Make America Great Again?

Please note…just because I’m using Make America Great Again as the title of this blog, it in no way means I support the candidacy of Donald Trump. This is a spiritual reflection on why I think that slogan works and a deeper meaning behind such a statement. This is simply one perspective on a much more complex issue.

It is said that there is a beginning to everything. Certainly there is a beginning to our lives, a beginning to a relationship and marriage, even a beginning to an end. Something that I have reflected upon greatly these past years is the beginning of that end for the United States, happening on a fateful day back in 2001, September 11th. Any of us alive can remember where we were and what we were doing. I can still remember the silence that night as I walked on the grounds of the seminary, very few cars and no planes flying overhead. There was something distinctly haunting about the whole experience.

If we study the development of human beings, there is nothing that takes a toll more than trauma, to the body and the psyche. We have certainly seen that as part of the cost of war, the ongoing violence in our cities, and terror that is thrown upon us with no warning. Think about the amount of disbelief we had when those planes struck. I can still visualize them slamming into the World Trade Center and the ash heap next to the Pentagon. It was said even then, terror struck at the heart of this country. Of course we now know the other plane was also enroute to similar locations but cut short by courage. Just think about it, the heart of who we are, the epicenter of both the military and finances both struck, and yet we describe that as our heart. Is it really the heart of who we are as people, as country, or better yet, should it be? They’re questions for all of us to reflect upon.

But something happened that day. When trauma hits an individual, as I said, it does something to the psyche and the body. It wants to shut down and the mind wants to keep reliving it, over and over again, an ongoing nightmare. In the span of literally minutes, any illusion we tried to cast upon the world about who we are had been shattered. We were the country that couldn’t be hit, invincible. We were the youngest on the playground, still filled with such innocence. Yet, in those very moments, it all came crashing down and the illusion we portrayed showed its dark side. For a period of time we sat in disbelief but then it became time to react, and we did. We would do anything to try to recreate the illusion of something that was never real in the first place but a persona we felt we needed to portray and one that protected us from any outside harm.

Since then, it has seemed like a patchwork, trying every which way to recreate the illusion rather than collectively allowing ourselves to stop and fall into the question of identity that it opened up for us. We’ve managed to continue to fight wars now for longer than we could have imagined. We’ve also allowed ourselves to be duped into believing we needed to somehow shore up the banks a few years back, for fear of a total collapse. If we can learn anything from our history and certainly of the great empires that have existed over the centuries, is that they all eventually fall. An illusion of greatness and strength, built on realities that will not last, such as war and greed will undoubtably fall, and as usual, just as our faith has tried to teach us, those on the bottom are the ones who are most impacted, the normal everyday folk who work to make ends meet from week to week, scraping pennies together, sending their kids off to war, and for what? To try to defend an illusion that for all intensive purposes, crumbled before our very eyes on that beautiful day in September. Everything we thought we were was no more and all we can do is seek out a new way, a new greatness, one with greater depth, a truer identity and a heart that had gotten lost by divisiveness, darkness, despair, war, and greed, among other things.

In walks Donald Trump and this campaign to make America great again. How can anyone argue against that? But the question we never seem to follow up with is, but what made us great to begin with? Was it winning as he suggests or better yet, strength that we can somehow destroy every enemy out there, a restoration of authority to the rest of the world that we’re back. But is it once again, merely an illusion of what once was. Growing up I think about what made America great. Now growing up in small town Pennsylvania seemed rather vanilla. But I learned of this sense of the melting pot that first established this country. Give me your tired and your poor, yearning to be free. Somehow there was a sense of unity despite and in relation to our diversity. That’s what made us great and different from the rest, our greatest strength.

Times have changed and sure there are still people I meet that want their kids to have it better than them; that too has been part of our greatness. However, I’ve also met a lot more younger people, the next generation, that has a respect for the other and a willingness to seek out the common good for all people, but in particular, the poor. The greatness and strength of a country is often grounded in how it treats the poor. But in the process of trying to rebuild the illusion of what was, we’ve had to play the victim game and with the victim game comes the blame game. We fight and we divide, but all of it comes down to that very question of what makes us great in the first place, and for that matter, what will once again make us great.

There is a struggle for the soul of this country, if we can move beyond the superficialities and our politics that has often taken the place of our moral compass. The illusion wants and lives off of us fighting and reaching for something that could never be attainable and will never fulfill and decide how we go forward. If making us great again is built on more war and the endless pursuit of defeating enemies, greed and the stockpiling of money, then we will once again find ourselves casting an image of a country that just isn’t anymore, and for that matter, never was. If we look at it in terms of development, the United States has reached a critical time. Not in the sense that politicians like to portray it, as an impending apocalypse, but rather as a time to grow up and become no longer the kid on the playground, often bullying others around, but rather a responsible adult who finds strength through its people and the very heart and soul that can give us the true strength, direction, and life we desire. That’s how America can be great.

