DT overtly campaigned on a promise to Make America Great Again. This promise implies: 1) DT knows what “great” means; 2) America was great at one or more times in our past; 3) DT understands how to make others make (the phrase is an imperative statement) America great; and 4) America can be “great” again.
1) Has America ever been “great”? By “America,” one may reasonably infer DT means the United States of America. Some might argue this definition is arrogant and narrow because it ignores what Europeans spoke of as “the New World.” In the 2016 campaign, DT did not refers to Latin America, South America and Central America in ways to suggest they were included in his “America.” Here, I shall look at this Nation’s history under our Constitution.
One definition of “great,” among 22, seem appropriate, but not “spot-on,” in this context: “7. Important; highly significant or consequential ...” Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 2d ed, 2001, p. 835. Ollivander, the wand maker, used the word in a different, but appropriate, context: “After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things—terrible, yes, but great.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 85. Alexander (the Great), Napoleon, and Hitler, by some standards, were “great.” This country was not in the Coaches’ Poll for top World Military Powers until after World War II. Economically we were interesting, but still developing.
In grade school we were taught America is great because its founding was based on lofty principles of liberty, justice, and equality. By this standard, periods of history can be eliminated. From 1789 to 1865 chattel slavery not only was legal but protected by the Constitution. Other “advanced” countries abandoned slavery long before 1865. If we are judged great, or not great, by standards of liberty, justice and equality, the decades during which slavery was legal and protected knock America out of “great.”
After 1865 people of direct African descent—according to mitochondrial DNA, we all are African-Americans—fared hardly better than before the Thirteenth Amendment’s ratification. Poverty festered in rural and urban areas as wealth shifted to fewer hands. The Fourteenth Amendment was construed as an instrument to protect corporations. Teddy Roosevelt—a Republican—slowed the growth of oligarchy, as did his cousin, FDR. Yet from 1865 to 1939, life was short, subject to unequal protection of the laws, and impoverished.
In World War II tens of millions of people died. On a brighter note, by 1945 the U.S. military, usually at the fore of advances in technology, saw racism as an impediment to efficiency in warfare. The “baby boom” accompanied mass prosperity after the war. America could afford to let people be free who were too busy to protest. People obtained better education. Brown I was handed down by a unanimous SCOTUS. American foreign policy contravened principles enshrined in The Declaration of Independence, but the domestic policies gave more than lip service to our principles. From 1789 to 1939, our first 150 years, America could not be “great.”
Tomorrow: MAGA part II.