America Great, Again?
Racism, Poverty, Violence…
By Kim Petersen
- “Make America Great Again” was Donald Trump’s
campaign slogan. It appeals to the people whose
hearts beat with patriotic fervor. But what does
such a slogan explicitly point out?
Syntactically, Trump is telling Americans that
the United States of America is not great. A
country can only become something again when it
is currently not that something it seeks to
recapture – in this case, that something is
greatness. So currently the US is not great
according to the mantra of Trump.
questions are raised by this?
was America great?
will Trump make America great again?
Obviously, to be become great again, America
must have at one time been great. When was that?
America great at its inception? In an era when
it was killing Indigenous peoples, violating
treaties, and stealing their land? Can you be
great when the early colonists, many professedly
Christians, broke sacred commandments like “Thou
shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal”?
going to war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848 to
aggrandize the US landmass great?
great when the US allowed slave labor for the
profit of slave owners? The Emancipation
Proclamation was not issued until 1863, so
unless a person believes that a country in which
slavery can be practiced is great, then
greatness must not have been possible until the
later half of the 19th century. There are,
however, some niggling complications to be
1893, US corporate interests engineered an
overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and annexed
the islands. Was this great? Yes, the US
Congress apologized, but how great of an apology
is that? If someone steals your car and says
sorry, but that person does not return your car
and instead continues driving it around town,
would you be content with the apology? Can such
an apology even be construed as sincere?
the close of the 19th century, the US went to
war with Spain. While docked in Havana Harbor,
an onboard explosion occurred sinking the
USS Maine with huge loss of life. The cause
of the sinking remains mysterious; some point to
a spontaneous combustion fire. Nevertheless,
despite unclear etiology, the US government,
urged on by the yellow journalism of newspaper
magnates, blamed Spain and went to war.
colonies fought with the US against Spain. At
the war’s end, the US subsumed administration of
the former Spanish colonies. Aspirations for
self-determination by Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam,
and the Philippines were crushed. After bloody
wars against the US, the Philippines finally
gained independence in 1946. Cuba liberated
itself in 1959 (although Guantanamo Bay remains
occupied by the US). Guam and Puerto Rico remain
de facto colonies of the US.
20th century also does not look great on the
moral front for the US. The US entered WWI and
WWII in the later stages of each war, and it
helped to defeat imperialist warmongers in
Europe and East Asia. It came up with the
Marshall Plan to help Europe back on its feet
again and provide markets for US
capitalism.(1)Then in 1969, the US accomplished
a spectacular feat by placing the first men on
the moon. However, at the same time back on
planet Earth, the US was waging war against an
already war-ravaged Viet Nam that wound up
killing millions of Vietnamese, and this came on
the heels of waging war against North Korea also
killing millions of Koreans. Neither of these
countries posed a military threat to the US, and
both wars imposed military defeats on the US. As
soon as China entered the war in Korea, it
pushed the US back from the Yalu River all the
way to the 38th parallel. The US war on Viet Nam
was a resounding defeat for the US, one that
witnessed US troops scampering, at war’s end,
from a Saigon rooftop to be transported to
safety by helicopters.
Elsewhere, in the middle of the Indian Ocean,
lies the Chagos archipelago, the site of more
questionable American greatness. There the
British government conspired with the US to
remove all Chagossians from the British colony
(which Britain had severed from Mauritius) to
serve as an unfettered American military
installation. It remains an ethnically cleansed
strategic platform for American imperialism and
militarism, as well as a site for extraordinary
was long ago outlawed, but racism and
discrimination were still rife in 20th century
America. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of
1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the
Fair Housing Act of 1968 that the legal
sanctions of racist Jim Crow laws were repealed.
from the violence against Blacks on the
homefront, the US was involved in several
violent incidents in the 20th century such as
the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the invasion of
Grenada, Panama, Chile, etc. Is greatness
conferred by waging violence? Especially
violence against smaller, less militarily armed
America ever been a noble beacon on the hill?
Has it been an exemplar for democracy, freedom,
human rights, and equal opportunity – values
that would indicate greatness?
the 21st century seen a move toward American
greatness? In 2003, the Persian Gulf Slaughter,
led by the US, saw a
against Iraq based on a contrived casus
2004, the US, abetted by Canada and France,
orchestrated a military coup against the elected
president of Haiti that forced Jean-Bertrand
Aristide into exile overseas.
Then there is the ongoing war against
Afghanistan; the war against Libya; the warring
against Syria; a US-backed coup in Honduras;
US-backed coup plots against the government in
Venezuela; and unabated, continued support for
the occupation and oppression of Indigenous
Palestinians by the Jewish state. The litany of
moral depredations that America wreaks upon
peoples or that it is fully complicit with
the above, this writer regards with extreme
skepticism the notion of America ever having
been great in any meaningful sense. Granted,
great deeds have been accomplished in America,
including developing a leading university
system; technological breakthroughs in
astronomy, aviation, transportation,
communication, armaments; entertainment; sports;
etc. However, the deeds do not add up to a great
How will Trump
make America great again?
more correctly posed: how will Trump make
it seems that America was never truly great. As
per the foregoing arguments, I will dismiss the
“again” part of Trump’s slogan. Sans the
“again,” the slogan is not quite appealing.
