Great Again

DrumpfI think I’ve come full circle on Donald Trump. It’s an opposite circle from the one I traveled with William Shatner (and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama). This time I started out appalled, began to rethink my position, but moved back to appalled after all. So while I’m back to liking Shatner, Clinton, and Obama, I’m also back to hating Donald Trump.

His disgraceful apparent behavior, regardless of who he really is behind the circus ringmaster, is enough to disqualify him from politics (let alone from the Presidency of the USA).

His slogan claims he’ll make America great again. The “again” deserves some unpacking, but I got to thinking about the “great” part…

Let’s accept the premise that (North) America (by which I mean its culture and society) is less great than it once was. I’ve certainly made that very point around here many times.

I stand by it. I do believe our culture — our society — is arguably in decline. Our technology does improve, and so do many other things, but I agree with many observers who see declines in other areas.

USA gold


So here’s a question: What’s the bullet list for America The Great? Is it weighted towards the past? Was there more greatness then compared to now?

Obviously this depends on how we define the “greatness” of a country.

Suppose we look for things that are generally admired notable feature of a country. Things that stand out at a national level, but they shouldn’t be things other countries might mock. We want things other countries might envy.

These things don’t need to be unique, just notable. They should stand out from the crowd in some way (thus making them enviable).

Here’s my first pass at such a list:

founding fathers

“We the people…”

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and other burgeoning political scientists who created a deliberate country founded on specific principles.

Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and many other scientists, inventors, and engineers. (Such people are by no means unique to the USA, though. Some of the very best are not!)

Mark Twain, David Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway, and other great writers who described key parts of the American mindset. (Of course, Shakespeare wasn’t American. We have no monopoly on writers or artists.)

Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and other artists who also represented very American approaches (in very different ways).

Our universities, which are indeed the envy of the world and a big draw to immigrants. (On the other hand: Cambridge and Oxford, to name just two others.)


Remember Zippy?

The US Post Office which has been around for a while (like, 1775). Think of it: a stamped addressed envelope delivered anywhere in America within days. And still today it costs less than half a buck. And much more personal than an email.

The Panama Canal, the TVA project, Hoover Dam (and others), the Apollo program (with Mercury and Gemini before that), and most recently robots on Mars and out to (planet) Pluto. (On the other hand, CERN. We passed on the Super Collider.)

Our interstate highway system, our bridges and tunnels, our railways (once the greatest in the world), even our air travel (of the 44,000 airports worldwide, 15,000 are in the USA — a touch over one-third).


As this list developed it became clear that many of these aren’t particular to the USA, although we do seem to have a lot of great things here.

The real point — really the only point — I would make here is that these are the things I think are great about America.

Drumpf hat

Who is this guy?

But I’m not at all sure that’s what the hat is talking about.

The hat seems to talk a lot about winning.

Which is nice, but I’m not hearing much how.

The hat uses words like “tremendous” and “amazing” (and “great”), but it sounds like showman’s patter — all empty words.

I’m astonished that, still, people are falling for this.

It’s slowly beginning to dawn on people that this is an authoritarian bully who is creating what amounts to a personality cult filled with blind followers. I really thought people would either have gotten bored or caught on by now.

But, as I’ve said repeatedly, when it comes to surface over substance, assertion as fact, and a complete disconnect between words and their meaning, modern culture is a huge driver of that process.

Trump is exactly what you get as a result of that process.

Trump is our fault. (I say “our” but I mean “your!” I had nothing to do with it. I’m the one that’s been arguing against this sort of shit for over 40 years, so don’t blame me.)



Borrowing from history!

But back to the List of Greatness.

Here’s the thing. That list does seem weighted towards our past.

One problem in judging (besides personal bias) is the idea of “plowed ground.”

The lightbulb and the airplane have been invented. Rock and Jazz (and many other art forms) have been well-explored. Most scientific discovery these days is deep and specialized. Sectors of science and technology and art can be more or less tapped out.

There is also the problem of scope. When many thousands of artists all vie for recognition, it’s hard for any one to stand out. Among the sheer volume of content generated today, it can be hard to be even noticed.

