When was America great?

Julianne Malveaux 01We are the biggest and the baddest. We are the best armed and the most influential. We win the most Olympic medals and we have the most nuclear weapons. America!

We are so great that we wave our flags and shout, “USA!” In some ways it is an imperialist chant, a chant of dominance that ignores the fact that we have the luxury, as a nation, of an uneven playing field, especially in terms of resources.

Chasing greatness
While there is a great difference between the athlete who comes from a highly subsidized Russian or Chinese context, to one who comes from an urban area combining grit and corporate sponsorship, as in the United States, to those who either make it on their own or cobble together possibilities, all of these athletes are chasing greatness and perfection.

Their “props” may be a metaphor for what we all face in life. Some will be subsidized; some will scrap; and sometimes the cream rises to the top, regardless of barriers.

What was lost?
Republican candidate Donald Trump has a campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The word “again” suggests that we were great once upon a time, and that we have to regain something that we lost.

When were we “great”? What have we lost? What does it take to make us great again?
Trump said he views the 1980s as the time when things were good for the nation, though he also hearkened back to the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The basis of the Industrial Revolution was a credit system that relied on using enslaved people as collateral to lend and spend for economic expansion. The North and South were always connected, even in war, with economics often trumping ideology.

The era that Trump touts includes legislation to penalize those who dared educate enslaved people in the early nineteenth century, and the oppression of Black Codes in the post-Reconstruction era. Mr. Trump wants to make America great, but for whom?
Whenever anyone does that throwback stuff, I wonder what he or she is nostalgic for.

What do they miss?
Do they wish they were in the land of cotton? Are they hankering for segregationist signs? Or are they simply pining for the days when, though it was unstated, White was right and everybody else had to step back? This is manifested by the assumption of deference, the assumption that African-Americans would step aside, allow a White person behind them in line step ahead, and shrug off microagressions because they “aren’t that deep.”

Many have touted our “Greatest Generation,” the World War II contributors, as people who made America great. Yeah? These folks had to elbow their way into our nation’s service, fighting for the right to fight, struggling for the right to contribute. Is this what you call greatness, Donald Trump?

Are we all supposed to put blinders onto the cracks in our collective national armor?

Thus, it is exciting that President Obama signed an executive order to stop the rampant use of a distorted statement called the Pledge of Allegiance. He wrote that federal office and contractors should not force employees to swear to “one nation under God,” and that’s a good thing.

One nation?
With a Black unemployment rate twice that of Whites? One nation, with such significant economic differences? And how do I pledge allegiance to a flag “and to the republic for which it stands?”

President Obama tickled me by reminding us of the flaws in the Pledge of Allegiance. How do we transcend the flaws when Trump’s “great again” suggests “slave again” to me?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available at www.juliannemalveaux.com.


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