Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Making America Great Again

Clearly, the call for a return to when America was great has inspired the popularity of both "change" candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, that common thread being that the politicians in Washington have been doing the bidding of Big Business/Special Interests at the expense of everyday Americans.  Whether one points to the outsourcing of jobs, tax laws that provide too many loopholes for the rich, or the stagnation of the standard of living for American workers, both change candidates blame Washington.  One might argue that Trump's solutions lean heavily on the demonization of illegal aliens and Muslim terrorists while Sanders pointed to the evil inside America as represented by corporations buying our elected servants, the dysfunction of Washington was the common denominator.  "They" let our borders soften allowing illegals to stream into America, "they" let Big Business move manufacturing jobs overseas where labor was cheap, "they" did nothing to stand up for America in the face of China's growth as an economic power fueled in part by American businesses, currency manipulation, and unfair trade practices.  "They" sold out America for short term profits and long term employment in the public sector.

And, it is easy to get excited by the prospect of finding blame, rooting out the guilty, and marching forward, flag in hand, towards a better day when America is great again as is evident in the meteoric rise in popularity of both Trump and Sanders in the past year. 

But we seem to have missed the answer to an important question; who is responsible for electing these horrific public servants?   Sadly, of course, the answer is the American electorate.  We are responsible for the "mess in Washington", and rather than take credit for our poor record of choosing those we elect, we prefer to divert the blame, and then run into the arms of anyone politically smart enough to realize our greatest weakness; the inability to look in the mirror to place blame.

Even sadder, when the time to vote rolls around, we stay at home in droves.  Over 225 million people were eligible to vote in 2008, yet only 131 million (58%) actually voted.  In 2012, about 235 million people were eligible, yet less people voted than in 2008, dropping the percentage to less than 55%. 
When compared to the voting rates in the "developed" countries, we perform abysmally. 

Now, one might make the argument that more people voting won't necessarily mean better results, but at least the elections would reflect the opinions of most of the people, not half.  Some of the better performing countries have passed mandatory voting laws.  Can you imagine forcing Americans to vote?  I wonder what kind of play demonstrators against forced voting laws would get on Fox News?

However, an even bigger question regarding making America great, is how one defines great?  Do we harken back to WW2 when America saved the world from Hitler?  Does that translate into saving the world from ISIS today?  Muslim fanaticism?  Communist China?  What great protagonist do we need to identify (or create), so we can defeat it and become great again.  And, is this greatness dependent on others' agreement, or can we anoint ourselves as great without third party opinion?

Perhaps greatness is having the biggest economy or strongest military.  Check and check.  But do we use those assets to their best advantage?   If you listen to Trump or peruse his ideas, we should be more forceful in the use of our assets to gain advantage.  Economic pain first, the use of force if necessary.  After all, what good is having such might if it is rendered impotent?   Is a country or a person great because they are the strongest and force their will on others? 

Some might postulate that greatness can be reflected in the freedoms granted to all people.  Are Americans the most free people in the world?  We certainly have a history of not allowing all people to enjoy the benefits of our country.  Our treatment of Native Americans and African Americans is not exemplary.  Marriage equality, while finally the law of the land, has created much backlash in some circles where the right to discriminate is religiously based.  I would argue that we are near the top of the list in terms of freedom, yet I suspect that too large a strain of the current push to make America great includes restrictions on some people based on nationality, color and religious affiliation, not expanding freedoms. 

Is greatness a reflection of education?  When I Google "Best Countries for Education", the United States generally ranks in the top 10, frequently top 5 depending on the criteria.  While we do not spend the most per child, we do gain points for having some of the best universities in the world.  I would think that it is a no brainer, given the fact that the next generation of leadership is currently enrolled in our public and private schools, a focus on education might be wise.  Yet I do not see education on the top of the list by some touting American greatness.  In fact, at times, educated people are ridiculed for being smart, while certain scientists in the fields of climate change and evolution are considered anti-capitalist at best, godless at worst.

Perhaps greatness can be defined simply as taking responsibility for one's actions whether individually or as a group.   If we want to believe that American Democracy is one of our greatest inventions, then we must participate, knowingly, in the system.  And, if we are to set the goal of becoming great, or adding to our greatness, then perhaps we need to eschew those definitions that include bullying, extortion and killing, and embrace the concepts of equal opportunity, a more equitable income distribution system, and freedom for all, not just for those that look or worship like ourselves.


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