Was America Ever Great?

Introduction

Donald Trump’s unprecedented rise to the Republican nomination has brought a lot of attention to his slogan “Make America Great Again.” This has some people asking, “When was America ever great?” As I often note in my writings, I think people tend to buy into divisive narrative told by media heads and party leaders and fail to listen to alternative views. As a result, we end up in a shouting match of extreme and unreasonable positions.

In this particular instance this manifests in two extremes: One side is shouting that America was never great. They point to many of the ills that have plagued America from prior to its conception. To them America is the land of white supremacy and the home of the slave. The other extreme position has whitewashed American history. Listening to them you would think America not only could do no wrong, but never has done wrong either. The harder one side pushes the harder the other idealizes their unbalanced vision of America. My goal here is to listen to both sides, consider history, and filter that information into a reasonable answer to the question, “Was America ever really great?”

The Negative

Let’s address the elephant in the room – American atrocities. Certainly if we were asking “Was America ever perfect,” the answer would be a resounding “NO!” The most notorious blemish on America’s record is, of course, slavery. Then again, the racial problems didn’t end with slavery. Slavery was followed by segregation, Jim Crow laws, etc. Even today, though we have made incredible strides legally, we still see drastic disparities between different racial groups (the reasons for the current disparities are beyond the scope of this article, but will be addressed in future articles). But it wasn’t just slavery, there was also the mistreatment of Native Americans, treatment of women and the LGBT community (even if you don’t agree with something like gay marriage, most people would recognize that beating up gay people for being gay is an awful thing), Japanese internment camps (which interestingly people don’t talk about much), and much more. America has certainly had a checkered past. Anyone who pretends like those things didn’t happen and don’t still have an impact on today’s reality are fooling themselves.

The Positive

So, with all this in mind, where do people get off suggesting that America was ever great? How could a place that up until 50 years ago treated blacks (legally not just socially) like they were lesser citizens, be great? To answer this question, we need to look at history. Contrary to certain narratives, slavery, colonization, and war were not invented by Anglo-Americans. Each one of these terrible realities have existed for thousands of years – probably in some form since the first humans. Also contrary to popular narratives, these horrible acts still exist today – all over the world. In fact there are more slaves today than there were throughout the entire Transatlantic slave trade.

So, what is it that makes America great? America was a pioneer in recognizing these atrocities for what they are, and though it has taken centuries, America has led the way in bringing many of them to an end. Not only has America been integral in ending many terrible practices from around the globe, but America also accomplished incredible feats. Primary among these feats is its Constitution, which was the first of its kind and paved the path for nearly all of the 192 independent nations of the world.

What Used To Be Great That No Longer Is?

Perhaps more importantly, if there is any truth to the statement, “Make America Great Again,” we would expect to find certain key markers that are on the decline – elements that were once great, but aren’t doing so hot today. So, was America great in certain categories, but now its struggling? Most definitely. Consider just a few areas of decline.

Economically: The middle class is being eliminated and America, which was once the financial leader of the world, is now in potentially irreconcilable debt (must consider unfunded liabilities which push debt to over 100 trillion dollars). Also, though the economy seems to be doing better over the past eight years, you need to consider those unfunded liabilities, quantitive easing, and money that was pushed into the economy “on credit.”

Education: Despite pumping more and more money into our education system (the most in the world per student) America has fallen to dangerous levels. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, our steep decline in national education standards is now considered a serious national security threat.

Family: For decades, children have been increasingly born out of wedlock (while this may not matter to some at first glance, it is the number one determinant of poverty). So even if you are not a fan of the traditional family model, if you care about the economic status of the nations population, you need to care about the family.

Health: Despite incredible medical progress, 69% of Americans are now overweight. Drug addictions, particularly opioids are at an all-time high. Our healthcare system is a wreck. We are obsessed with image and have taken to drastic measures to look good even if it is detrimental to our health (extreme dieting, tanning, plastic surgeries, etc.)

Religion: Religious freedom is being challenged like never before. This is a complex topic, but let’s just say that religious freedom is not what it used to be. Additionally, Americans don’t seem to understand what they believe or why they believe it. Syncretism, which is incoherent and incohesive is dominating the religious landscape and atheism is right on its tail.

Ethics: While we have made some marked improvements in the past several decades, we have also succumb to some very dangerous ideals that are resulting in the daily loss of thousands of lives and the confusion and degradation of our nation. Violence, unrestrained sexual appetites, selfishness, irresponsibility, inability to honor commitments, etc. are all flourishing in a nation that no longer has a foundation for its ethical positions – and history tells us we are just getting warmed up (See: Can You Be Good Without God: 5 Reasons Moral Relativism Fails).

Conclusion

America’s past is checkered. We are guilty of many grave errors. We have also led the way in remedying human error that has existed since mankind first stepped foot on this planet. There are also many areas in which we led the world, but we no longer do. So, to answer our original query, “Was America Ever Really Great?” Yes and no. It is important that each and every one of us understands and communicates both the yes and the no. We must be willing to admit and remedy our errors. But we must also be willing to admit and celebrate our great successes. We should also recognize that, despite great progress in many areas, there are many areas where we once great and no longer rank well on the global stage. We should be grateful for what we have, while keeping aa watchful eye for opportunity to improve. If we follow that model… Together, we can Make America Greater Than Its Ever Been!


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