After all, a reformulated slogan like “Let’s
finally make America great” probably wouldn’t be
great for attracting votes. Better to appeal to
the capricious American dream. But Trump’s
slogan alone will not reify American greatness.
So how is Trump going to make America great?
building a wall to keep Mexicans out?
is also pushing for a ban on travel from,
originally seven now, six predominantly Muslim
countries. Is this selective isolationism —
identifying certain, purportedly undesirable
nationalities and keeping them out — a nascent
sign of greatness?
eliminating health insurance for millions of
people while cutting taxes for the wealthy a
Trump chumming with Saud clan fat cats — the
kleptocratic, misogynistic moneybags for ISIS —
a great choice of allies?
shooting down a Syrian plane in Syrian airspace,
unilaterally setting up US military bases in
sovereign Syria, and bombing the country legal,
ethical, or a sign of greatness?
lethal US raid on Yemen and its ongoing
involvement is a siege creating a cholera
epidemic that is killing thousands of children a
sign of America becoming great?
Is it great that Donald Trump is repeating the
folly of the inarticulate former US president
George W Bush who back-tracked on a deal to keep
North Korea nuclear free? The result is that
North Korea became a nuclear-armed nation.
Despite having certified that Iran is compliant
with the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal,
Trump is determined
to undermine the deal by violating the terms.
Did Trump learn nothing from the US breaking its
deal with North Korea?
championing fossil fuels, disregarding the
precautionary principle, and jettisoning
participation in the Paris climate accord a sign
wonders, just how is it that Trump will make
America great, regardless of whether it is again
or for the first time?
Chinese way to Greatness
Greatness is not conferred by having the most
billionaires and neither by having the biggest
corporations. When at the same time there are
millions of working poor and unemployed what is
indicated? When there are millions who are
homeless and nourished by dumpster diving what
does this tell one about the greatness of a
country? Clearly, there is a wide chasm between
the haves and have-nots. This is not greatness.
The number of skyscrapers, the number of
overseas military bases, the number of nuclear
weapons, Silicon Valley, and the glitz of
Hollywood do not mask the stench of a having a
huge underclass that refutes any claim to
Greatness is a transcendent quality that sets
itself above all else. Greatness is anathema to
moral turpitude. The destruction of Indigenous
peoples, the subjugation of others to slavery,
the constant resort to lethal violence to impose
one’s will, and the deteriorating quality of
life for millions of people on the domestic
front point toward a quality that rebuts any
claim to greatness.
Instead of his
against China, Trump would be better advised to
consider how the Chinese are pursuing a peaceful
path to greatness. Unlike the US, China has
pledged no first use of nukes. Although China
has strengthened itself militarily (and who can
blame it given that China is ringed by US
military bases, and given the way an unfriendly
US conducts itself in the
South China Sea
and elsewhere in the world), Chinese Communist
Party chairman Xi Jinping affirms that peace is
the way to settle disputes. China has an
extraordinary goal: it is on target to eliminate
poverty by the year 2020. Imagine that! No
manned moon landing can compare since the
elimiation of poverty is not based on a
vicarious pride; rather, it is a social
development that affects every citizen directly.
Moreover, the rising dragon is also poised to
humans on lunar soil.
Instead of imposing the scourge of war on small
countries, China is a country that aspires to
greatness through peaceful dialogue and by
ridding itself of the scourges of hunger,
homelessness, and other attributes of poverty.
China partners with other nations to develop
their economies; as such it funds and engages in
multilateral economic development with a host of
nations. Africa is not just a source for
resource exploitation; China
in African infrastructure development. Across
Asia and into Europe China invests in the mega
Belt and Road Initiative that is spurring
economic activity across Eurasia.
China great? In terms of the nation state, some
kind of agreed upon definition is required.
Assuredly, any meaningful definition of
greatness would preclude wreaking violence on
others. And how great are you if you can not
properly care for and provide the basic
necessities for your own citizens? I am not
ready to pronounce China to be great,(3) but the
policy directives and the steps China has
embarked on appear promising.
case of America, to become genuinely great a
first step is demanded. Since America exists as
a nation state through its denationalization of
Indigenous nations, it must first address and
atone for this longstanding injustice. Second,
America must sincerely address the historical
wrongs committed against African-Americans. And
should that day arrive — and hopefully soon —
when America has ridden itself of racism,
poverty as well as resolutely disavowing
violence, then it may be considered to have
genuinely attained greatness.
Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the
newsletter. He can be reached at:
Read other articles by Kim.
views expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of Information Clearing House.