Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again. This is a catchy slogan and a worthwhile goal but it lacks clarity. While Mr. Trump has repeated the slogan ad nauseum he has yet to offer meaningful details on two important items. He has not defined what it was that made America great in the first place or what steps he will take to restore the greatness that has been lost. I don’t believe Mr. Trump has an understanding of either point. His world view is too simplistic and his understanding of history too limited.
He is not alone in his struggle to define the essence of American greatness. This election cycle has seen many definitions. On the Republican side the tendency has been to emphasize the founding documents of our nation and the principles espoused therein. On the Democratic side the emphasis tends to be on our history of fairness and equal rights. Both sides generally agree that the American economy has been exceptional in the past and should be in the future. Who is right? How do we make America great?
I have come to the conclusion that both sides are wrong in their explanations and in their solutions. American Greatness began not in a document or a policy but as all greatness does, in the hearts and minds of people. The greatness that led to the war for independence arose from the hearts of men and women who believed that men had unalienable rights that came from the Creator, not from a king. The unyielding belief in the value of every man ultimately gave birth to the nation. It was belief in something greater than led to greatness itself.
Every great deed done by Americans, from freeing the slaves to fighting tyranny in two World Wars, was done not for economic gain or personal reward. Greatness came about because there was a shared belief in doing what was right, as well as a shared belief that rightness was defined by the Creator. Deeply held beliefs that rightness was both desirable and attainable led men to set their personal interests and safety aside and fight for what was right. Moral clarity led to clarity of purpose and national success was the result.
I believe it is the loss of moral certainty, the disappearance of common definitions of right and wrong as defined by Someone Greater than us, that has resulted in America’s decline. We are becoming a nation where pleasure and self-preservation have become the greatest values. Doing what is right and good is no longer a primary consideration in the minds of most Americans. A recent survey of Millennials gives credence to this new morality (or amorality). When asked how they would make an important moral decision, only 22% of those surveyed said they would choose based primarily on what was right. A plurality said they would choose solely based on what was in their personal best interest.
A nation of individuals pursuing individual goals will never achieve greatness. A nation that demands excellence from neither its leaders or its people cannot hope to excel. If we want to make America great again, we will need to rekindle the desire for goodness and greatness in our hearts. We need to desire rightness and goodness more than pleasure and comfort, so much so that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in the pursuit of the right and good. Then, and only then, can we make America great again.
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