I am writing this on July 4, 2018. It is another hot and humid Fourth of July. Only for the near-decade that I lived in Southern California were Independence Day Holidays not oppressive, or rainy. My Malibu home was thirty feet from the Pacific Ocean. The sea breeze kept us cool during the day, and the land breeze comfortable at night. Malibu, California is the perfect place to live in my book.
I well recall my first Fourth of July in Malibu. We had a parade on the beach, led by actor Larry Hagman. Dressed as a goat herder sporting four bota bags filled with wine, Larry pranced up and down the beach playing the flute, while two people behind him carried large flags. One had the logo of the New York Times. The second the banner of the Washington Post.
One of the flag bearers was actor Lee Marvin, dressed in a robe made from an American Flag, and nothing else. Modesty was unknown in Malibu in those days. The next day, I found Lee asleep in the trunk of his Lincoln Continental. He was still clad in the robe and sleeping with his eyes open. Apparently, Lee had a bad night.
The news of the day was Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers. It was a big scandal. The story was a prelude to Watergate. The nation was learning how ruthless Richard Nixon could be. It was a glimpse of what was in store in a couple of years when evidence of Presidential enemy lists surfaced, and we questioned whether we had elected a tyrant. During that time, the nation was starting to divide.
America knows divisions. What we see today with the animosity among ourselves is not new. Nixon was a far more dangerous risk to our way of life than Donald Trump is today.
Richard Nixon was a brilliant man, and unlike Trump, the 37th President of the United States understood the mechanics of government. That combination made a real challenge, rather than an ordinary, vulgar, and somewhat befuddled mobster wannabe who currently occupies the Oval Office.
Richard Nixon was wily, conniving, and vicious. Donald Trump is scheming, dishonest, and vacuous. Some like to compare the two men. Other than being male and Republicans, there is not much to compare.
Make America Great Again
Like most things involving Donald Trump, even his campaign theme is not original. Make America Great Again is used time, and time again in politics. The phrase generally employed by the party out of power to paint a picture of despair in the minds of voters.
The slogan was part of the 1980 Reagan/Bush Campaign, although it was not the central campaign theme. At that time, Americans were held hostage in Iran, and stagflation, the combination of high unemployment and inflation, rocked the economy.
Bill Clinton used the phrase many times in speeches as he ran against President Bush. During the election in 1992, the nation fell into an economic slowdown and recession. That was unfortunate luck for President Bush.
Despite the hype, Presidents do not manage our free market economy. They can hurt the economy, but stimulating it is not something Presidents can readily do. The Chair of the Federal Reserve System and the Open Market Committee hold that power much more than the President.
Hillary Clinton used the slogan in radio commercials during her 2008 Presidential Campaign. The phrase has been one of the tired workhorses in American politics.
Trump successfully used the cliché in the American Midwest. While the two coasts enjoy recovery from the Great Recession of 2008/2009, the industrial heartland has not fared as well. They were ripe for a populist.
The Greatness of America has little to do with our Government.
Wars to liberate foreigners under the yoke of oppression are not the sole definition of greatness in the U.S.A. Neither are our industrial might or national wealth. Those are single definitions but are dwarfed by the daily actions of our average Americans.
What is American greatness? The question is almost the same as, “How many grains of sand are there on the beaches of California?” The reason is, America is a nation of great people. I see them everywhere I look. In every city, town, village, and farm, they are with us. Our eminence is so familiar in our lives we often miss it.
I do not need a mediocre politician to define our distinction as a nation. Our strength and our illustriousness are our people and not our politicians.
When we reach out and give a helping hand to others in need, that is America being great. We all know about the big disaster relief agencies that organize volunteers and bring relief everywhere in the world in times of famine, disaster, and tragedy.
The effort does not have to be led by a big charity. What about the community that reaches out to their elderly, the poor, and the sick? I am from such a town, Kankakee, Illinois. There are many heroes in that small city south of Chicago, who take initiatives to try and make the lives of the less fortunate better.
In America, we see those kinds of noble actions go on with such frequency that they often go unnoticed.
What about the teachers who take an interest in a child who is failing and go the extra distance to save that child from a life of ignorance and despair? That happens in every classroom in America. That too is American greatness.
Community activists who work to make their communities better places to live are as great as anyone who ever served in elected office. In my many years, I have seen communities transformed because of activists having a vision for change in their community, and persuading other great people to join them in bringing about change. From cleaning up parks, tutoring students, aiding those that suffer misfortune, or challenging the status quo, these people are also part of American greatness.
We need to pull our heads out of the despair of social media, the news, and those who exploit fear, anxiety, and hardship for selfish reasons, and look at just how great of a nation we have.
Tearing at the very fabric of good people for political gain is immoral in my book. How does it lift us up as a nation? How is having a slogan as a national goal whose very foundation is that we are not great, lifting us up?
The government does not lift us up. We oversee our fates. It is up to the government to protect us, help us to succeed, but we own our greatness ourselves and does not flow to us from Washington, DC.
Long after the 1980 Presidential Campaign, I spoke with Michael Deaver about the Make America Great Again slogan. I said to Mike, “Wasn’t calling ourselves terrible as a nation, contrary to our message of personal responsibility and hope?” He looked at me, then placed his index finger on his pursed his lips and said, “Shhhh.”
I learned about hypocrisy that day, and political expediency.
We need to look beyond our government to find American greatness
Look to those who try to alleviate the ills in the human experience to see our national exceptionalism. Look to the creative, and the innovative who are not content with the status quo.
That could be anyone or any organization, and it is almost never a government organization.
Here is American greatness for you. After more than one-hundred years of trying to win a World Series, in 2016 the Chicago Cubs finally won. If that is not greatness, then it doesn’t exist, and the government did not play a role.
In the above video, you cannot tell who are the Republicans, who are the Democrats, or the Independents. What we see are Americans bound together for a moment of unity.
We need more moments of unity, but the political parties try to divide us and make us think we are not great, so they can gain and keep power.
When you hear the slogan, know that it is not true. America is great, is getting greater, and not because of our politics. It is because we are born great. We’re Americans.
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