“Make America great again.” This is the mantra of the anthropomorphized Cheeto currently occupying the White House, and of his followers, who apparently thought it was a good idea to gamble the stability of the free world on a shockingly unqualified, compulsively dishonest loose cannon, a man who cares for nothing but his own gratification, his fragile ego, and using his newfound political power to further enrich himself, his family, and his billionaire cronies. It is an odious catchphrase, one that inevitably begs the question: if he and his supporters say they want to make America great again, they need to identify exactly when America was great. Do tell, Mr. Trump: was it when my great-grandmother didn’t have the right to vote, own property, sue for divorce, serve on a jury, or file a criminal complaint against her husband for battery? Was it when people of color were lynched with impunity throughout the American South, when such barbarism was seen as a reason for public celebration and proudly photographed for posterity? Was it when women were excluded from admittance to our great service academies, as recently as 1975? When we could be raped with impunity because our testimony was considered inherently suspect and unreliable? If America needs to be made great again, please explain when, during the 240-year continuum of our flawed but ever-evolving democracy, was America great?
Of course this is a rhetorical question, one that the Daily Show’s correspondents already asked of Marmalade Mussolini’s supporters during the 2016 election season to great tragicomic effect. And of course the answer is simple: America is already great. But the political and cultural evolution, and increasing diversity, that have made it great have nothing to do with what the Orange Menace and his followers think would make it great; in fact, the things that make my homeland great are the very things they would reverse, roll back, or otherwise throw under the bus with glee. Or so I assume, based on the enthusiasm with which they embraced his racist, completely fabricated “birther” claims against President Obama, cheered his vilification of Mexican immigrants and of one of the world’s great religions, Islam, and excused his endorsement of rape culture and the sexual assault of women – “grab[bing] them by the pussy” – as nothing more than “locker room talk,” which was frankly an insult to male athletes everywhere who conduct themselves with honor both within and without the locker room.
Here’s what makes America great: despite our shameful history of slavery, segregation, and the systematic economic and political disempowerment all non-white people (and women), Americans elected the first black president in 2008, an exceptionally well-educated, thoughtful, compassionate, honorable man who withstood with uncommon grace and composure an unending barrage of criticism and outright lies about his background and beliefs, deftly steered our nation out of near total financial collapse, enacted health care legislation that saved thousands of lives, and restored our economy to thriving productivity. President Obama proceeded to make America even greater by appointing Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – both spectacularly qualified jurists who happen to be Latina and Jewish women, respectively – to the Supreme Court. That very august court then established in law that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have the same constitutional right to express their love and commitment through marriage that heterosexual couples do. This is what makes America great. That we are able to progress beyond the limitations, prejudices, and stifling cultural norms of the past. That we continually renew our promise by welcoming immigrants, refugees, those who desperately seek the freedom to prosper and live in peace. (If you’re ever feeling cynical about the U.S., ask an immigrant how s/he feels about this country; you are likely to hear a reverence for America that could never be matched by entitled 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation Americans, myself included.) That if you have a great idea and a fierce work ethic, you have the opportunity to succeed in a way you would never have under a dictatorship or a less dynamic economic system. That you get to express your opinions without fear and define yourself for yourself. That our tireless, dogged free press saves us from the worst instincts of those in power by keeping us informed when they try to abuse it. That we keep our minds and hearts open, treat one another with compassion, celebrate innovation and greatness in all disciplines from the sciences to fine arts to sports, and embrace the change that will make us a stronger nation. Fear, hate, exploitation, and lies have never made America great, and will not do so now.