Essay

Make America great again

US Capitol

When I was a kid in the 1970s, my family watched NBC Nightly News every night. I remember coverage of the end of Vietnam, and of Watergate. I remember watching Richard Nixon announce his resignation, and wave his famous two-finger victory signal just before the helicopter door closed and he flew off to become a private citizen.

I remember even better as a young adult the news coverage of Bill Clinton’s public moral failings, his evasive lies (“it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”), and his impeachment trial.

Point is, I’ve seen some shameful things happen in these United States. But none of what I’ve seen before compares with what happened yesterday at the U.S. Capitol.

I remember NBC Nightly News showing things like this happening in other countries — ones with long histories of instability and corruption, led by crackpot despot leaders. Backwater countries. Banana republics.

As a kid, even as a young adult, I believed in American exceptionalism. Over the last twenty years or so, that belief has slowly eroded. Yesterday, the last of it was destroyed. Perhaps you are in the same boat.

I’m trying to see this as a positive. I know that the first step to being a better person is to see yourself clearly for who and what you are. I feel sure that the same is true of nations. The difficult events of the last few years, capped with yesterday’s invasion of the U.S. Capitol by U.S. citizens, are a mirror that shows us who we have become as a nation. May we choose to look deeply into it. May we be shocked enough that we band together to demand meaningful change, so that America can truly become great again.

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42 thoughts on “Make America great again

  1. Gary R Principato says:

    I was born in 1951 so I’ve lived through much of the same things as you.
    Hard to believe what happened yesterday. Terrible display of those involved.
    I totally agree agree with what you said in the last paragraph.
    Wishing you well,
    Gary

  2. Jim,

    I appreciate your comment. As a fellow rural midwesterner I see the roots of this problem being decades of neglect and even abuse of the economic and cultural well-being of America’s Heartland by the power/economic/cultural centers on the east and west coasts. Has anybody on the east coast really seen the deep content of the Deerhunter? Even the recent Hillbilly Elegy? There is a population, no different than any minority group, that has had enough. What do the cultural power brokers expect when they refer to the heartland as “flyover” and “basket of deplorables?” What did they expect a half-century ago when they gunned down four white college students?

    The greatness of America is the ability, regardless of race, ethnicity etc…, to protest the government without fear of being subjected to a Gulag (anybody who thinks they’ve got it bad in America needs to read the Gulag Archipelago….). Until they breached the Capitol yesterday, the protests were part of our greatness.

    It ended the moment they overcame the police. I don’t agree with riots, looting, and violent responses to these injustices – you are completely correct that they are a viscous and possibly indelible stain on our country. But what happened yesterday is no different at its core than the riots after the killings of black men and women by police – except it’s in the context of relatively unempowered white people who have always had better access to the centers of power instead of historically unempowered black people. None of it can be excused though. Absolutely none of it.

    And I don’t understand how the recent actions of the Commander in Chief do not constitute Treason.

    If there is a silver lining, I’m hopeful that the new leadership will see the meaning here and start to pay attention that there is a very large segment of America that doesn’t want to hurt anybody (regardless of background), would never intentionally go out of their way to disadvantage somebody (in fact would most often be The Good Samaritan) but they also resent being told that their morality is trivial and wrong and they must accept a ‘woke’ mentality, and observing that their ability to be productive is less important that the monetary advantages of offshoring American production to China.

    I don’t like what is happening, it’s awful. But I understand it, all the way around. And I pray the new leadership understands this and doesn’t continue with more of the same pattern of the past half-century – that would only make it worse.

    peace.

  3. Paul says:

    Jim, I appreciate this post, not least because of the problems that the UK is going through. Hopefully your county’s malaise will be over more quickly than I expect ours will be.

  4. tom taylor says:

    I believe your post to be sincere and well intended, but also feel some of your words are unfortunate. You give a nod to MAGA and condemn Bill Clinton. You correctly codemn the mob. While you can mention Clinton by name you do not mention any problems caused by President Trump, the fellow I watched on TV live yesterday who encouraged the march on the capitol. He announced two weeks ago that something big was planned for yesterday.

