Saturday, June 16, 2018

When We Were Great

Honest question to #MAGA minders. When was America at its greatest? Can you tell me an era that reflects the “Again” that you hope we return to?
Ron Howard - Twitter
This inspired something of an off-Twitter debate, centered around whether it was genuinely an honest question. One the conservatives in the fray said that he felt it was a trap, designed to elicit a response that would allow "the Left" to "defame" the United States of the time with an accounting of its shortcomings.

I thought about this for a while, since it seems that a lot of discussions of American history go this way once partisanship becomes involved.

In my experience, the reason why "Make America Great Again" triggers such passion and argument is, like a lot of things, it's not as simple as it looks. The question can be thought of in multiple ways, two of which being "When would the United States have been at it's best (as a nation state)?" and "When would be the best time (for you) to be an American?" These are separate, but intertwined questions, and the degree to which the answers are different reflects the differences that someone may perceive between national interests/identity, personal interests/identity and national ideals.

For instance, the same person who expressed doubts as to Mr. Howard's sincerity noted that for him, America was at it's greatest at the Founding of the Republic and during the Second World War. And I can agree with his answers, and his rationale for them, if we're examining the issue from the viewpoint of "When would the United States have been at it's best (as a nation state)?" But from the viewpoint of "When would be the best time (for me) to be an American?" both answers fail when compared to the present. The nation may have done an excellent job of looking after its interests during those times, but I perceive that I had been present for them, it would have done a poor job of looking after mine.

In this, I chafe a bit at the suggestion that articulating my reasons for why America is greater now than it was then should be regarded as national defamation, or, as it came up in a similar discussion, "hating my country." Because it doesn't require malice to understand that there is a disconnect between interests. However, for people who don't see much a distinction between the national interest and their personal interests, malice becomes an easily understandable reason for placing oneself ahead of one's nation.

There is also a separate issue, and one that dates back much farther than Make America Great Again. Is it possible to go back to only "the good parts" of the past?

If it were possible to go back to the Founding of the Republic without slavery and with universal suffrage et cetera, would things still progress from their in a way that preserved the promise of the future but avoided the injustices? If one believes that the good and the bad come together as a package, it's easy to understand a desire to go back as a threat; a desire to not only recapture the good, but to reimpose the bad that paid for it.

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