On Greatness and Pornography
One candidate says that he wants to “make America great Again!” The other candidate stated “America never stopped being great.” But before we can determine the correctness of these statements, I think we need to ponder what greatness actually is. University of Pennsylvania Professor Scott Barry Kaufman states “Greatness eludes precise definition, and historically it has been approached in different ways”, which is a professorial way of saying he doesn’t know. True greatness has an ineffable quality that makes definition difficult but, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Stewart “you know it when you see it”.
History is littered with Greats: Frederick the Great, Peter the Great, Alfred the Great, Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”), etc. Some were great and some were not so great. There’s the Great Wall of China (you can see it from outer space, that’s pretty great). There are the Great Lakes. There is the Great Slave Lake (but only in comparison to the Lesser Slave Lake). There was the Great War which wasn’t really since it led, within less than a generation, to an even greater conflict that spawned the Greatest Generation.
When something is great is must be something extraordinary, bigger than big. But it is more than that. The United Kingdom might be called Great Britain because it was bigger than Britain. But it was more than that. Great Britain was a relatively small island nation that was able to rule the seas and have colonies all over the world. The sun never set over the British Empire. But there was more than that. Great Britain was in the forefront of establishing parliamentarian democracy and creating the western civilization that currently dominates the globe. That’s what makes Britain great to me.
When the allies emerged victorious from World War II there was no doubt that the United States was the most powerful nation on earth. Did that make us great? I don’t think so. The Soviet Union was also powerful. Was the USSR a great country? Was Stalin a great leader? Or just an oppressive communist dictatorship ruled by a ruthless dictator?
Maybe America was great because we helped our allies recover from a devastating war through the Marshall Plan. Maybe we were great because we treated our enemies humanely and helped them become prosperous, thriving democracies. Maybe we were great because people around the world looked to America as a shining example of what could be. What everyone could be.
Since that time when we were truly great our luster has faded. It is true that we defeated the Soviet Union and bestrode the world as the sole super power. But we sacrificed some of our principles to achieve that goal. We supported dictators that were opposed to communism and shunned democracies that leant left.
The September 11th attack not only shook our confidence it set us on a course that has changed how the rest of the world views us. The world supported our retaliation against Afghanistan but the invasion of Iraq not only stretched our military capability it stained our relationships around the world. The deeper we got into the quagmire of the Middle East the greater the opposition. President Obama thought that he could realign American foreign policy but has only discouraged our friends and allies and encouraged our rivals and potential enemies. The rest of the world does not think we are so great, many think we are weak. Our actions have confirmed their beliefs that we are a paper tiger representative of a decadent civilization.
At home, progressives denounced our democracy and our economic system that had allowed us to achieve greatness. The ever-growing welfare state they advocate rejects the founding principles that made America great and substitutes a communal vision based on Marxian principles (which didn't work very well for the USSR). But just as social-democratic Europe is a mere reflection of past greatness and not the hope of a brighter future, so likewise the social-democratic senescence of the United States will lead to a progressive miasma where the prospects of the next generation are forever less than those of their parents.
The Democratic Party platform espoused by Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton continues to turn its back to our founding principles in favor of this socialist vision. This will not keep America great but make us a footnote to history – a democratic experiment that consumed itself as predicted over two hundred years ago by Founder and President John Adams.
The proposals of Donald Trump are little better. Mr. Trump hates losing but winners are not great just because they are winners. Jackie Robinson was a winner but that was not what made him great. He was a symbol not only to his people but to all people. What he stood for and the grace and humility he showed in life made him great. Making America first, plus winning trade wars or whatever other parameter you can name, will not make America great. Building walls will not make America great (the Great Wall of China is indeed great but it was ineffective in keeping China safe from invading barbarians).
If we want to make America great again or to keep America great, we must look to the principles and standards that made us great in the first place. Personal liberty, equal opportunity, the rule of law and the free market economy are in short supply these days. I don’t want a candidate that promises to get me a job, get me healthcare, get me a retirement benefit. I want a candidate that guarantees my freedom to achieve these goals myself. That would liberate me to be as great as I can be and make America great at the same time.