Our problem is we feel like we should be better than every other country and it’s never going to happen.
That frankly seems like a copout to me. Our problem is not that we should be better; it is that the United States of America has been a travesty since day one. As soon as European settlers arrived in the land we now call the United States, they began to displace and massacre the indigenous inhabitants. The descendants of some of those indigenous peoples live on today, and the crimes against their ancestors have never been addressed. The intergenerational trauma lives on, centuries later.
The displacement has never been reversed. Stolen land remains stolen. The place names remain stifling and sinister, a direct assault on indigenous peoples who were slain and chased away from their homes. Native Americans remain marginalized and subjugated in a system they had no hand in establishing. We dishonorably celebrate Columbus Day and Thanksgiving and pretend we are great.
And this is all before we start talking about the evils of slavery, the effects of which still linger in modern American society. We have never addressed this, and the road to addressing it goes right through understanding why Collin Kaepernick takes a knee and why it is necessary to even point out that Black Lives Matter in 2017, yet we struggle to make meaningful headway even in those most basic conversations on racial injustice. America has never been great.
And even those two enormous historical scars do not speak to all the ills that plague the fabric of our society today. Prisons, deportations, mass shootings, poverty, wealth inequality, death from preventable diseases, homelessness, rampant sexism, homophobia, police violence, war, imperialism, a headlong rush into a global climate apocalypse — you name it. You cannot claim greatness in such an environment. Progressing from ‘absolutely atrocious’ to ‘still awful’ does not make us great.
And besides all of that, there is a simple, glaring piece of logic that dismantles any notion of American greatness: how could a great nation elect a depraved oaf like our current president? That would be impossible in a great nation. It happened precisely because we were not great.
We have high ideals and that’s to our credit. Reaching for those ideals makes us better even when we miss the mark.
We’re not even trying if we buy into baseless exceptionalism. If we say ‘America is already great’ we ignore how incredibly non-great it really is. Ideals can guide us in shaping reality, but when we use them to project a comfortable illusion of greatness onto a diabolical and failed reality, we are doing more than missing the mark; we are obfuscating the mark.
Ultimately, the left will remain feckless and effete in the United States until this sinks in and people start to realize just how much we have to repair before we can even think about calling our country great. This is fundamentally what it means when you charge the Democratic Party to stop being Republican-Lite.