Things That Have Made America Great Before

So. Trump’s slogan is “Make America Great Again”. His transition team has set up a website that, among other things, invites people to submit suggestions for ways to Make America Great Again.

Let’s see. What happens when I think of things that Made America Great in the past?

Hybrid vigor. America has always been a nation of immigrants. We are the rejects, the fortune-seekers, the transported. People came to this country to make a new life, regardless of their nationality. Including Trump’s grandfather Friederich, who went from being a draft-dodging barber in Germany, to being one in NYC, to building a fortune running restaurants in the Gold Rush. That’s the American dream: any random person can come to this country and build a fortune off the combination of hard work and a little luck. Our culture is a crazy mish-mash of stuff brought in by every immigrant, as is no small chunk of our population – I’m a French/Italian/German euromutt, myself. Keep those open doors, continue being the land of dreams.

Unions. Strong unions forced fair treatment of workers. Without unions, we get long hours for little pay. I don’t know more than the broadest outline of this, I only know about the history of unions in the US through what the history of cartooning taught me. I’ve seen the difference between union jobs and non-union jobs first-hand.

Innovation. We’ve had a lot of smart, dedicated people who have come up with cool stuff that we could sell to the world. Lightbulbs. Cars. Airplanes. Computers. Where’d we get that? Well, people had the time to tinker with things instead of spending all their waking hours slaving away to pay for the basic necessities. And they had a decent education to start them out, too, which leads us to…

Education. How many kids coming home from WWII got a free education thanks to the GI Bill? How many of them broadened their horizons by going to college and meeting people they never could have seen in the small towns they came from? How many of them built businesses and lives because of that? The Boomers like to point back to their childhood as a time of Greatness, and this is a large part of why. Today? A college education is out of reach for even middle-class kids, let alone poor kids. Hell, there’s a lot of kids all across the country that get shitty elementary school, as well. How can we channel money into paying for this for more people again? Give every family in the country gets financing to pay for college. Or pour a lot more money into public schools and universities, free for all to attend. Make teaching financially rewarding enough that it becomes an attractive vocation, too. Ditch mandatory testing to retain funding; that hasn’t helped. Or maybe keep it and use it as a way to find great-performing schools to reward with extra money, and poorly-performing schools to help with extra funding.

Immense natural resources. Part of why this country is rich is because it had a lot of fertile land and lots of oil and coal. We don’t have much of that any more, and extracting what’s left is an increasingly expensive prospect, both in terms of money and the effects it has on the land. We’ve got a beautiful country, but we’re ripping it to shreds trying to extract the last bits of meat from its bones. I think the way to greatness here is to acknowledge that the gifts of oil/coal/etc found beneath this land have mostly run out, and accept it and move on: repair what we can, enjoy the amazing views this country offers, treasure the diversity of its wildlife that remains. I don’t have much hope on this one given Trump’s interim EPA appointment.

Jobs. Lots of jobs. Lots of things for the average American to do that people would find worth paying for. We needed a lot of people to farm and mine those resources. And those people fought for fair wages and We’ve got a lot less of those now, thanks to businesses paying people in other, poorer countries slave wages to do as many of these jobs as possible. Honestly I can’t argue with Trump’s rhetoric about pulling back from some of these global-trade treaties and imposing higher tariffs on imports; while I feel that the future lies more in increased automation, basic income, and a lot less jobs, that’s a hard sell, and “let’s stop buying so much cheap shit from overseas and make it in the US instead” sounds like a decent fix if I assume that capitalism ain’t going away any time soon. Although I’m also gonna suggest “raise the national minimum wage”, because nobody can live on forty hours of that right now.

Entertainment. We invented television and movies. We invented rock and roll, jazz, and rap. Our entertainment media is one of our major exports. I wonder if Trump’s got any position on funding the arts? High or low? Regardless, a hell of a lot of great work’s been done by people who had a decent day job that paid well enough to have energy and passion left over for their work. Really, “keep making great entertainment” comes back down to “minimum wage/basic income” and “education”; gotta learn the skills to do it and have the time to do it in until you’re good enough to make it your day job.

Genocide and slavery. You know what, let’s not shy away from this. America did this. America is built on this. All those immigrants I mentioned in my first point killed most of the people who were already living in this rich land, and made most of the ones we didn’t kill go live in the least-hospitable parts of the country. And we imported huge numbers of people from Africa to work under harsh, inhuman conditions, and called them animals. We enslaved them to do the manual labor of no small part of the task of harvesting the fertility and resources of this land. We deny them education, we deny them jobs, we make them live in the least-desirable parts of cities, we throw them into increasingly horrible prison conditions when they turn to illegal ways to make a living. This… this really isn’t very great, much less Great. This is the Original Sin of America. This is the secret that we keep wanting to sweep under the rug when we look back at our history. Greatness would lie in apologizing for it and not continuing to treat these people as an underclass who’s not worthy of education, help, a nice place to live, or dignity. Greatness would lie in not shipping out the undocumented Hispanics who fill many of the shitty slave-wage jobs now, as they attempt to walk the same path ol’ Frederick Trump did from “barber” to “hotel magnate”. Greatness would lie in embracing the Middle Easterners fleeing the constant war over the oil their homelands are on top of. Greatness lies in raising up the poor African-Americans along with the poor German-Americans, French-Americans, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, and all the other ethnic extractions we mush together under “white”. Because things are shit for a lot of people right now, not just the ones Donald Trump spoke to during this election.

I may be dumping a version of this into that form on Trump’s transition site after some further editing. I have little hope that it’ll be greeted with more than derisive laughter at a bunch of liberal waffle, but you never know. It’s better than silence.

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