dictatorships and in support of human rights and human dignity (or at least we did until, well you know).
America is the land of the free and home of the brave. There are no obstacles to social mobility and advancement. We are the world’s last refuge against tyranny, violence, and oppression.
That is the Idea of America. It is the Idea of America that makes us unique. I am not sure when the “Idea of America” became real. Maybe it’s a post World War II concept. Maybe it is something that the government developed to generate patriotism and anti-communist fervor in the quest to build and maintain a large standing army. Or maybe it has always been there, from the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am not sure. The Idea of America probably came into being somewhere in between the Revolution and World War II. But it is there. It is real and it makes us who we are as a country and a people.
We do not have a national language, shared ethnicity or common race or religion. This is by design. Contrary to what certain presidents or xenophobic TV personalities might suggest today, America was never intended to be like a European nation-state. Our founders wanted to avoid the religious wars that had plagued Europe. They wanted to avoid the class-based social structure that stymied economic development and social mobility on the continent. They did not want empire, race or ethnic rivalry to divide the country. To claim that the country was founded on a specific set of religious values or with a specific ethnic makeup or language in mind is an utter fallacy. It is historically wrong.
Progressivism is the Fight for the Realization of the “American Idea”
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. The Preample to the United States Constitution.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. The Preamble to the Gettysburg Address
Everyone knows from which famous artifacts these preambles come. The Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg Address have been ingrained in our history as magnificent pieces of oratory. Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama were masters of communication; my God, Clinton, and Obama could give an inspiring speech (I was too young to be inspired by Reagan. Plus, I disagreed with his position on most issues but he was known to be a great orator). But from the day these words were written, Americans have fought each other and their government to have them recognized for all people. While the rest of the world looked to us an example of freedom and equality, minorities and those not in power have fought from the beginning to secure the promises of the Declaration, Constitution, Bill of Rights and Gettysburg Address. That fight has never ceased.
As additional amendments were passed, including the 13th, 14th, and 15th, Americans continued to fight for decades in the courts and in the legislatures demanding the rights guaranteed by those words. Perseverance by liberals and progressives in the face of daunting reactionary conservative backlash is the other American idiosyncrasy that makes our country truly unique. It is the blinding determination of progressives over the centuries; the repudiation of a revisionist interpretation of American history that focuses solely on conservative, Christian, and European values and the outright refusal to cheat humanity out of America’s promise that is American uniquity.
If not for liberals, women would not have the right to vote. If not for progressives, slavery would not have ended as it did nor would we have passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. We would not have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Health Care Act were it not for liberals. You can thank me and my forebearers for the 40 hour work week, child labor laws, public spending on infrastructure and transportation, public land grants for state universities, public education and a myriad of other social services and public programs. These are all the result of progressive legislation and liberal efforts on the ground and in the halls of Congress.
Americans must understand that conservative thought is by nature fearful of change. Conservative thought reacts to change in ways that are antithetical to the “Idea of America.” At every sign of progress towards civil rights and social reform, there has been a backlash. Think about how long it took for this country to enforce voting rights; and only by force of the Supreme Court and the federal government. And then, southern states cried foul thus beginning the political realignment that we now experience today (the southern strategy and the bright red wall of the south) In 2013, when SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act, states across the country, under Republican-led legislatures, passed voter suppression laws under the guise of “voter integrity laws.” These were all conservative backlash efforts to progressive movements to expand the franchise. Conservatives do better when there are fewer voters.
Consider what happened when SCOTUS overturned the state’s ability to outlaw same-sex marriage. States turned to the persecution of transgendered persons. Immediately, states began to pass “bathroom” bills to force individuals to use the bathroom of the gender designated on their birth certificate. Conservatives cannot stop their backlash. It is a reflex. They fear change and when they lose, they refocus on the next vulnerable minority. It is enough.
Another example from current life: SCOTUS just heard arguments on a religious freedom case in which a Colorado baker claimed that “artistic expression” allowed him to discriminate against gay couples requesting his cake baking services. He claimed that his cake decorating business was a “testament to his love of Jesus Christ” and thus, the state could not force him (in his mind) to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. As a liberal progressive, let me say this: Jesus could give a shit about this baker’s fucking artistically expressive cake, whether it be an artistic expression or an overpriced Betty Crocker cake mix. And yes, I realize I just used “Jesus, shit, and fuck” in the same sentence. Jesus was the one who talked about tearing down and rebuilding the temple in three days. He got really mad at the money changers and the priests performing the sacrifices. That parable lends itself to not caring about a stupid cake and artistic expression. It’s a conservative backlash to progress. Get. Over. It. Jesus. Does. Not. Care.
Progressives during the Industrial Revolution were proponents of the social gospel. Today’s progressives are spiritual believers, agnostics, atheists, liberal Christians, and what Frances Fitzgerald calls the ‘New Evangelicals,’ in her book “The Evangelicals.” These are the orthodox Christians attempting to save the movement from the radicalized groups of the past. They join economic progressives seeking to preserve and shore up the existing social safety net, expanding where necessary and addressing current issues such as immigration and criminal justice reform.
The “Idea of America” makes us unique. The “Idea” makes us great. The opposite makes us weak.
What else needs to be said?
Progressives have work to do. We allowed ourselves to be split in the fall out from the 60s and 70s counterculture movement. More importantly, we let conservatives and Republicans define us. Well, I’m tired of that. Progressives and liberals of the left are not whiners. We are not atheist anti-Christs. We are not socialists (well not all of us) or communists, but so what if we were? If you can accurately define those concepts, then let’s talk about it. Otherwise, Shut. Up.
Conservativism has always led to either a political or economic disaster. That will be proven in subsequent posts. Conservativism is anti-American. It runs counter to the “Idea of America” and is not the uniqueness that we want to showcase to the world. And so that is what I will post on in the coming months. We will talk about minority rights and the conservative response to them. We will discuss economic inequality and the conservative Republican response. We will discuss the sizes and role of government and the conservative Republican position. We will talk about how the Republicans have denigrated our government institutions for decades to the point that we were vulnerable to a carnival barker and lunatic who ran for their party’s nomination.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Progressives believe in this poem. Progressives have always believed in this Idea of America. Conservatives have always tried to close the door to immigrants and to limit entry of the “others.” But progressives have and will always win this argument because the Idea of America is what makes America great. Progressives have the moral high ground. It is time for the progressive movement to rise again and time for progressivism to take its rightful place in American history. It is the work of progressives that has moved this country forward time and time again we have persevered and remained patient. The time for incrementalism is over. It is time for change to be matched with the speed we expect from our mobile devices.