On making America great again

Together we will make America Great Again, better than ever before.

This political slogan is usually viewed as either a Nazi bigot’s racist screed against all truth and goodness or as an aspiration to be achieved in the unholy walls and halls of DC.

It’s a phrase and sentiment that is not unique to Trump and I recall hearing Bill Clinton say it several times and saw a Reagan speech in class in which Ronald Reagan also said it:

we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.

As a campaign slogan it’s genius as it looks to a mythic past, removes the politician from your psyche, and puts the voter in the driver seat toward a brighter future.

But how does it function, or how could it function as a Trump-Reagan-Independent piece of American moral and political philosophy? First, let’s look at the rhetoric of the phrase: “Great again.”

It’s a visionary phrase that needs no basis in historical fact to be helpful. A platonic vision of an ideal America can galvanize political pursuit toward a brighter future. But America does have a great past: the Internet, baseball, football, the constitution, Texas, space travel, etc.

So my view then, obviously, is that the phrase is a great piece of rhetorical  Americana. But how could individuals work to make America great again without specific reference to policies or voting? For this I call upon Teddy Roosevelt. Let us ask, how can America be great again, Teddy?

Make Americans Great Again or Pursue Positive Virtues and Encourage them in others

As I have already said, our first duty, our most important work, is setting our own house in order. We must be true to ourselves, or else, in the long run, we shall be false to all others. The republic cannot stand if honesty and decency do not prevail alike in public and private life; if we do not set ourselves seriously at work to solve the tremendous social problems forced upon us by the far-sweeping industrial changes of the last two generations.

The Bible always inculcates the need of the positive no less than the negative virtues, although certain people who profess to teach Christianity are apt to dwell wholly on the negative. We are bidden not merely to be harmless as doves, but also as wise as serpents. It is very much easier to carry out the former part of the order than the latter; while, on the other hand, it is of much more importance for the good of mankind that our goodness should be accompanied by wisdom than that we should merely be harmless. If with the serpent wisdom we unite the serpent guile, terrible will be the damage we do; and if, with the best of intentions, we can only manage to deserve the epithet of “harmless,” it is hardly worth while to have lived in the world at all.

It is character that counts in a nation as in a man. It is a good thing to have a keen, fine intellectual development in a nation, to produce orators, artists, successful business men; but it is an infinitely greater thing to have those solid qualities which we group together under the name of character–sobriety, steadfastness, the sense of obligation toward one’s neighbor and one’s God, hard common sense, and, combined with it, the lift of generous enthusiasm toward whatever is right. These are the qualities which go to make up true national greatness, and these were the qualities which Grant possessed in an eminent degree.

Of course the all-important thing to keep in mind is that if we have not both strength and virtue we shall fail. Indeed, in the old acceptation of the word, virtue included strength and courage, for the clear-sighted men at the dawn of our era knew that the passive virtues could not by themselves avail, that wisdom without courage would sink into mere cunning, and courage without morality into ruthless, lawless, self-destructive ferocity.

Encourage Masculinity

I do not believe in mischief-doing in school hours, or in the kind of animal spirits that results in making bad scholars; and I believe that those boys who take part in rough, hard play outside of school will not find any need for horse-play in school. While they study they should study just as hard as they play foot-ball in a match game. It is wise to obey the homely old adage, “Work while you work; play while you play.”

A boy needs both physical and moral courage. Neither can take the place of the other. When boys become men they will find out that there are some soldiers very brave in the field who have proved timid and worthless as politicians, and some politicians who show an entire readiness to take chances and assume responsibilities in civil affairs, but who lack the fighting edge when opposed to physical danger. In each case, with soldiers and politicians alike, there is but half a virtue. The possession of the courage of the soldier does not excuse the lack of courage in the statesman and, even less does the possession of the courage of the statesman excuse shrinking on the field of battle. Now, this is all just as true of boys. A coward who will take a blow without returning it is a contemptible creature; but, after all, he is hardly as contemptible as the boy who dares not stand up for what he deems right against the sneers of his companions who are themselves wrong. Ridicule is one of the favorite weapons of wickedness, and it is sometimes incomprehensible how good and brave boys will be influenced for evil by the jeers of associates who have no one quality that calls for respect, but who affect to laugh at the very traits which ought to be peculiarly the cause for pride.

Of course the effect that a thoroughly manly, thoroughly straight and upright boy can have upon the companions of his own age, and upon those who are younger, is incalculable. If he is not thoroughly manly, then they will not respect him, and his good qualities will count for but little; while, of course, if he is mean, cruel, or wicked, then his physical strength and force of mind merely make him so much the more objectionable a member of society. He cannot do good work if he is not strong and does not try with his whole heart and soul to count in any contest; and his strength will be a curse to himself and to every one else if he does not have thorough command over himself and over his own evil passions, and if he does not use his strength on the side of decency, justice, and fair dealing.

Take Personal Steps To Create American Comraderie

Any healthy-minded American is bound to think well of his fellow-Americans if he only gets to know them. The trouble is that he does not know them.

Hang on the the highest ideals even when you can only achieve “good enough”

He must have high ideals, and the leader of public opinion in the pulpit, in the press, on the platform, or on the stump must preach high ideals. But the possession or preaching of these high ideals may not only be useless, but a source of positive harm, if unaccompanied by practical good sense, if they do not lead to the effort to get the best possible when the perfect best is not attainable–and in this life the perfect best rarely is attainable.

But when we come to the countless measures and efforts for doing good, let us keep ever clearly in mind that while we must always strive for the utmost good that can be obtained, and must be content with no less, yet that we do only harm if, by intemperate championship of the impossible good, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to work a real abatement of existing and menacing evil.

Avoid Pathological Altruism

Anything that encourages pauperism, anything that relaxes the manly fiber and lowers self-respect, is an unmixed evil. The soup-kitchen style of philanthropy is as thoroughly demoralizing as most forms of vice or oppression[!], and it is of course particularly revolting when some corporation or private individual undertakes it, not even in a spirit of foolish charity, but for purposes of self-advertisement.

We must possess the spirit of broad humanity, deep charity, and loving-kindness for our fellow-men, and must remember, at the same time, that this spirit is really the absolute antithesis of mere sentimentalism, of soup-kitchen, pauperizing philanthropy, and of legislation which is inspired either by foolish mock benevolence or by class greed or class hate. We need to be possessed of the spirit of justice and of the spirit which recognizes in work and not ease the proper end of effort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *