Sunday, August 19, 2018

Is America Great, yet?

Earlier in the week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “We’re not going to make America great again — it was never that great.”

Of course he was widely condemned and mocked for what many considered a callous and politically unwise statement.  I, on the other hand found myself trying to come to terms with when and why  people might have thought America great.

Was it great when it subjected Native Americans to warfare, removals and one-sided treaties?  Or maybe it was when diseases were deliberately spread among Native Americans as a form of biological warfare.  That was when America had its own holocaust.  Or maybe it was when shiploads of stolen Africans helped build the new nation into an economic powerhouse through the production of lucrative crops like tobacco and cotton.

Just think, America is a nation built on stolen land by stolen people.  Is  that what made America great?

We’re told the original settlers came to the new world escaping religious persecution.  But soon after their arrival, in a fit of mass “religious” hysteria they executed more than two dozen women and crushed a man to death for allegedly practicing witchcraft.  Five people, including two infants died in prison.  The hysteria did not stop until the Governor’s wife was accused of witchcraft.  I guess justice has always catered to the powerful.  But thank goodness for redemption….6 victims were exonerated in 1957 and another 5 were absolved from wrongdoing in 2001.

Such a blatant demonstration of religious hypocrisy couldn’t have been what made America great.

Just maybe America was great when armed militias forced the relocation of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands to areas west of the Mississippi River.  Abraham Lincoln opposed it, as did David Crockett, who argued that “America had no more right to take the Indians’ land than the British had to take America’s land.”  Even the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Native Americans, but it didn’t matter.  Gold had been discovered on their land and whites wanted it.

So Native Americans were forced to walk hundreds of miles through bitter weather.  Thousands of men, women and children died from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route to their new designated reserve.  The removal became known as “The Trail of Tears”.  Nullification of the supreme law of the land surely diminished America’s greatness.

It all begs the question, how is greatness measured?

The country must have evolved into greatness when violent rioting defined its existence.  Riots occurred between Protestant "Nativists" and Irish Catholic immigrants; were common against Irish and French-Canadian immigrants.  In San Francisco, vigilantes systematically attacked Irish immigrants, Mexicans, Chileans, Filipinos, Japanese, Armenians and Chinese.  Italian immigrants and the Polish were subjected to racial violence.  Of course, dozens of African American settlements were completely destroyed.

By the 19th century,  America had stolen land and people, bought and sold human beings, enslaved them, displaced, humiliated and killed masses of people and subjected others to violence and intimidation.  Was America great yet?

Maybe greatness came when America annexed Texas bringing about the Mexican-American war.  Without regard for the Mexicans and Native Americans who lived there,  America took possession of what is now New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and half of Colorado.  Maybe America became great when it expanded its borders.

The country couldn’t have found greatness during the Civil War, when a bunch of treasonous slaveholders turned against the United States.  The four-year conflict cost the lives of over 600,000 Americans.  Still today,  this terrible time is memorialized with statues and a flag.  What on earth was great about treason?

Perhaps it was when southern states passed new constitutions and laws to disenfranchise African Americans...oh wait…states are still doing that!  So maybe,
it was legal segregation,  Jim Crow or convict prisons that defined this country’s greatness. 

I know.  Lynching.  It must have been the era of lynching.  American terrorists, like the KKK lynched more than 4,000 Americans.  The Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the law” did not apply because the Ku Klux Klan was a private club.  After 200 attempts to outlaw lynching, in 2005, Congress finally at lease apologized. 20 senators could still not see fit to sign on.  

While lynching has ceased, extrajudicial killings are still in vogue.  But today  lynching has been replaced by “stand your ground” and police who kill with impunity. 

Maybe we were great when the country practiced eugenics and sterilized women determined to be unfit to give birth, then again the government is still trying to legislate the uterus, so that couldn’t be it.

Was it 1945 when the United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing over 200,000 people.  Most of the dead were civilians, so perhaps America is great because it is the only country that has detonated a nuclear bomb.  Or maybe it’s the greatest because it has more nuclear weapons than anyone else.


Then, it must be our war prowess that makes us great.  Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and the War on Drugs. America has been at war for far more years than it has ever been at peace.

For twenty years,  the CIA engaged in secret and illegal experiments on unknowing American and Canadian citizens in hopes of finding drugs and other substances that would alter people’s behavior and put them under mind control.  In fact,  America has a history of using its citizens as guinea pigs.  In search of greatness, no doubt.

Perhaps America was great when Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a sweeping anti-communist campaign, investigating and ruining the careers of thousands of Americans.

Or maybe, we emerged as great from the Depression;  Japanese, German or Italian internment?  Perhaps not, since today we’re interning refugees on the border, and once again tearing families apart.  

Was it the storm called Katrina and the seemingly indifferent and less-than adequate response from the federal government that defined America’s greatness? Probably not, because we just witnessed the same lackadaisical response to destruction and deaths in Puerto Rico.

Are we great yet?  

Have we ever been? 

Compared to what?

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