The election gives us all pause to reflect upon what we want, yet, distracted by smoke and mirrors and clashes of personality that in the end helps no one, certainly not this country nor the world. It’s time for us to grieve what was lost and that’s ok. That’s what adults do. We weep for what was, knowing in faith, that it’s the only way for a new direction to be revealed. I have never lost hope in the country, despite what has unfolded the past years, because I believe with all my heart that this is where we are. And you know what, I’ve been there and so have many others. What I thought made me great as a child no longer seems to fit and no longer works. Scripture tells us through Paul, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” He goes onto say that giving up chilling things challenges me to think about what I value. As a country, it’s time for us to ask the tough questions and not be so glib and quick to react, but rather to reflect on what we really want and desire as a nation. That can only happen when we allow it all to fall away, all that will pass, and seek what lies at the heart of who we are and what we are. Our history has not always been great because we sought greatness through an illusion all too often. At this moment in history, we the people, in order to form a more perfect union, must seek the greater good, the greater strength, that can only come from deep within our very being. Yeah, it is time to make America great again, but it’s time to root it in reality and a strength that comes from our ability to love, not an illusion nor war nor money, but the people that make it up from wherever they have come, seeking a better life, a great life, that only this country can offer.

4 thoughts on “Make America Great Again?

  1. But I have more fear than hope at this moment because those who are trying to get us to put them in a position of leadership don’t seem to be rooted “in a reality and a strength that comes from our ability to love ALL the people who have made and can continue to KEEP America great”.

  2. Father Marty,

    I commend you for writing this excellent posting!

    I have lived a “few years” longer than you and I have a somewhat longer perspective. I want to add a couple of thoughts to your comments.

    I see “making America great again” resonating with many people for reasons that include 9/11 as you discussed as well as other factors.

    In 1972, The united States reached its economic peak. Many families could survive on one income, usually the male. Inflation eroded this buying power throughout the 70’s and 80’s and many women entered the workplace to maintain the family’s standard of living. At the same time, places like Japan, Korea, and later China, Mexico, and other countries began competing very well in selling products in this country AND production was transferred overseas. The result was a declining industrial and service base for jobs that affected primarily those who had a high school or less education.

    The new jobs that have been created by technology and other sectors often require education and training that many don’t possess. Wages have been stagnant for many people except those who were educated or went into a business that thrived in the new economy.

    Back in the Ozzie and Harriet days, each generation of American believed that they could do better educationally and economically than their parents and grandparents. There was optimism about the economic future. Now there are many who don’t believe in the “American dream” because they look back over the last 30-40 years and see what has happened.

    Add in the constant worry of terrorism and you have a recipe for fear and concern. A person comes along and promise to ‘make America great again” and people latch onto it.

    I, like you, don’t believe that Trump is the answer. We need someone who understands these forces in our country and speaks honestly about what needs to be done. Someone who doesn’t appeal to the our worst instincts but helps the country heal and find solutions. The person I find that most closely matches that description that is in the race from either party is Governor Kasich of Ohio. He’s not perfect and we won’t find a perfect candidate. But he certainly stands well above the rest of the field, in my opinion.



  3. Stupid comment first: It’s “smoke and mirrors” not “smoking mirrors.” Pedantic comment next: clarify “greater good” that it really refers to the “common good”. Actual comment finally:

    Loved the reflection, especially the comparison between the US having that traumatic moment (9/11) be that opportunity to put away childish things (and simplistic understandings of self and the world) and become an adult, with the words of St. Paul, after his traumatic moment on the road to Damascus. We need to join our fellow nations now at the table of international adulthood (no longer at the kids’ table), who each have the wounds of their past, and a less idealistic view of our own importance and strengths. And I think we are doing that–being a bit more critical about the claims of our own history (maybe to a fault)–with a healthy hope that by admitting the evils of our past (and our present), the truth might set us free.

    It’s no great observation that there is an expansive middle ground between the liberal candidates and the conservative candidates for president, and their respective views of the past, the present, the future, and themselves.

    But making America great again isn’t REALLY about our military and economic power: it’s about being the land of opportunity, of dreams, of hope. The freedom from fear and control of oppressive, deranged governments, that a poor boy from anywhere could become a successful whatever-he-is-willing-to-be-great-at, and that one could sleep at night without the worry of government troops (or vigilantes) roaring through your neighborhood to round up you and those like you. We may not be the greatest economic power, may not be the one with the most freedoms, or the most social programs, but we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    How we continue to balance the liberal racing forward to where angels fear to tread, with the conservative holding to the devil we know rather than the devil we don’t, depends on how we have this national discussion (and we’re having it right now by words and actions of divisiveness and power-plays, because we can’t figure out how to charitably discuss, but the discussion is happening nonetheless), about deciding how to best leverage our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to make our nation and the world a better place for future generations. It’s not about the beginning of the end, unless you mean the beginning of the end of our childhood, and our picking up the mantle of adulthood.

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