I recently came upon a photo of mostly white women at a Trump rally wildly waving Make America Great Again signs. As I looked at their excited faces, it struck me that I honestly didn’t have a clue about what they were so excited about, and what they want America to return to.

How was America greater in the past, and what would America be like in the future if it were somehow made “great again” by Trump and his supporters?

I have been thinking about this a lot, and talking with friends and neighbors, and nobody I met seems to be able to explain what greatness we’ve lost that we need to regain. Maybe a good place to start would be to take a look at some of the changes that have happened to our country over time.

If America were great again, would it mean corporations would once more be free to pollute our air, foul our rivers, and destroy our beautiful land whenever they wanted? Would it mean removing endangered species protection so trophy hunters could better enjoy their sport? Would “great again” mean that the LGBT community is forced back in the closet, and women can’t get legal abortions for any reason? Would invading countries we view as a threat to our hegemony make America great again? What about taking over small nations in the Pacific and vaporizing their beautiful islands to test our weapons of mass destruction?

Or maybe making America great again could mean repealing child labor laws? Or was America great when — as disgraced Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore stated — we stole people from Africa and subjected them to chattel slavery? Is a “great America” one that would once again sign treaties with Indigenous people who owned precious land, and then breaking those treaties whenever we wanted that land?

While I don’t know what these women think America would be like if it were great again, I do know what would make it great for me. In 1776, we declared that all are endowed with “unalienable rights,” like “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” While the founders sadly didn’t view these rights as sacred to women and people of color, a “great America” could ensure those unalienable rights to all Americans.

Alternatively, why not live up to the values inscribed 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.”  Doesn’t “send these… to me” sound like a welcome call to immigrants?

Making America “great again” could also be as simple as honoring promises made in our recent past. Rather than attempting to find ways to disenfranchise voters, we could recommit to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits any form of racial discrimination in all elections. And, instead of weakening environmental laws to benefit corporate interests, we could reaffirm our commitment to the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972. The civil rights and Earth Day protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s brought about a multitude of hard-won legislation like this that we could make a vow to uphold and protect.

Instead of “Make America Great Again,” why not “Make America Great at Last?” We could really make America great by finally having the integrity and determination to live up to the progressive values we morally and legally committed to since our founding days. This can only happen if millions of Americans across this country devote their time and energy between now and the 2020 election to getting out the vote at the local, state and national levels.

If we all take responsibility, we could actually look ahead to a time when America will truly be, perhaps for the first time, great, proud, and worthy of respect.

(Featured image: Elvert Barnes/Creative Commons)


Dr. Bruce Justin Miller was the director of the University of Hawai’i’s Office of Sustainability. He received the Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award in 1999 and in his student activist days was co-coordinator of the first Earth Day celebrations in 1970. He is currently working to encourage progressive voter turnout for the 2020 election.

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