    I lived in Syria on 9/11 and was shocked when I returned to the U.S. Many Americans condemned all Muslims. Over and over I heard how “if most of them are good…how come you don’t hear any of them condemning the hijackers?”

    I fundamentally feel that most Republicans are patriotic Americans, are not racist, are good and fair minded people. Right now, however, I am looking for Republicans to speak up…just as they once wanted good Muslims to speak up. I do not want to hear about making American great again – I believe our country is far greater now than it was in the 50s/60s. I don’t want fingers pointed at Bill Clinton. I do not want to hear about people on the coast running everything.

    What I want is to salute a true national power broker, Mike Pence of Columbus, Indiana, a proud Christian, conservative midwesterner who yesterday called a spade a spade and, under great risk, put country first. I am so proud of his actions and words yesterday.

    We live in the greatest country on earth and we will survive and thrive. We will only come together, however, when we hold accountable those most responsible, including those in high office.

    • Perhaps it didn’t come across as I intended, but I was trying to take back the Make America Great Again phrase from the Trumpers. I believe what happened at the Capitol the other day made us less great.

      I also deliberately brought up both Nixon, a Republican, and Clinton, a Democrat, to try to show that bad behavior isn’t the sole province of either side.

      I agree: everyday Republicans need to stand up and repudiate their party’s behavior.

      I agree that Pence should be lauded for doing the right thing this week. However, I am overall disappointed in his behavior as Vice President. Being from Indiana, I remember Pence as Governor, as State Legislator, and even as the host of his own conservative talk radio program way back in the 90s. The man I saw sucking up to, agreeing with, even enabling the bad antics of our President is not the man I listened to on the radio way back when. I admired the principles of that man on the radio and will forever wonder what happened. I’m glad he found his principles again this week, however.

  5. Thanks, Jim, I’ve beencalling for white (male mostly) America to do a deep soul search and decide to life better toward others –All others– not just “like me” others. I hope in my heart that this may change some people’s hearts, but I hold out very little hope. Thanks for your blog, and your great photography.

    • I think our great hope is the generation becoming adults now. I think they’ve watched all of this unfold in quiet horror and will take us in a different direction, a better direction. At least, that’s my hope.

  6. Nancy S. Stewart says:

    Well, Retrocrank pretty much said what I was thinking above … I have felt that this was coming down the road at some point … not that I approve … but so many that I know are just unbelievably tired of the direction the country has been moving in for years now. And I believe the media plays a very big part in this … on both sides. And nothing getting done in Washington but name calling, arguing and collecting their paychecks. Maybe this will bring them to the realization that half the people of this nation have had it with them !!!

    • It does feel entirely like the two parties say whatever they have to say to get our votes, but then they have their own agendas that have nothing whatsoever to do with us — the people who do most of the working, paying, living, and dying.

  7. Dani says:

    Yesterday’s events and events leading up to it were appalling. Was I surprised? No. I hope we never have to experience it again. I do think, however, that it had to happen. People’s eyes needed to be opened and things put into perspective. Unfortunately, it came to this. It could have been a lot worse. Thank God it wasn’t.

  8. Jim, a heartfelt and brave post. I have struggled to understand the past four years, and perhaps two years ago came to the realization that if there is to be any sense made of this administration it would be in the mirror being held up so that society in general, and American society in particular, might catch a glimpse of what we have become. Your thoughts mirror mine in this respect, and I have also felt compelled to comment on yesterday’s events. Now may we begin to listen to each other, and discover those good things that unite us.

  9. I saw it coming and still was overwhelmed and horrified. What terrifies me most is how many people I know who disagree with what happened but who refuse to believe Trump should be held accountable. It’s hard to band together when you have so many people living in an alternate universe. Thanks for these words.

  10. Pingback: Make America great again — Down the Road – THE FLENSBURG FILES

  11. DougD says:

    You gave me a sleepless night over this one Jim. I think even if you held up a mirror today, a lot of people would still like what they see. I am sad to say that.

