One of the understandable but misguided responses that Democrats had during the election was that “American never stopped being great” or “America is still great”.
I get the sentiment. It feels like a natural response to MAGA. It made for a heartwarming speech from Michelle at the DNC. But it is very much the kind of fairy tail that the left must divest itself from going forward.
The cold, hard truth is that America was never great.
We’re a country whose initial wealth came straight from the blood and sweat of slaves, whose children we now imprison at ten times the rate of any other racial or ethnic group in the nation.
Our land was stolen from Native Americans, whose genocide was actively sought by our founding fathers and early presidents. The most aggressive and murderous of those, we still honor with a place on our currency.
Our dominance in the 20th century has nothing to do with our democracy, our capitalism, or our Judeo-Christian values, but the mere fortune of being separated from two world wars by two giant oceans, the pure luck of sitting on enormous quantities of oil that we discovered right as we entered the industrial revolution.
Stop painting the past as a place that we should have any desire to return to. Cease this pretense that our wealth and stability are the result of any genius or invention of our own. It is an insult to the memory of the many people who have suffered and died at the hands of American injustice.
No, America was never great. Not once. Not ever.
But it can be.
We should look forward. The future is a place of enormous possibility. We have incredible luck on our sides. A rare chance to write our own destiny. Fleeting, slippery though it might be, we can turn the tides of climate change, of racial, social, and economic injustice, of bureaucratic gridlock, nepotism, and corruption.
The window is closing. A decade or two of inaction, and our chance will be gone. We’ll find ourselves cast back onto the roiling seas, our fates determined more by the whims of weather and inheritance than our own designs.