Making America Embarrassed

by Phil Anderson

   The current occupant got elected on the promise to “make America great again.” Looking at his performance the last three years there is little evidence of greatness. This administration has resulted in continuous controversy, division, ugliness, and destruction of all we consider the good about our country. Rather than greatness he has delivered embarrassment.  

   The last three years should be a huge “lesson learned” for all of us. Candidates DO MAKE A DIFFERNCE! If you elect inexperience, poor quality candidates that are venal, selfish, arrogant, and ignorant the country will suffer. Slick campaign slogans and deceiving sound bites are not a good way to choose leadership.   I have often written about how our beliefs and national myths lead us to self-defeating policies. The notion that we are exceptional and America is great (or should be great) is one of these delusions. As I wrote about in 2016 (update here) doing what is right is the measure of real greatness.  

   Puffing up our alleged greatness is standard political campaign rhetoric. Meaningless sound bites and patriotic cliches are a common campaign strategy. It allows the politicians to avoiding meaningful discussion of actual problems and needed solutions. Politicians avoid substantive discussions of policy because to often those who did discuss the issues have lost. Policy positions are often complicated and boring. Unfortunately people are motivated by emotion not facts. At election time the platitudes, sound bites, and attack ads work. We get the politics and candidates we deserve.  

   The actual idea of national greatness is also problematic. Is being great a good national goal? How do we define being great? Does having the biggest military make us great? Does being the biggest consumer nation make us great? Does building walls make us great? And just when was this golden age when America was “great” in the past?  

   There were times in the past when the United Sates was admired and emulated. The ideals of the Declaration of Independence inspired many countries to overthrow monarchies in the early 1800's. The Constitution became the model for similar documents around the world. The Bill of Rights was copied (and expanded upon) in many of the constitutions written since 1789. We helped create the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights. America was once the destination for immigrants seeking opportunity and freedom. The Progressive Era and the New Deal were periods of reform based on these ideals.  

   I doubt this is what the politicians mean when they pontificate about greatness. I doubt the politicians are calling for a return to the post WWII era when unions were growing, prosperity was spreading, civil rights were expanding, the middle class was growing, and women were gaining more equality. I doubt they are thinking about universal free public education, the Marshal Plan, The GI Bill, Social Security, or the Voting Rights Act as examples of our greatness. But these are some of the many ways we tried to live up to the ideals of democracy, equality, and opportunity for all. This is when we took real, practical actions to “secure the blessings of liberty” for everyone.   The politicians, of course, are merely rehashing simplistic platitudes in an effort to get elected. But even if they were honestly concerned about our world image and building a better country, greatness should not be the goal. Rather it should be the result of doing what is right and needed for our people and the world. We should not care if America is great. We should care about, and work for, a prosperous, peaceful, sustainable, tolerant, and just America.  

   To do the hard work of building a better country we must have good leadership. Looking at many candidates from both parties one can only wonder, “Is this the best we can do?” We have 320 million people. Where are the successful, knowledgeable, innovative, compassionate, public spirited leaders who care about bringing people together to solve problems? There have to be many people, in all walks of life, all across the country who have proven abilities in creating change. Why are we stuck with so many mediocre, arrogant, ideologically hidebound, narcissists?  

   The current occupant is a prime example. He is the “ugly American” personified. He is an arrogant, ignorant, greedy, con-man and publicity seeker. His business dealings (his supposed strong point) and his behavior over the last three years prove he is simply an obnoxious, egotistical, huckster primarily interested in promoting himself. Nothing in his background, policy pronouncements, or inconsistent, frequently untrue statements indicate thoughtful analysis of problems or effective strategies to meet the country's challenges. Nothing in his background indicates he can bring people together to solve problems despite his self-proclaimed skill as a “deal maker.” But he does have a big mouth! He says stupid things that appeal to misinformed, racist, angry, mostly white males. Unfortunately his appeal also includes many women and educated people who should know better.  

   We have had many hack politicians in positions of power throughout our history. We have had many greedy, self-serving, small minded men who did not serve the public well. We have had many backroom, “dark horse” compromises without the experience or competency to do the job. We have had many puppets who danced to the manipulations of the powers behind the scenes. But the current occupant takes the prize for worst ever. The bottom line is we can not be “great” or even survive as a nation if we continue to elect the poor leadership. The example of George W. Bush should be instructive. It is not being partisan to point out that he was not among the best and brightest of the nation. The results of his administration's mismanagement are still being felt. Two unsuccessful wars (still being fought 18 years later), the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression, and exploding budget deficits were just the major failures. Mediocrity has consequences. And now we have an administration far worse than any other.  

   Regardless of what happens with impeachment, the un-American, divisive, destructive   agenda of this administration must be soundly defeated at the polls. WE DON'T NEED TO BE GREAT. WE NEED TO BE GOOD. To do this we need good leadership. It is up to all of us as voters to elect good leaders in 2020.