America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.Alexis de Tocqueville
It’s hard to say precisely the moment when America ceased being good. Some might even say she never was good–at least not wholly. Our country was built upon interracial warfare and slavery–against American natives, Africans, even the white poor.
To say any of that was ever good is shortsighted and misleading.
And yet, one can’t help but argue that America has always been great: a bastion of freedom, a new exploration of democracy on a scale that hadn’t been seen before, a righteous (but not self-righteous) country whose faith lay not in ethereal deities or divine mandates but upon the collective goodness of the people themselves. Yes, America hasn’t always met these ideals (if ever she has), but striving toward ideals is itself a a constant struggle and a constant celebration of the small victories along the way.
Yet now, amid political corruption and mass shootings, what victories remain?
I’ve been mulling over this post for days. There’s something on the cusp, but its curvature is uncertain and strangely indecipherable. There’s a profusion of words and opinions, people saying more this, less that, and someone else saying the opposite, and it’s tiresome and confusing and misleading. We cannot focus upon solutions if we cannot first agree upon the problems. If you’re pedaling video games as the problem, when the problem is clearly something else, consensus is impossible.
Growing up, I knew America was never perfect: I was Jewish in a country whose fingers first pointed to Jews in the wake of 9/11; I was gay in a country that had struck down laws making same-sex relations illegal only six years before I began coming out.
And yet, I knew I was not perfect, and I saw in my country a reflection of myself–or perhaps I saw myself reflected in my country. I could trace my personal development through a sequence of mistakes and corrections, a lifelong learning process that alternatively filled me with pride and shame as I continually became something greater than I had been before. All those awkward moments as a child made me a more confident adult; all those failures helped propel me toward success.
So I looked at the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement. I looked at the Civil War, and the protests surrounding Vietnam, and the responses toward global catastrophes that came not from our administration always, but often from the people themselves. Each of these things marked a step from flawed toward flawless, and growing up amid ongoing fights for voting rights and adequate healthcare and LGBTQ equality, I was inspired that these small steps would only continue until we weren’t great because we were good, but great because we had finally earned being called great.
I remember the unity we felt as a country after 9/11. Yet now I see the divisiveness spurred along Islamophobic lines and the divisiveness perpetuated by those who opposed extending basic protections to the heroes of that same terrorist act.
I remember the celebration of ideals when we elected our first African American president–not once, but twice. Yet now I see the truth that beneath the progress there was a river of racism that has never healed, that in response to our first black president, in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, we elected our first White president.
I remember the landmark decision, hardly four years ago, when the Supreme Court extended the right to marriage to all individuals–and I have since seen the eruption of laws that aim to disenfranchise this same population and executive orders that expressly forbid transgender people from serving in the armed forces no matter the fact that not even ten years ago were they first extended the right to legally do so.
America is not great because we have ceased to be good.
And to make America great again, to truly make America great again, we must see our current president for what he is: the personification of all that ails our country, and the figurehead we must tear down to move forward.
He is racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism. He is homophobia, transphobia, elitism, political corruption, and interpersonal degradation. He is a profusion of gun violence and the excuses that prevent the proper treatment of this epidemic. He is fearmongering and scapegoating and the erector of straw men and hysteria.
He is dishonest. He is immoral. He is selfish and unkind.
Trump will make America great again–not by pushing through his flawed visions of our country’s greatness, but by reminding us all why we have ceased to be good.
Because once we see how we have ceased to be good, we can strive to be great again.