During this season of electoral campaigning in America, there are two refrains or slogans being used repeatedly by the current front runner in the Republican primaries: America Is No Longer Respected In The World Any More and Let’s Make America Great Again. These slogans have been widely embraced by many in the Republican party and beyond.
Implicit in these two statements is the deep-seated belief that America has suffered some form of a catastrophic loss both in its image as a great nation, and in its national pride and respect at home and abroad.
It is the contention of those who embraced these charges, and espoused these views, that the prevailing climate and conditions are unparalleled and unmatched in the history of America; and consequently they have generated anger of enormous proportions. People are attributing the pervasive rejection of “establishment politicians” and the rise of Donald Trump and others as the basis for this universal scale of national anger. Yet, history does not support this thesis.
There are many occasions that should have evoked this sense of anger, and times when these feelings of a sense of the loss of greatness could have been more appropriately applied –– for example, at the height of its segregation practices, the disenfranchisement of Blacks, the disregard for the rights of the disabled, or when the constitution was subverted to suppress others. During these times there was palpable silence about the fact that America had lost its respect or its greatness.
Secondly, in the 1960s America endured a period in which its president, its attorney general and the leading civil rights crusader Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr were assassinated. The nation was never moved to believe that America’s greatness was at risk or that its primacy and greatness in the world were in danger.
Thirdly, America waged a senseless, ideological war in Vietnam that resulted in the loss of life of almost half-million soldiers and perpetuated many atrocities on innocent victims. Yet, America never believed that it was compromising its own sense of greatness. In the 1970s President Richard Nixon was forced to resign after facing articles of impeachment for subverting the constitution to target his political opponents. But again there was no outrage or sense of shame.
Fourthly, America invaded Iraq unprovoked and under the guise of a pre-emptive strike policy. The casualties in terms of blood and treasure were profound and disastrous. Thousands of American soldiers were killed and many more thousands were physically and emotionally maimed. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed. The financial toll of the war is virtually inestimable. Yet, the anger has been rather muted.
What then is the motive behind this vocal and virulent call “to take our country back” –– and from whom? Since when has America lost its greatness and respect? It is interesting to note that these calls coincided with two major events: the election of the first black president and the recognition by population experts who concluded that within a few decades people of colour would comprise the majority of the American population.
The irony surrounding the election of Barack Obama as president is the recognition that he was elected by millions of fair-minded, white people. Without them his election would not have been possible.
On the other hand, there are many white people who have not only been offended by his election, but who believe they have lost their place of prominence and that America has lost its place of greatness in the world. The words “make America great again” are but a disguised call to make America white again. These Whites’ country has been stolen by an intruder.
That is the reason for their dismissal, demonization and disrespect for this president. Some of Mr Trump’s own words substantiate the venomous nature of his contempt and his prejudice: “America will never elect a black person as president again . . . .”
Those who wear Mr Trump’s cap with the words Make America Great Again are consciously engaging in a veiled yet vicious attempt to dissemble and cloak the real proclamation which is to “make America white again”.
Those angry persons who wish to restore America’s greatness and glory should first recognize that their anger is patently misplaced. Indeed, the greatness and glory of any nation are contingent upon its character. This was expressed most forthrightly by the noted French statesman and philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 19th century. He made this observation about America when he visited it to observe the reason for its rapid and incredible success as a young nation. He later published his observation in the book Democracy In America.
He wrote: “. . . America is great because America is good and if America ceases to be good America will cease to be great.”
According to him, America’s greatness was inextricably linked to its goodness; not to its military might nor its monetary viability.
The political rhetoric by those who call for a return to the time “when our friends will respect us and our enemies will fear us” is but a cavalier and naïve belief that greatness may be achieved by a presidential mandate, or by military might.
In the final analysis, America’s greatness will only be sustained by America’s goodness.
(Rev. Henderson Brome, PhD, is an Anglican priest, professor and author.)