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Have we ever been great? The myth of American excellence

Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records

Elected in 1980, Ronald Reagan pushed for a passive form of government, using the motto “Make America Great Again.”

“Make America Great Again.” 

First used by Ronald Reagan during his first bid for president the phrase has become synonymous with right wing republicans lamenting the departure of the “golden days.” 

There is no doubt that our country is great at maintaining a high GDP, however purely economic figures are a bad way to measure a country so it should be noted I will take the notion of great as a moral and effective government.  

What this phrase takes for granted is that at some point America was “great.” What period of American history do these hat-wearing people want us to travel back in time too? Many hat wearers claim Ronald Reagan as the president that if reincarnated they would elect, but that gives too much credit to a man who funded al-Qaeda and other resistance groups with twenty

billion dollars. 

Wherever Reagan went it can be seen that he sent weapons to our enemies, money to terrorists, F-16s to Pakistan and weapons to Iran in order to support a guerilla war in Nicaragua. Furthermore, the same factions that claim that our country must be made great again are the ones who claim we need to rebuild our military. Over 20 percent of taxes already go towards the strengthening of the military. While estimates vary there is a consensus that our government spends $698 billion a year on defense while China comes in second with $119 billion a year. At what point do we have enough aircraft carriers and submarines that we feel safe against ISIS? The military has become a black hole of government spending, once the cash enters it never gets out. With all this money being put into it and many citizens still living in fear it is right to wonder whether this money could be used on things like airport security instead and be more effective.

Another measure of good government is how well they support democracy at home and abroad. 

With a few exceptions like Eugene Debs and Susan B. Anthony, our government has allowed citizens a good deal of freedom at home. However it is untrue to say that we are the defenders of democracy or personal liberties abroad. In fact during the Cold War, our government helped overthrow democratically-elected socialist governments in places like Chile, Ecuador, and the Congo. These democratically elected governments were replaced with anti-communist dictators like Trujillo who massacred over 20,000 Haitians. 

How good of a nation can we really be if we are willing to undermine the basis of our countries’ government in order to benefit our interests? The best way to avoid having nationalism inhibit unbiased reflection on the achievements of our nation is to look at what we have done using only numbers. 

The only time our country has made it five years without going to war was during the Great Depression, our correctional facilities house over a quarter of the world’s prisoners and our children have been performing below developed nations like Finland in worldwide education tests. 

No matter how “great” we rebuild America to be it is important to remember the blemishes on this countries record as well. Our government gave syphilis to black men to see how it would progress through a community, we tested mustard gas on minorities who were in the army to see if it had a different effect on them and placed members of the CIA in high positions in the press beginning in the fifties. 

Let us not be ignorant to the problem of electing someone who claims global warming is a myth invented by China or whose main talking point is the inadequacy of the deals our government currently makes, nor let our nationalism blind us into believing that we live in a great country. 

As for the slogan itself, every time I hear it I feel it would be better written as “Make America Great for Once.”

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