Take our country back. Make America Great Again. These are slogans we’ve heard a lot in the last few years, and they confuse me. They make me wonder who owns the country now, and who they believe should own America. Does it belong to one group? Is it for some citizens and not others? And when we discuss making American great again, what exactly are we trying to return to? What exactly do they feel is wrong with it in the present, and what made it great in the past? Cassette tapes? Dial-up internet? Mercurocrome? Segregation?
I actually find this notion somewhat humorous. Somehow, going back to the way things used to be is what will make our society great. It sounds a little like trading in your smartphone for a rotary or trying to cure Leukemia with bloodletting and leaches. I kind of get it, though. Sometimes I find myself getting nostalgic about the past. Fond memories of trying to tape new favorite songs off of the radio using my cassette player. My first CD player. The red stuff my aunt put on cuts that burned like Hell. Maybe people look at America’s past, the good and bad, in a similar way. The good ole days!
Unfortunately, I think this ends up being more about power and restraint. We are in the midst of a massive culture war. No longer are we really discussing issues, offering ideas, and working mutually toward real solutions. We are fighting over who this country “belongs to”. That’s insane. It implies that America is only really available to certain groups. It implies that we are not equal under the law; that we do not have the same rights. It implies that one group or set of demographics really are the only ones who should be at the helm, steering our society in the direction that they see fit. What about the other voices? The other religions and cultural groups? Are they not also Americans? People look at the symbols of modern American society and they see gay people able to marry and adopt children. They see Latin Americans speaking their native language at the bank. Their pumpkin spice latte was made by a woman in a hijab. They see an African American man who had been elected president twice! They see a changed America, and they no longer recognize it. They long for the days where the president was named Bill, Jimmy, Ronald, or George—not Barack. They want their country back, but fail to acknowledge that they are not taking it back from some foreign group. These are other Americans. Real Americans. They also have rights. They also can hold public office. They also have the right to pray however they like. They also can be movie stars and college professors. This is not a white country. This is not a Christian nation. Diversity is what makes us what we are. E pluribus unum—from many, one. This is why we have an inclusive democratic republic, not an oligarchy.
Longing for the past does us no good. People want to return to a time when they believe we were great. But what made us great then, ironically, was change. To some, progress is a dirty word. It is synonymous with “liberal”. But that’s not true. Plenty of conservative and liberal people alike, back through our history, have been progressive. Progress simply means that we continue to better ourselves. That is the American spirit. The founders made our Constitution and our government flexible so that we may evolve with the times. Society will always change. So will technology. Every living thing in the world must adapt, or else it dies. The same is true about our country and our society. We must evolve and adapt if we are to survive. Attempting to remain complacent, or even regress will be our doom. Every great era that people long for was great because we had progressed to that point. We were the most innovative country in the world, daring to experiment with a new type of government; throwing off the shackles of tyranny and doing something different. And we’ve inspired countries all over the world to do the same. We remained on the cutting edge of society, humanity, technology, and standard of living. It made us wealthy, cultured, and educated. We were pioneers. We progressed. We improved. So why would we ever seek to regress or to go stale? It’s time for a different narrative than we are having now; one of warring factions and identity politics. Maybe we should all recognize again that progressivism is something we can all embrace. It’s something that made our society great. Maybe instead of shouting “Make America Great Again”, we should start trying to “Improve America for the Greater Good Again.”