  12. I watched it unfold live and it was the most shocking thing I can remember in my 62 years, like you it felt more like something that happens in a foreign land … never thought I would see American citizens act this way.

  13. Andy Umbo says:

    There’s too much to comment on about this whole situation, but I do want to say this: I’m tired of the educated who slaved to get their education, and people who struggled and took leaps of faith blindly moving across country to better themselves and get to better job markets, like the coast; being demonized by the the people in the fly-over who did not, and did nothing…

    These are the people who expected they were going to barely get through high-school in the 4:20 pot club, and expected to get a house buying job drilling a hole in a steel plate down at the factory for the rest of their lives while they drank a six pack every night and zoned out!

    I’m 66 years old, and I was in a trade and technical high school from 68 to 72. In 1970 we were all forced to take a course about future jobs and markets, and we were all told there as going to be virtually no place for someone in working America that did not have some sort of focused education more than high school, and who did NOT constantly update their skills and education, and most likely at their own time and expense. That was 50 years ago, and I’m sorry if the schools you went to didn’t give you that education.

    The people I saw on TV, I and most of my friends have NOTHING in common with! Demonizing educated people on the coasts might make you feel good, but having an education and working on the coast, I can tell you they don’t think about you at all! It might be had for you to believe after years of listening to right-wing radio, but they go about their business and their lives like anyone else; and no one is fomenting a secret cabal to ruin the fly-over! They never even think about the fly-over!

    Everything about Trumps madness was known for years before he got on TV. He’s been the joke in business magazines for years. Why do you think his financing is all in Europe? It’s because a decent American bank won’t finance him after all the loans and contractors he’s stiffed out on!

    I Leave you with this:

    https://therobertreport.net/2020/06/01/why-do-people-think-trump-supporters-are-stupid/

    • There is mutual demonizing going on. The elites look down on the uneducated, and the uneducated resent the elites. Both have to stop. We’re all human beings trying to make our way. We can all judge how another chose to live their lives but we should stop short of demonization.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        But Jim, this is what I’m trying to say, there IS NOT mutual demonizing going on, no one I know, nor any situation I’ve ever been involved in, does anyone even care or think anything of the people in the fly-over when you are on the coasts: couldn’t be bothered, just not a subject of focus or discussion. The idea that anyone I know is thinking about the mid-west and rural fly-over working class, and making fun of them at all, is humorous.

        There’s tons of data showing that this class war is totally fomented by the Fox News people and right-wing radio. Until these people started protesting and yelling about how privileged ‘coasters’ were somehow diabolically wrecking their livelihood, this supposed ‘hate’ for the fly-over working class was on no ones radar. And afterword’s, everyone I knew was….wha?

        What I AM MAD about, is the idea, as stated in my last post, that somehow, people who have showed the very essence of American penchant for improvement and struggle, and are proud of the heights they have reached, should be demonized by this riotous and seditious rabble.

        This demonizing is entirely a one way street built brick-by-brick by inaccurate and incendiary right wing media!

        • Agreed. The coast don’t have conversations about the middle. We’re disinterested.

          This demonizing is entirely a one way street built brick-by-brick by inaccurate and incendiary right wing media!

        • That’s part of the problem. We’re the United States. We should at least try to be interested in what people in the middle are facing!

  14. I tuned into NBC to watch the VP open the EC votes, and saw it unfold in real time. I’m so sorry for what the country must be going through.

    When I was 13 in 1980, I remember watching live as the SAS stormed the Iranian Embassy in London. This week’s events will stay with me in the same way.

    This is how one prominent British correspondent in Washington on UK radio viewed it:

    https://audioboom.com/posts/7767784-january-8-2020-american-week-american-carnage

    • I was busy working as it unfolded. Someone posted on the company Slack that it was happening and I put on NBC News in the background and caught bits and pieces of it. It was hard to focus on work, actually.

      Thanks for the link, I’ll listen to it later.

