The real greatness of America at its best is a much debated issue. Some point to the rise of the modern consumer society, which is basically an American version. Some point out the century or more of breakthrough technological achievements. Some combine the two and call it the modern lifestyle.
The vast prosperity of America in its heyday of greatness was a fantastic, unequaled, achievement for any society. The country was young, clean, vibrant, and relatively sane. It was healthy. It was better educated than any other country on Earth. The last Lincoln Republican, Eisenhower, enforced civil rights. Migrants wanted to be “Americans”, whatever that word actually means at any point in history. There was no Rust Belt and no Slum Belt. Infrastructure wasn’t a century out of date.
The air was breathable and didn’t kill an estimated 200,000 Americans every year. Toxic waste and pollution by check book breaches of environmental law weren’t so common. Schools weren’t predestined disaster areas. College was more or less affordable with a bit of effort. Not quite Disneyland, but a lot closer than now, comparatively.
A line of corpses from guns didn’t stretch from coast to coast every day. Diseases weren’t in pandemic mode all the time. Mental health wasn’t an issue for 25% of the population. Obesity, diabetes, poverty, TB, mindless rhetoric, Wall Street, and its close, almost incestuous, relative institutionalized crime weren’t national problems, if you leave out a few famous people and incidents.
Then there were the wars. The last truly successful “Game Over” war fought by the US was World War 2. From Inevitable Winner to Inevitable Overpriced SNAFU has taken 70 years, but America used to know how to fight and win wars. The world’s most expensive military, despite its people and the ever-reliable, ever-neglected Grunt Factor, can’t get anything right. Veterans weren’t rotting in the streets, mortuaries, or jails, either.
Put it this way – The nation wasn’t a garbage dump for growing an endless succession of absurdities, obscenities, and failures. You couldn’t make a nine digit income preaching hatred of other Americans, even in Bigot Land.
America somehow became an incubator for everything which has damaged it so much. Success, the big driver, is now based on a combination of corruption and a society which keeps talent down. Crime in some form is now the day job for a lot of people. The contamination and senility of Big Everything is murdering the future while its exponents are smiling geriatrically at those insane 40-50-60-something whippersnappers who are basically destroying future generations.
Mr Trump has borrowed Reagan’s slogan of making America great again. The question is how. American politics, formerly famous for its robust, if not necessarily brilliant or focused, upholding of the basic tenets of successful America, is now the root cause of enforcing America the Failure.
Working with this sewer full of sycophants and sleaze worshippers will deliver a great America? How? Are the cockroaches suddenly about to become evangelists of actual freedom and opportunity for everyone? They don’t even think people need health care or housing.
Will Wall Street suddenly become a charity? Will organized crime start running community housing initiatives? Will the nauseating spectacle of America’s neglected veterans finally be laid to rest on every street in America?
How about Generation Z, on its way to high school through the diseases, nutcases, gunfire, and rape/bullying culture? Anyone going to do anything for them, or is that too much trouble? What about the totally changed job environment which will kick in within another 20 years, the incoming “occasional career” mode nobody’s looking at?
The irony is that making America great again wouldn’t be such a bad idea. If someone could find a fix for all the problems, maybe the world could be immunized. America still has the skills, the capacity, and the intellect to do it.
America has made a very bad habit of undervaluing the things it did right in the past. The American Century basically raised the global standard of living from horse and cart to Boeing 747. Those were the values of the past, even if people were wary of “progress for the sake of progress”.
Those values have disappeared. America the Excuse Factory is a very different place. The system is revered, not despised, as it was in the glory days. It’s not even questioned, right at the time when the entire nature of human life is changing forever. Even liberals persist in trying to make the old Tinker Toy work, when it’s well and truly unable to do so. America is trying to ride a dinosaur long after the extinction event.
The excuses are now the reasons for failure. Pretty obvious, isn’t it? There’s always a reason for getting nothing right. Meanwhile, in direct contrast to the past, the big achievements are considered unachievable. America is telling itself that its glory days didn’t happen, to some extent, and to a larger extent that those standards of living are unreasonable expectations. Like there was something wrong with all that success and its huge achievements.
What’s wrong with a safe, clean, free country? Why is it some sort of crime for people to want to live in that sort of environment? OK, America in the past wasn’t 100% Disney, but it was pretty damn close for quite a while, call it about 80%, by comparison with the present. If the underside was pure Ginsberg/Kerouac/Heller, the upside was basic amenities, real choices, and at least some level of personal security and freedom.
The America of the past wasn’t really a talkfest. Nor was it a pompous, self-righteous wonderland for the uselessly verbose. Americans can argue like few other cultures, but the overall drive was to do things, not to drivel on forever about them.
America is fixable. It can upgrade itself. It does, erratically and unsystematically. America could use a Marshall Plan for itself, these days. Fix, repair, reboot, and add a new operating system. It’s not that incomprehensible, is it? Garbage out, value in.
Trump, for all his flaws, has stirred up a pile of sediment which is allowing people to see the bottom for a change. There are no givens in this game. Everything is up for grabs. The purely negative, reactionary cover of the last 30 years has been blown, and people are having to think about facts, actual issues, positions and aspirations.
Modern American politics is arguably the most unlikely place for any kind of mass epiphany, even about the weather, but the level of expectation an election generates is always a huge force. It can deliver a lot of momentum, if anyone ever has the guts to actually face real problems and solve them. American society, in fact, has often been well in advance of its political leadership. Not through “idealism”, but through practical issues and real life social evolution. Something doesn’t work – Chuck it out and invent something better.
The Sitcom Society which is now the image of some version of America didn’t just happen. From The Flintstones to Dick Van Dyke to Married with Children, it was a sort of more fun, selective, manifestation of actual life, with or without a laugh track.
The product led the marketing – Suddenly this was “America”, according to the advertising agencies. This is still the image imprinted on every citizen. In the same way, the society, trying to survive, can lead American politics out of the toxic waste dump. The logic is simple enough. Find what works, use that, and get rid of what doesn’t work.
One of the strange things about be a pro-American foreigner is trying to persuade Americans to be on their own side, at least occasionally. Believe me, it’s not easy.
Maybe there is some reason for Americans to instantly decide that the exact opposite of what is said is the fact. Seems inefficient. Disbelief is healthy, but “rejection on principle” has never worked at all. I would suggest that maybe checking the facts first, before saying anything, would be more productive.
Good luck, America. You still have a shot at being yourself, no pun intended.