Scope also means that, when something does catch on, it often catches on in a huge way. On the other end of that spectrum, if it catches on at all, even a small share of tons of people is still a lot of people.

Further, content comes along in such great volume (in both senses of the word) every day that anything big today is lost downriver very quickly.

Star Wars

A long, long time ago…

The first Star Wars movie changed the world and loomed large in the public eye for many years after it opened. We’ve already moved on from the latest one (which opened less than three months ago).

All these factors muddy the water and make a claim of culture decay subject to debate.

What’s not debatable is the decline in our roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

What’s not debatable is the obvious decline in our politics or the longer decline in our government.

What’s not debatable is the increasing polarization of society.


If you’ll forgive a badly mixed metaphor, it has come clear to me that the lemmings are going to push this train off a cliff. They really are going to try to cut off their nose to spite their face.

Drumpf emperor

Emperor Drumpf

This is the Dark Side of the force. When you lead with your heart rather than your head, you’d better hope your heart is in the right place.

And when it comes to Trump supporters… well, it sure seems their hearts are in a dark place.

Win at all costs. Screw principle. Screw character. Screw logic.

When people tell you it doesn’t matter what you say, that is very, very scary. Terrifying. It’s pure cult, and all rationality is out the window.

WTF, America? W! T! F!?

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

17 responses to “Great Again

  • dianasschwenk

    As a non-American and the daughter of European immigrants, I think the world used to think America was great for the following reasons: It was known or thought of as the country where you could find freedom and pursue your dreams, the place you want to be to raise a family. It represented my word is better than a contract, hand-shake deals, justice and apple pie for everyone! 😉 We have a funny guy called Rick Mercer here who just did a rant on trump and Canada’s O’Leary.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I agree with Mercer. A bubble on Mars would be better. (Memories: Stop the World, I Want To Get Off, a comedy musical, is the first play I did stage lighting for! 🙂 )

      What’s happening in Canada, what’s happening in parts of Europe,… the insanity exists throughout the Western world, and I really do believe our media has a lot to do with where we’ve gotten.

      “I think the world used to think America was great for the following reasons: It was known or thought of as the country where you could find freedom and pursue your dreams, the place you want to be to raise a family. It represented my word is better than a contract, hand-shake deals, justice and apple pie for everyone!”

      Well said, and worth repeating!

      Those ideas were created and made part of our DNA by those first people I mentioned. And those ideas are explored and celebrated by American authors and songwriters.

      In theory our education system, especially our universities, should promulgate those ideas to all who attend. And our politics and laws should uphold those ideas….

      But,… we’re changing. 😦

    • Steve Morris

      I agree with Diana. As a child, growing up in rainy Britain in the 1970s when nothing worked and nobody cared, my impression was that Britain existed in Black & White; America was in Color.

      As Diana said, Freedom and the American Dream were the US’s most powerful exports to Europe.

      • dianasschwenk

        Love it Steve! ❤
        Diana xo

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Let me ask you both: How do you like us now? ❓

        Do you still see freedom and the American Dream as our core values?

      • Steve Morris

        I think that a many Americans seem to have lost their way. I think that the American Dream turned into a sense of entitlement and that a lot of Americans are at risk of being swamped by a world that is much less divided economically and culturally than it used to be. Watch out America – China, India and the others are chomping at your tailcoats!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, yeah! One of my main themes on this blog has turned out to be trying to convince people that, yes, things have changed and, yes, the change is for the worse in many areas. (So maybe we should at least be talking about the issues and thinking about solutions.)

        I’ve been surprised that message turns out to be hard for some people to agree with when it seems so evident to me. Another theme of mine is “question yourself” and I definitely do, but if I’m wrong, then a lot of other very intelligent people are also wrong. It might be a half-full, half-empty perception thing, but there sure are times when it doesn’t seem like there’s much water left in the glass.

        It also means the conversation never gets to solutions, or even really even discussing the problems, when people won’t agree there’s a problem in the first place. But I can see the lemmings pushing the train closer and closer to what sure appears to be the edge of a cliff.