  15. NigelH says:

    Even as a relative outsider to this nation, I was shocked and concerned by the events of yesterday and many were.
    I have been trying over the last few years to understand the political landscape of America and struggled to ratify what I learned in school in teh UK and what I have seen since moving here.
    In the little amount of retrospect I have managed since yesterday I wonder ( and Hope) whether this is rock bottom and this is the event that changes things for the better.
    I remember another post of yours (I think) which referenced a theory about a five generation cycle (?) ending in some sort of event that brings it back to the start again with humanity being that much better… have we reached that crisis now?
    Thank you for posting this Jim.

    • We’re broken, Nigel. We’ve been broken for at least 10, maybe 20 years. I mean, we have had our brokenness all along, it’s a common thread in our history. But we have been fundamentally broken lately. I hope we recover.

        • Well…..yes. I’ve heard it said that you don’t understand American history until you understand America’s history with race.

          However, my point here was that we had a way of doing things before about 1980 that has been systematically destroyed since then.

  16. I have waited a couple of days to respond to this, wanting to sort my thoughts first. I think I need clarity on the rules. Are riots the “language of the unheard” and legitimate expressions of grievance? And are they merely a price to pay when a protest is “mostly peaceful”? Or it a seditious cancer on democracy when a mob tries to damage a Federal government building? I think we need to pick one. To me it is not hard to understand how angry, frustrated people can spend a summer watching burning buildings on television while everyone on television goes out of their way to excuse it while law enforcement takes no action but to defend themselves. But, it turns out, those are not the rules when the protesters disagree with the liberal/progressive worldview.

    To be clear, I am saddened and disappointed to see Trump supporters act this way. But I am also tired of living the life of a battered spouse – where everything is OK as long as the batterer gets his way and I keep my mouth shut. But if I try to speak up or respond in any way, well anything bad that happens is because I’m a horrible person. In other words, we conservatives are fine as long as we stick to writing op-eds and voting for losing candidates. But if we start having any success at putting our beliefs into practice, then suddenly we become a danger to democracy.

    • JP, a wide swath of middle America is very much not heard. Their economic condition has overall fallen in the last 50 years, and many of them have slipped from solidly middle class to something less, in many cases considerably less. They watch there be a great focus on things like gay marriage, or Black Lives Matter, or any number of other things that the left embrace, and they say, “Hey, what about us? We’re legitimately hurting here, and instead you’re paying attention to things that, frankly, don’t affect us much if at all” I don’t blame them.

      Neither party is doing the will of their constituents. They are manipulating us, playing us, to get our vote so they can advance their own agendas. It really is leaving people behind. No wonder so many are so angry. I do not believe at all that the current Republican party is interested in promoting conservatism. They have left it behind bit by bit over the last 20 years, replacing it with doing whatever they must to gain and retain power. I say this as a conservative. For what it’s worth I see the same in the Democrats, this fight to gain and retain power; they’re just doing it in their own way. Nobody is interested in governing.

  17. I agree with your thought, “May we be shocked enough that we band together to demand meaningful change, so that America can truly become great again.” It would be great to have that kind of agreement. Unfortunately, we may be past the point of banding together because we so fundamentally disagree on what the problem is. It appears we have become at least two different populations living in the same space, with different principles, needs, beliefs, backgrounds, and even information. In point of information, if you see the news about an event on “main stream” news and “conservative news”, you will see two very different accounts. The two main groups no longer agree on what change is needed and so will continue to work at cross purposes. I blame this squarely on nearly 50 years of media that is no longer news, but opinion cloaked as news. Listen carefully and you will find they no longer report the who, what, where, when, why, and how, but instead report on who said what, what someone thinks, and when, where, and how Twitter reacted. Sad.

    • I think the media is part of it. But I also think that the political parties have gone too far with pandering to their base while maintaining an agenda that doesn’t represent their constituents. Also, there’s a win-at-all-costs approach that has grown over the last 30 years. I hope all of this can still be untangled.

    • The American media is inherently biased. It’s utter garbage. The two party system is a joke. I’ve abandoned both parties over the last three state and national elections. To change the system you have to stop falling for the party tribalism. We’re not republicans or a democrats, conservatives or a liberals. We’re Americans.

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