What happened to America? Where is the land I love? The country I was born into, where my hopes and dreams came alive with the guidance and protection of my family, my community and my school?
I’m not so naïve as to think my concern and a plea to “Make America Great Again” will reveal the path to do just that, but I am old enough to have seen many changes in America and know changes will continue.
The inherent flaw with the “Make America Great Again” movement is it is too nonspecific. To when exactly, and to what? To when racism was so systemic it was actually the system itself? To when only white men controlled everything? To the time before refrigeration or rural electrification? Before the vaccine for polio?
The problem with a platform to “return to greatness” is the fact greatness has never been fully realized. Or in truth there has always been greatness, and there have always been flaws. Even today greatness surrounds us, and so do flaws.
Years from now, will this be a period we long to return to? You may have quickly answered “No!” but imagine living in the midst of the Civil War or the Great Depression. Many of us remember the civic unrest during the Vietnam War. It is hard to imagine more turmoil than any of those times. Perhaps today will seem bucolic in retrospect.
American greatness is still a worthy pursuit, however. The creation of this nation was not a fait accompli, but the creation of a journey; a journey forged by a great ideal.
To make America great again is not to return to any specific time or set of values, but the reconstitution of a great destiny; a shared vision of the self-evident truths of freedom and equality.
When we talk of arming school teachers and building walls to isolate us, when we separate races, religions and gender, we change America’s noble narrative from inclusion to exclusion.
If our answer is to arm ourselves to the teeth to protect ourselves from one another and to create policies to assuage our fears rather than to elevate our dreams, then we do not move toward greatness, we, instead, limit its reach.
This is not a denial of the fear of epidemic school shootings, terrorist networks, cyber-bullying or even toxic derivatives; it is an acknowledgment of those challenges for which new perspectives and policies must be created, and it is a call to recalibrate our American dream.
Will greatness be defined by how well armed our citizens become? Or should our dream be for homes and schools that don’t require deadly force for protection? Do we get there by going so far the other way first we let the law of attrition dictate who survives?
And is American greatness realized by restricting Lady Liberty’s promise to “the tired and the poor”? Or would it be to, once again, open our arms to the character of immigration that founded a Republic — with liberty and justice for all?