Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Making America Great Again

I have been thinking a lot about this topic for almost a year already, and I remain about as confused as I was when I first started thinking about it. My habit when trying to understand a puzzling statement or remark is to first look at the form of the statement. The original statement was in the form of an imperative: “Make America great again.” An imperative implies that there is something that one can do and probably should do or not do, as the case may be. Common examples include (a) “Say something nice to her”, or (d) Don’t touch the stove – it’s hot.” Imperatives are common and often easily understood. They often bring about a desired outcome. With regard to the subject imperative, I am wondering what I should do and what the desired outcome would be – and also how the extent to which the desired outcome is achieved should be determined. I believe that at one point, the subject imperative could be interpreted as simply “Vote for me,” in which case I did not comply (the second time I have voted for the person who got the most votes but was not elected). I supposed at that time, the desired outcome was being elected, which did happen. However, if the desired outcome was gaining the most votes, then the outcome was not achieved.

In any case, the subject imperative can no longer be interpreted so simply as a request to vote in a particular way. Perhaps that was not the original intent. I am not good at reading minds, especially those that are filled with inconsistencies and invectives. Hush my mouth … or smash my fingers, as I am only using a keyboard at present. Still, I wonder about the form of the imperative since it implies there is something I can or should do in response to some situation. It just is not at all clear to me what I can or should be doing, other than writing this note to try and figure that out.

Then I focus on the word added at the end of the subject imperative – namely ‘again’. That might give me some direction in resolving my wonder. When was America great? During or after the revolutionary war? During or after the civil war? World War I? World War II? Oops. Perhaps the history of things should not be couched in terms of wars, although wars seem to permeate the history of nearly every country or region of the world. When was America great? Perhaps during the industrial revolution in the 1800s and early 1900s when so many inventions changed society and resulted in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. See the Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History for more on that interpretation - http://americanhistory.si.edu/. Other events might also be cited, such as landing on the moon (see https://www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-45th-anniversary-celebration-of-the-apollo-11-moon-landing) or the Marshall Plan after WW II (see http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/marshall-plan) or the civil rights act of 1964 (see https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/civil-rights-act) or other such things that the reader can add to a list of events and periods and activities in American history about which one might take pride. I suggest focusing on small and local events as well as larger ones to keep a dialogue on this subject active and meaningful.

Well, I took a side trip down history lane … my brother, the historian, would be proud, perhaps. Now I turn to memory lane. When do I, in my own life of 72 years, believe that America was great? Challenging oneself is another habit I developed late in life after having made too many arrogant missteps. Being older than dirt with a poor memory has left me with just a few things I can cite. One was attending the swearing-in ceremony of an ex-wife upon her becoming a naturalized American citizen. That was a moving occasion with so many people from so many places becoming American citizens. That was an inspiring ceremony and made me feel proud to be an American welcoming so many others to this country. I recall the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The more than 100 people welcomed as US citizens that day in Atlanta were not tired or poor … they were hard working people who wanted to enjoy life and contribute in their own ways to American society. I listened to their conversations with their families while there – perhaps that was the time I felt most proud to be an American.

One other instance of when I thought America was great involved a letter I received from Albert Gore Senior when he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in reply to one that I wrote to him indicating my negative feelings about the Vietnam conflict and American leadership in the world in general. He replied that I should be patient and not judge the country by one issue or incident and that there were and will continue to be many things about America in which I could take pride. That voice of optimism was also inspiring to me and perhaps gave me the strength to work for the Department of Defense in later years after what I regarded as a disastrous experience as an intelligence officer in earlier years.

Yes, there have been times when I thought America was great. I am guessing that most Americans can cite such times, and probably many non-Americans can as well, with the exception of folks such as the leaders of Iran, North Korea, the Philippines, Russia or Turkey, among others. There have been good times in America and there have been bad times. One could probably say that about any country. We ought not overlook some of the truly bad things that have happened, and we should perhaps believe that many good things will happen in the future. Undoubtedly some bad things will also continue to happen. That seems all too deeply embedded in human nature and the history of civilizations.

So, what can or should I do to help bring about those good things? In my professional life as an educational technology researcher I might contribute to the development of tools, technologies and techniques to help adolescents develop habits of inquiry and critical reasoning that will serve them well as adults. In my personal life, I hope to offer my family and friends support and comfort as they strive to live fulfilled lives. As a responsible citizen, there may be little I can do to effect positive change although there is much I would like to see happen. For example, in a democracy, there should be at least one national election in which the basic principle of one-person/one-vote is implemented, and that should be the election of the national leader. I do believe in democracy but worry that we are drifting away from basic democratic principles found in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” While I have some concerns about the use of ‘men’ and ‘creator’ (I think the statement applies to all persons regardless of any religious belief or orientation), I do not think it applies only to members of a political party  or racial group or nationality. It says ‘all’ – not limited to those with whom one agrees or whom one likes. ‘All’ is inclusive, as it should be. The spirit of America is not about favoring a few or accumulating wealth or putting one’s personal beliefs above all else. The spirit of America is not about bullying others or taking whatever advantages one can for one’s own benefit.

What I feel that I can and should do is promote a spirit of belonging to a society that embraces diversity, that respects and values differences, that is open and fair to all. My father once said that our responsibility is to bring out the best in others. That is what I can and should be doing. I would hope that people who occupy high offices in this country and in others mentioned in this note would make that a top priority as well.

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