Donald Trump just wants to make America great again. It seems simple enough. But critics of Donald Trump and his, for lack of a better word, philosophy have raised a thoughtful question in response: when exactly was America great? And that question seems harder to answer than it should be.
Hillary Clinton, burdened with a presidential platform that stays the course of the Obama administration, politically says America is already great. She must say this or else invite her detractors to inquire as to why she wants to prolong the status quo when things aren’t exactly going swimmingly. When you are the incoming establishment aligned with the outgoing establishment, it is ill-advised to disparage the establishment.
Despite being handcuffed by this dilemma, Hillary Clinton is not wrong in saying that America is already great. While we have many problems as a nation and could be headed for something of a decline, we are still the richest and most powerful nation in the world, and the American Dream lives on regardless of what Bernie Sanders claims. In a world in which billions still live off of a few dollars a day and in which penicillin once did not exist, America is already great.
Many Progressives, particularly those of the Black Lives Matter persuasion, have responded to the question by saying that America was never great. In their minds, America’s flaws, from slavery to internment camps to our modern drone program, outweigh her accomplishments. America was certainly never perfect, but the Progressive claim is shortsighted and overdramatic at best.
In my humble opinion, making America great again would require going back to September 10th, 2001. Before that devastating Tuesday morning in Manhattan, America was greater than it is now.
The way I see it, two occurrences have taken place since Osama Bin Laden’s attack that threaten our stability and culture. The first is a rapidly growing federal government, and the second is the death of intellectual discourse.
From 1984 until 2002, the national debt of the United States grew by $200-400 billion dollars per year. I am no economist and am unable to say whether or not a steady increase in debt is a net negative overall, but the 80s and 90s were mostly prosperous and peaceful times in America. There were booms and busts, as there always are, but it’s hard to pinpoint a period of true instability or distress during that stretch.
From 2003 (the year we invaded Iraq) until 2014, the debt increased by between $500 billion and nearly two trillion dollars per year. This time frame included the worst recession since the Great Depression, which we are still not fully out of. Many in the financial world predict another bubble will burst before our heads are fully above water, and that could be disastrous.
Out of control borrowing, lending, spending, and indebting are obvious signs of an expanding central government. Specific examples of government expansion since the September 11th attacks include the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bombings in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria, the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, the Patriot Act, the NSA’s warrantless surveillance, the bank bailouts, the auto bailout, the stimulus package, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, the Affordable Care Act, tens of thousands of various regulations, and so much more.
Our focus seems to be on Washington, a city I imagine remains unvisited by and distant from the vast majority of Americans, now more than ever, and for good reason. With nearly 50 million Americans on food stamps and more and more decisions being made at the federal and executive levels, we’re all clawing for a power position atop the throne. If Washington is going to dictate, no sensible person would sit by and allow the decrees to go against their personal interests.
It is my view (and I don’t think this should come off as outrageous) that 300 million geographically, ethnically, religiously, morally, racially, culturally and linguistically diverse people are unable to come together to agree on how their government should function. And by trying to do so, we have begun to splinter off into tribes that view our would-be compatriots as enemy combatants. Intentions often result in their antithesis.
Deepening this problem is the aforementioned death of intellectual discourse. The current state of affairs includes increasingly obnoxious rhetoric from increasingly polarized media outlets, demands for safe spaces, trigger warnings, monitoring of microaggressions, and disinvitations of controversial speakers on campus, firings and persecutions of individuals who make offensive comments in their private lives, and accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, xenophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, ableism, and other forms of prejudice and bigotry in response to both benign and provocative comments some people don’t like. To put it simply, we’re forgotten how to agree to disagree.
I believe that the initial cause of our current failure to communicate is the profiling and distrust of Muslim, Arabic, and other brown-skinned people that followed Al-Qaeda’s destruction of the World Trade Center. Whether justifiably or not, the American people were not exactly comfortable around Islamic-looking individuals after losing nearly 3,000 of their countrymen in an ideology-based terrorist attack. By fearing and outright hating Muslims, along with those unfortunate to resemble them in many Americans’ minds, a defense of those being discriminated against was needed. What should have been an addressing of a single circumstance of bigotry was parlayed into today’s Social Justice Warrior delusion of seeing bias and identity-based injustice in everything. Today’s young people have no recollection of the treatment of Middle-Eastern-looking people immediately following 9/11, but they have also never experienced a world in which cries of intolerance were not every day occurrences. Calling points of view that make them feel bad hateful is the norm among much of our youth along with the adults that inculcated them to think this way.
The combination of an impossible goal of Americans working together for the common good and the inability to talk to each other without carelessly launched assertions of prejudice is a toxic combination whose volatility I hope to be overestimating.
The culmination of all of this was witnessed at the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The surreal event was a dishonest, sensationalizing mudslinging contest that makes me wonder if America can ever be great again with one of those two talking heads in charge for the next four or eight years. In the end, one will win, and his or her detractors plus the other’s supporters, more than half of the country either way, will be displeased.
Some on the winning side will taunt their foes in a petty expression of our flawed human nature, and some on the losing side will cynically laugh at what they believe to be America’s prospective doom.
But the only genuine warmth of the heart will be felt by the ghost of the monster who incited it all: Osama bin Laden.