Before you yearn for ‘Great Again’ — take off the rose-colored glasses.
History is a funny thing. Depending on the glasses it’s viewed with, the past is either cringe worthy or really, well, great. In truth, it’s a combo platter of both to the max. No matter how we’d like to retouch it, history is life, with all its scrapes and bruises. The words ‘great again’ in relation to the good ol’ USA are meant to call back a time when we were mythically perfect. But then, who believes in fairytales?
In advertising, I knew snappy taglines when I saw them but ‘great again’ hearkens back to a country across the pond when the words “Machen Deutschland wieder groß” were a rallying cry. We all know how well that turned out.
When, in our history was America ‘great’ enough, perfect enough for an encore? If a handy time machine could transport us to the past, where exactly would we land? What era would our GPS point to as great enough to repeat? Should we go back to when we elbowed out the first inhabitants, elbowing Native Americans out of the way for us bad white selves? Was it when we bought, sold, traded slaves to build a spanking new country where WE could be free while enslaving others? How about those scary days of our childhood during the Cold War when we scurried beneath our desks with arms over our heads? (like that would have helped) Oh, and who can forget the good ol’ days when brown skinned peoples drank only from ‘colored’ drinking fountains, gays stayed tucked in the closet and women remained silent and in the kitchen.
So when was that glorious golden age of ‘great’? When were we all, regardless of color, culture, religion or gender, peaceful, successful and happy? Can’t remember? Neither can I. Even so, in a country of more than 318 million people of every diversity, we don’t always stick the landing. I’m old enough to have lived through several wars, from Vietnam and the Gulf War to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Having been born with white skin that burns easily I never experienced Jim Crow laws that brutalized a whole portion of our fellow Americans. I was never sent to the back of the bus, or denied use of the same restrooms as my neighbors. As a woman of the 60’s, I was lucky enough not to have lived in a time when I couldn’t vote because of my ‘weaker’ sex. I was a young mom by the time Roe vs Wade signaled the end of back-alley abortions and same sex relations were taken off the list of criminal offenses. Our land of opportunity didn’t always gift those opportunities to everyone. For many — it still doesn’t.
But to all those who wax euphoric over the ‘great’ ol’ times, I get it. It can be really scary to lose your place, especially when you’ve always been assured of one, right? Women, people of color or LGBT people can’t identify, never had a golden ticket to economic and political power as destiny. When you have, it can really suck to realize you might now have to share your place in line. You might even feel like — well, everyone else. Imagine that.
Some things affect us all. Teeny things like dot.com bubbles, oil crises and full on recessions made everyone wish for ‘greater’ times. But the truth is, our country, like the best of marriages, the most awesome friendships or even parent child relationships, can be one event, or bad decision short of ‘great’. Aren’t there days or moments when, we would cheerfully strangle our partner? It doesn’t stop us from believing they hang the moon. We’re human, not perfect. But, excuses will never give us a hall pass. With any luck, we work harder, listen more, forgive, and learn. I’d like to think the same is true of our homeland, warts and all. If we can’t admit that, our country has had its share of shortcomings, even downright miseries, we’re selling it and ourselves short. George Santanaya said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Before you yearn for ‘great again’ — take off the rose-colored glasses.
Every single day wonderful things happen in this fair land. I’ve watched TV coverage of more than 600 historic women’s marches taking place all over the world. More than 2 million people of all generations peacefully marched for womens’ rights — and human rights. Along with women young and old, there were men, kids in strollers and people in wheelchairs pleading to make our polarized America great in the right ways. In marches across this country from Chicago, New York, with more than 500,000 in DC alone, as well as across the globe, people stood up for themselves and each other. We’ve marched against gun violence, for refugees and to save the planet. All who call this country home, want to make sure there is a place in it for everyone, a planet that will be here for our children and a safer world for them to grow up in.
We have a long way to go if we want to truly make our country great. We’ll need equality, mutual respect, and a more honest care of the disenfranchised, mentally ill, our children and all that our moral compass dictates. We’ll need to scooch over and make room for everyone in the crazy quilt melting pot we call home. No, we can’t turn back the clock and change the past but we can live more authentically, more kindly and generously in the present. There is strength in numbers, in justice and right as the women’s marches illustrated so well. I think Kierkegaard had it right when he said “Life can be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. The past is a wrap. But we can take America’s future to infinity and — a GREAT beyond.