Let’s Talk About… GREATNESS

Let’s talk about… GREATNESS. Particularly, America’s greatness.

What makes a country great? For most of us, many factors might come into play, such as the country being exceptional in terms of:

• geographic expanse and resources;
• population;
• military power and victories;
• wealth, productivity, and an ever increasing standard of living;
• leadership in technology and innovation;
• global political and cultural leadership and influence;
• health, happiness and quality of life;
• and a commitment to justice, equality and human rights.

In his famous scene from the pilot of “The Newsroom,” Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy explained why America was once a great country: “We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior.”

In so many of these areas, America has witnessed a steep decline over the past four years. America’s loss of international prestige is perhaps most pronounced. America has become both a laughing stock and pariah to much of the rest of the civilized world. Our allies no longer trust us. Our passports are not accepted around the world due to America’s failure to deal with COVID-19 in a competent manner. Our adversaries view America politically as a joke, led by a clown-in-chief, whose favor can be curried through empty praise.

The net worth of our wealthiest citizens continues to increase while the vast majority find themselves in the midst of a recession that grows more dire with each passing day. Many are unable to pay their rent. We see people losing their jobs and businesses on a scale not seen since the great depression.

America’s educational system has dramatically failed when it has produced a populace in which a substantial minority rejects not only science but also empirical reality while choosing to live in a world of “alternative facts.” Meanwhile that same segment of the populace praises, or seems unable to recognize, the incredible risks posed by an elected official exhibiting persistent abusive, psychopathic and sociopathic behaviors while having control of our nuclear codes.

America has culturally failed when a substantial portion of our population thinks it is just fine to be led by a: serial sexual abuser; a credibly accused rapist; a man who has told 20,000+ documented lies as POTUS; who saturates his presidency with corruption and surrounds himself with criminals; who sacrilegiously uses religion to play people for suckers while failing to live by any of the values of the religion he pretends to support; and who acts in a manner consistent with his being a Russian asset.

Our health care system is, for the average citizen, one of the very worst in the developed world. And it continues to deteriorate in the face of an abject lack of leadership.

Our system of justice on the federal level has become a department of injustice that, more and more often, engages in the corrupt enforcement of order against those who might oppose POTUS, and for the furthering of POTUS’s personal interests.

Our level of national debt poses an insane liability that cripples America’s future.

Our failure to address the risks from climate change fuels ongoing natural disasters on a scale never seen before while presaging catastrophic scenarios for our future and the futures of our children.

By any rational perspective, America is no longer a great country. In fact, America shows every sign of being a country on the brink of potential collapse. The end of America, at least of an America that is a secular, capitalistic, representative democracy, could be upon us within a period of months.

And yet…

The Trump campaign slogan over the past four years has explicitly been centered on promises to “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great.” And from the point of view of many of the President’s supporters, they believe that Trump has set a course that has been and continues to be successful in making America great.

How do we resolve this discrepancy?

The only way to explain it is to realize that for the segment of the population that supports Trump, an American return to greatness is not primarily measured by ANY of the metrics I listed above. The only explanation that fits the actual facts is if, for these people, America’s return to greatness is defined as being a society in which white Christian males once again hold a position of privilege. If we define greatness in this manner, then all of America’s failures I mentioned above become either irrelevant or actually supportive of their vision for making America great again.

When we wonder why some of our acquaintances are not outraged by things like blatant racism, human rights abuses, corruption, submission to Putin, and so many of the other daily horrors Trump that has unleashed upon America, it is because they often see these things as positives, not negatives. They either explicitly support it; they don’t care; they completely tune it out so they can’t see it; or they decide to embrace alternative facts so they can pretend it isn’t happening.

We won’t defeat this challenge by changing minds, at least not in the short term. We will only win by making sure that the majority — the vast majority who are decent and good and just — recognize the dangers and use their votes to help us address them, by making drastic changes in both the Presidency and the Senate.

If that happens, there is a chance, a fighting chance, that the dominoes could start falling again in a direction that will lead to an America that is greater than any America of the past. It will require us to face extraordinary cultural, economic and environmental challenges with every bit of ingenuity that America can muster.

But if we are determined, you and I, together, can make it happen.

This column was originally published on Facebook on August 24, 2020 using this sharable post:

and on Twitter using this retweetable thread:

Cliff Kurtzman
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