Thursday, July 13, 2017

America the beautiful -- but not so great

A presidential candidate’s campaign slogan got me thinking while I watched the Jackie Robinson story on PBS.

I know. My mind works in mysterious ways. I won’t mention the candidate’s name because I’m attempting to stay apolitical in this space at least until this year’s election season is over.

But as the story of Jackie Robinson’s life unfolded, the slogan – “Make America great again” – popped into my head with a realization.

America has never been great, so it will be impossible for Mr. Candidate to make it great “again.” Somebody ought to tell him to put a strike through the word on his ball caps (which incidentally sell for about 20 bucks and help pad his coffers).

Yeah, I know. It’s terrible for me to say that. But it’s true.

For sure America has done some great things in its young life, including but not limited to helping to save the 20th-century free world from having to live under fascism and communism; sending men to the moon; creating the world’s greatest economy; and giving the world a host of inventions, creations and discoveries.

It’s got great scenery. But we didn’t do that. God did. And he/she gave other countries great scenery, too.

Consider the story of Jackie Robinson, the talented black baseball player who along with his peers was prohibited from joining a major league baseball team because of his color.

That’s not ancient history. That was the reality of post-World War II America – just a handful of years before my birth.

After Robinson broke the barrier and was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, his clubhouse stature was far from equal. He endured separation from his racist teammates and death threats from haters.

All that was systemic of our “great” American culture.

Anyone for a lynching? How about a Ku Klux Klan membership?

One of the best “America isn’t great anymore” rants was given by character Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) on the HBO series “Newsroom,” which was written by Aaron Sorkin.

“We stood up for what was right,” he said.

“We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not 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 cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy...”

Except, Will, America was never great.

For the first hundred years of our history, it was OK for our forefathers – the ones who wrote the untouchable constitution – to own people.

In the subsequent 100 years, it was OK for the white folks to pass laws that prohibited co-mingling. To the back of the bus, the white guys demanded.

Meanwhile, we accused others of being communists and isolated Japanese-Americans and German-Americans in wartime.

And speaking of war, we’ve seen no shortage of that. We’ve been involved in armed conflict most years of our history. Who among us will point to Vietnam as a noble exercise?

We certainly have great educational opportunities and health care systems as long as you can afford them. Twenty years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that our system of funding schools favored the wealthy. What’s changed there? Nothing that I can tell.

The citizens of other countries see us as obese, aggressive and consumed with hours of mindless TV. Many of our citizens have an ignorance of geography and an intolerance of race, creed and color. And they vote and own guns.

“Make America great” is something we can try for, Mr. Candidate. Kill the “again.”

This commentary originally appeared in the Bargain Hunter in April 2016.

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