The Unexpected Way 'Make America Great Again' Taught Us To Combine And Conquer
Trump has made America great again, despite his best effort
January 11, 2019 at 5:55 pm
Donald Trump has made America great again. It's a fact. Indisputable. Mission Accomplished. He even tweeted it.
Wow! Big pushback on Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York for his really dumb statement about America’s lack of greatness. I have already MADE America Great Again, just look at the markets, jobs, military- setting records, and we will do even better. Andrew “choked” badly, mistake!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2018
Make America Great Again (MAGA): the campaign slogan, the promise, the hashtag, and those red hats are seared into the consciousness of Americans across the political spectrum. For some, #MAGA is the reason why they voted for a president whose statements are often anything but great. Making America great with better jobs, better schools, and yes – better border security is why their support persists. For others, #MAGA brings a visceral pang of bewildering disappointment and a reminder that elections have consequences, great consequences.
Many in this latter group, their faces laden with incredulity, responded to #MAGA by asking: "When was America great?" Posed both genuinely and rhetorically, outlets from Time Magazine to the Daily Show set out to answer the question in 2016. Trump supporters, for their part, were often bedeviled by the inquiry. Activists in #TheResistance added an exclamation point to the question which became a rallying cry against taking America backward. Eventually, the question became a statement:
"America was never great."
After all, an America that stole land from indigenous people, built an economy by enslaving millions, denied rights to all but the whitest of white men, and – to add insult to injury – elected Donald Trump could never have been great, right?
By August 2018, nearly two years into Trump’s chaotic presidency, “America was never great” had become an accepted mantra in progressive circles. There were signs at rallies, tweets, t-shirts, and – yes – hats. White hats, the kind that gladiators wear.
It is with this backdrop that Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “we’re not going to make America great again, it was never that great.” Governor Cuomo became just the latest person to join the resistance in making the statement. He also became the latest person to draw the ire of President Trump’s Twitter fingers. He was the catalyst for Trump’s chest-beating, mission accomplished tweet declaring that he had “already Made America Great Again” and so he had.
As is now customary in coverage of American politics, Governor Cuomo’s statement was – most often – not shared in its entirety. After making the statement that led some to call for an apology from the Governor, with his next breath, he said this:
"We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged. We will reach greatness when discrimination and stereotyping of women, 51% of our population, is gone, and every woman's full potential is realized and unleashed and every woman is making her full contribution."
This aspirational statement, pulling on the potential that systems of inequity and personal bigotry have robbed, makes the case that the nation is bereft of greatness. But, there’s another perspective.
On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave what would become his final speech; “I’ve been to the mountaintop.” Dr. King, fighting a cold, initially planned to give very brief remarks. However, inspired by the moment, a final and familiar message poured out of him. That evening, as his remarks came to a close, he would declare that he had “been to mountaintop” and “seen the promised land” of freedom, justice, and equity.
Earlier in this speech, he also said this:
“…the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
Dr. King had climbed the mountain with protest, advocacy and struggle, and caught a glimpse of the progress they bring. There could be no promised land without American greatness. This uniquely American attribute empowered Dr. King’s success from Montgomery to Memphis and is why President Trump has made America great again.
Nearly thirteen years prior, in 1955, Dr. King gave a speech to the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. This meeting served as the kickoff to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
A twenty-six-year-old King said:
“The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That’s all.”
He would go on to say:
“But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.”
Dr. King would often refer to the freedoms of speech, assembly, the press, and redress in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as a contract that America had with its citizens. A contract that made the Civil Rights Movement possible. A contract that was often broken.
In speech after speech, Dr. King implored local, state, and federal government officials to “do what they said on paper” and uphold the rights of African Americans to assemble, protest and petition the government for change.
Often, he contrasted this uniquely American agreement between citizens and government with totalitarian regimes in China, Russia, and elsewhere. Challenging America to be greater. Challenging America to fully become what Alexis de Tocqueville saw when he said: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.
Since the election of President Trump, a record number of Americans have employed the rights to assemble, protest, and petition the government to repair the nation’s faults. The 2017 Women’s March is the largest single-day protest in U.S. history and the 2018 Women’s March, 2018 March for our Lives, and 2017 March for Science all drew over 1 million people each.
In the past two years, over 10 million Americans have displayed the unique greatness of the nation by marching and we have President Trump to thank for it. So, yes, Donald Trump has “already made America great again.” But, not simply through the levers of power mentioned in his tweet. The greatness of America is not gross domestic product. The greatness of America is not low unemployment. The greatness of America is not a strong military. These are effects, not the cause.
The greatness of America is advocating for moral and practical immigration policy.
The greatness of America is stepping in the name of love -for Black women- by taking steps to #MuteRKelly.
The greatness of America is advocating for access to capital for diverse entrepreneurs.
The greatness of America is you assembling, speaking, petitioning, and voting for the positive change you want to see.
As our nation honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. let’s remember his uniquely American story, the greatness he exemplified, and the same American greatness we can use to move our nation forward.