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By Bill Shunas
Again we are in the silly season aka presidential politics. Donald Trump is touting "Make America Great Again." This is not unlike politicians who came before him. It goes along with waving the flag, hugging babies and hanging out in coffee shops in primary states. Depending how it's used it could be just another campaign slogan to grab your attention and vote. Then again it could be all part of an effort to get people to forget reality and follow this megalomaniac. To the extreme it could remind us of a former corporal who wanted to make Germany great again back in the 1930s.
Some cynics will say that making America great again is code for advocating the return to the good old days when white people had good jobs and a comfortable home, staffed by a housewife, aka, the little woman. Or maybe some people are sincere about making America great, either for the first time or again. Two words are operative here. What does "great" mean, and what does "again" mean?
My first thought is environmental. Fifty years ago we didn't have global warming. The sea wasn't about to rise and inundate New York City. That would be of great concern to New Yorkers. Maybe we should care. If it happens, the flooding could bring a repeat of the Syrian refugee crisis. Governors would be in front of news conferences railing against their state taking in New Yawk refugees. It's a shame that Texas is mostly inland. Anyway, fifty years ago the environment was looking good — great, maybe with the exception of a little air and water pollution and a little jungle defoliation here or there.
Most people might think that great refers to military prowess. Seventy years ago we came out of World War II as the bad ass on the block. That was greatness, wasn't it? In just about every war since then we lacked the moral high ground and mostly lost. At least we have the best equipment. We've got F-16s and smart bombs and huge nuclear aircraft and the ability to see at night. We just can't beat that damn tribe of Pashtuns. If we did we could be as great as we were during and after World War II.
I have an idea of how we can be great again. The again would be the year of 1908. And what happened in 1908? That was the year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. They've put together a pretty good team this year, giving us a chance to be great again. Alas, I suppose this is a local thing. St. Louis Cardinal fans wouldn't think this is so great. And then there are the grumpy people who don't even like baseball.
We've certainly seen better days in the job market. I suppose that then wasn't great for a lot of people, but probably more than nowadays. Real wages just ain't what they used to be. That's the again part. We want wages back the way they used to be, and both candidates will be telling us how they'll make this happen. They'll tell us just like the previous candidates every four years in the rear view mirror. You can look at the situation today and you can see that none of it worked for the 99%. We are still chasing that elusive greatness being promised.
Our country is called a melting pot, and many of those who melted have had a little taste of that elusive greatness. But if your way back ancestors were slaves and your recent ancestors faced discrimination, you don't have any great to go back to again. Or, if you got your land stolen two or three centuries ago "great again" is not forthcoming.
In reality, the grass usually is greener somewhere else. Still, I can think of some things for which we are already the greatest.
- One thing that has been great and still is great is our National Park system as well as our system of National Wildlife Refuges. We've just got to keep them out of the hands of the Bundy family and their ilk.
- We have the best smart bombs. It's too bad the people who decide when and where to use them ain't as smart as the bombs.
- I think our sports fans are the greatest. In other countries they kill each other. We just have bar fights.
- Elections. Our elections, if not the best, are certainly the longest. For president it's two years now. Do I hear three? Nobody in the rest of the world can top that. Shove that democracy in their face.
- We have great corporate profits again. We've even given our corporations status as a person when it comes to rigging elections. And they don't need a latrine.
This country has been prosperous largely because of the accident of geography. To the East we have an ocean. To the West we have an ocean. To the North we have one sparsely populated country. The only historical military danger could have come from the country on our southern border. We fought and defeated them about 170 years ago. This means that for all those years the economy got to grow in peace and develop our natural wealth. That includes good croplands, river systems, oil and minerals. People had to work at it, but this country was born with a silver spoon in its mouth. We still need a lesson on how to share what we have.
I like this country. I'm not proud of many things done by the government or that so many people are in want or lacking health care. I suppose what I like is its culture and its people (most of them). I like baseball, listening to traditional jazz and sharing an adult beverage with friends. Your cultural choices might be different, but you have some, and it's all related to the land we live in and the people around you. Maybe this feeling of comfort is what the politicians are trying to tap into. They call it "great," and we voters associate that with the good feelings we have toward the place in which we live. There are two separate dynamics here. One is the politicians trying to turn these hopes and feelings into a reason for following that particular politician. "Great" and "again" are meaningless. This country has good and bad. I wish a lot was different, but I suppose it's okay. Could be better.
Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran, author and VVAW member in the Chicago chapter.