        And maybe what’s really got my dander up (I don’t have knickers to bunch, but I do have dander to up) is that, in Trump’s success, I’m seeing everything I’ve been complaining and warning about for 40+ years come to fruition.

        It’s like, for over forty years I’ve been telling Nero, “Hey, put down the fiddle for just a moment and listen to me!”

        And now I can smell the smoke and feel the heat…

  • Steve Morris

    Your list of great things is largely historical, as you say. Arts, universities, the post office, scientists, etc are not in any way unique to the US. In fact, Europe has a much stronger claim to greatness in Art, Literature, Music and Science, in my opinion. The greatest and most special item on your list was the founding of the country’s democracy and constitution. That’s something to be proud of.

    Historically, there’s a case for the US truly rising to greatness after World War II. If you look at what makes America unique and special right now, I would point to the mindblowing way that US companies are transforming the entire world at unprecedented speed. Google, Apple, Amazon, … These corporations are changing the world through the power of ideas. They collectively wield greater influence on the outside world than US military might ever did. And during a period when the US President turned to face inward, these companies embraced globalization in an impressive way.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Europe has a much stronger claim to greatness in Art, Literature, Music and Science, in my opinion.”

      Definitely over the full span of its existence!

      America has gotten so weak on science and education that I suspect the rest of the world has us pretty beat on that one right now.

      Not sure I’d agree about Art, Literature, and Music, if we’re talking modern era. What names would you offer against Pollack or Warhol or Twain or Hemingway or Madonna?

      But this isn’t intended to be a contest. It’s not about what makes (or made) American greater than anyone else (I don’t think that’s a call that can be made), but at what made (or makes) us great within our selves.

      And whether any of that has slipped in the last few decades.

      “I would point to the mindblowing way that US companies are transforming the entire world at unprecedented speed.”

      That’s a good point. (One reason I support relations with Cuba is that the way we export our ideas is pretty insidious and hard to resist. Clothing! Music! Video Games! Movies! Sports! Internet!

      Who needs an army to take over the world when we have the interweb? 😀

      That long-term value of some of this might remain to be seen. (Did you ever see the original Rollerball movie? The SF theme of global corporate domination is usually painted as a bad idea. Even the original Google mantra, Do No Evil, seems to be more ironic than not these days.)

      “These corporations are changing the world through the power of ideas.”

      True, but are they always good ideas? Certainly some of our good values come along with that, but I’m afraid our bad values also come with the package.

      Does any of this tie in with our discussion a while back (see: The Next Fire) about how it was our size and common language that made us so successful? At the time, I was the one really pushing the point about American ideas and ideals. 😀

      • Steve Morris

        I’m not going to indulge in a contest of names – this is supposed to be about American greatness! America has many great artists, composers and scientists – my point was that this is not necessarily America’s key area of competitive advantage, to borrow a term from economics. There is still a lot of snobbery in Europe towards American cultural achievements.

        I remember Rollerball. And Bladerunner and the Alien series. I don’t recognise those dystopian worlds in the real world. I also don’t believe for a moment in the myth of corporate domination. I’ve worked in the tech industry long enough (15 years, lol) to see many giant tech companies fall. (Remember Nokia? Ericsson? Motorola? Yahoo? IBM?) Turned out that consumers had the real power, not those giant corporations.

        Are they good ideas? Personally I think Apple has mostly bad ideas, but I know I’m in a minority. Google’s ideas are mostly good, but I’m just desperate to see some new search technology players shove Google out of the way. I even built my own search engine once, but battles with patent lawyers stopped me getting it off the ground. Boo to IP lawyers!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “[M]y point was that this is not necessarily America’s key area of competitive advantage…”

        Well, sure, but this was never meant to be about competition or even advantages. Just what elements made American “Great” and to what extent that greatness may have faded.

        “I also don’t believe for a moment in the myth of corporate domination.”

        Well, no, it’s certainly not like the dystopia of the movies, but I do wonder about the consequences of these vast global companies.

  • Lady from Manila

    Trump lost in Ohio and is neck and neck with Cruz right now in Missouri. But I’ll be honest in saying I’m glad he made it in three other states.
    It looks like it’s going to be Hillary.

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