Friday, May 19, 2017

To Make America Great Again, Understand What Made It Great

As the Trumpster hurried out of Dodge Friday on his first global journey to Make America Great Again and to escape his administration’s mounting scandals, perhaps it would be instructive to review and agree upon a time when America was great in the first place.

Does the would-be-bomber-in-chief want to go back to a time when schoolchildren hid under their desks during nuclear attack drills while fathers built bomb shelters in the back yard? Well, we now know hiding under oak desks won’t shield young lives, but underground vaults are in vogue again as Trump has ratcheted up fears of a nuclear conflagration with North Korea.

Does the six-time-bankruptcy-petitioner-in-chief want to go back to a time when American industry ruled the world? A worthy objective, but that was when unions provided safeguards for workers and assured them middle-class incomes and company paid medical benefits. It was a time when the individual tax rate was as high as 90%, when the differential between average compensation for Fortune 500 chief executives and their average workers was 20-to-1 in 1950, just 42-to-1 in 1980, but is now a whopping 204-to-1, according to Bloomberg.

Does the fence-builder-in-chief want to take us go back to a time when our borders were mostly sealed to Eastern European Jews, resulting in their inability to find refuge from Nazi Germany? It was a time when racist, anti-Semitic bigotry flowed over the airwaves through Father Coughlin’s radio diatribes and was disseminated in print by Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent newspaper. Sadly, Trump’s candidacy and victory have unleashed parallel restraints on immigration of oppressed people while opening the microphone to alt-right extremists whose mantra resembles the worst tenets of the Third Reich.

Does the climate-change-denier-in-chief want to go back to a time when America’s rivers were too polluted to swim in, when the air from coal plants and car exhausts made breathing difficult?

Does the would-be-autocrat-in-chief long for the days when America supported every despot who promised to fight Communism regardless of his repression of human rights? Substitute ISIS or Radical Islamic Terrorism or Drug Traffickers for Communism and Trump’s foreign policy doctrine (in places like Turkey, Syria and The Philippines) becomes clearer. 

Does the discriminator-in-chief want to return to the time when housing could be denied based on the color of one’s skin or one’s religion? Should we return to a time when every day but Sunday meant shopping in small town, Main Street America at manufacturers suggested retail prices?

Does the self-proclaimed healthcare-expert-in-chief want to go back to a time when medical bills could bankrupt a family, when pre-existing conditions allowed insurers to deny insurance coverage or to charge exorbitant fees, when women’s health issues were not covered? 

Does the vote-counter-in-chief want to go back in time to when Afro-Americans were denied the right or ability to vote? 

Does the fear-monger-in-chief want to return America to a time when citizenship offered no protection of constitutional rights, to a time when Mexican-Americans were deported, the loyalty of citizens with German or Japanese heritage was suspect, when they were attacked and placed in internment camps?  

Okay, enough with the sarcasm. Let’s agree on what made America great. 

The United States was a land of opportunity, especially when compared to the rest of the world. Still is, as evidenced by the desire of people the world over to emigrate to our shores rather than anywhere else.

We are a nation of immigrants, save for Native Americans. Immigrants enriched our culture imbuing us with a desire to get better. We absorbed the men, women and children of other nationalities who had the courage to start life anew in a country where customs, language and laws were different than their native lands, where they knew scant few, where they shed Old World hatreds and feuds to forge a pluralistic society based on the rule of law, not bound or restricted by a state religion. 

Our country encouraged education plus development of the arts and sciences. After a fitful start, unions harbored the working class, affording its members the opportunity to live a middle-class life. Capitalism was encouraged, but when poverty and unemployment overwhelmed the economy’s ability to support vast numbers, the government stepped in with progressive programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start, as well as infrastructure projects that transformed America, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the interstate highway system, a series of dams and the Internet. 

Above all else, America amalgamated all the above to become a beacon not burdened by discrimination (though, in reality, it exists even to this day), a land where, yes, the sons of millionaires become president but so do the offspring of hardscrapple or broken homes. 

What made America great is our diversity—diversity of ethnicities, diversity of opinions, diversity of languages, of religions, of culinary tastes, of histories, of cultures that thrown together accepted the rights of others and, at its best, practiced a creed of tolerance and understanding. 

Our nation became great through a cult of optimism. Under Donald Trump, too many have replaced optimism with fear, with envy, with bigotry. We are already a great country. We can improve, but only if our leaders, especially our president, preaches hope not despair, unity not division, equality not discrimination.