By Rasta KEITH
As the two-year long election campaign in America begins to pick up steam (and setting aside the kind of sarcasm; nay, satire, so cleverly engaged in by Swamp Dogg in his song “God Bless America”), anyone uttering the slogan “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” would unequivocally be making the presumption that Americans actually have the wherewithal to make America “great.” But then the question immediately arises as to the etymology of the term “great.”
The Muslim phrase “Allahu Akbar,” generally translated “God is Great,” provides an appropriate context in which the term might be best understood. There are also the well-known lines in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Some men are born great, some men achieve greatness, and some men have greatness thrust upon them.” Thus, if the term could be construed as implying “exceedingly strong”, the greatness of a country must lie somewhere on the spectrum between the greatness of God and the greatness of men.
And there seems to be no shortage of instances from which the scope of the term might be correctly inferred.
Mohammed Ali claimed to be the greatest boxer. The Mississippi River, which flows over a distance of some 2320 miles from Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota through ten states to the Gulf of Mexico, is fondly referred to as the Great Mississippi River. The ancient barrier separating mainland China from its northern neighbours is called the Great Wall of China. And the whole world would have heard about Alexander the Great.
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was touted as “The Greatest Show on Earth” until the ‘inhumaneness’ occurring behind the scene forced the curtain to come tumbling down.
The Bismarck was supposed to be the greatest battleship until it eventually succumbed to a barrage of torpedoes somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic was hailed as the greatest cruise liner of its time and yet it went down with over 1500 lives during its maiden voyage.
Great Britain had lived up to its esprit de corps for centuries, but that country now finds itself clinging onto the apron strings of the European Union and the United States. Thus, as Trinidadians and Grenadians might say: “One Day, One day, congotay.”
But the greatness of the Roman Empire merits particular attention. At a certain point in time, Rome had controlled over 20% of the world’s population. And while it might be agreed that the circumstances were favourable to enable the Romans to dominate the world, and while the Romans had the ability to take advantage of those circumstances, the infrastructural developments which many of the conquered lands benefited from Roman rule might have made it seem that trading their cultural identity for such kinds of social advancements might not have been such a bad deal after all.
Interestingly, the term “Make America Great Again” clearly implies that there actually was a time when America was great. And such might, in fact, have been the case.
The implementation of the Marshall Plan in the reconstruction of Europe after World War 2 is remembered by many Europeans as having enabled those nations to rise from the ashes. Also, many of the countries which had benefitted from the Peace Corps Program during the Kennedy Administration surely would have appreciated such a gesture as an indication of American greatness.
The people of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada might never forget that it was the Ronald Reagan Administration, which had helped to avert a massacre by Grenadians of Grenadians which, on a per capita basis, would have been unlike anything that the world had ever witnessed.
President Obama, too, had attempted to demonstrate American greatness by his assault on the spread of Ebola thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, it might be proffered that there were times when America had, in fact, demonstrated its greatness.
Even so, certain Americans of a different persuasion may cite a completely different set of events as a testament to American greatness.
The 200-year period of African enslavement and subsequent Jim Crow era during which African Americans were treated as being less than fully human might be regarded as having been particularly noteworthy of the “noble” principles upon which American greatness had been founded. And such kinds of patriots might continue that other moments of American greatness should include the period of the Vietnam War (1955 – 1974) in which some 20 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed by American forces on the Vietnamese people, on their animals, and on their farms; thereby maiming and killing everything that fell within its poisonous grasp.
The annihilation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima might also make the short list. And the citizens of Cuba, Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and a host of other countries may agree that only a supposedly “great” nuclearized country could impose stifling sanctions on another country in the name of democracy and nuclear non-proliferation, turn around and blame the country’s leaders for the resulting spiralling inflation and humanitarian crisis, and then summon other “not-so great” countries to join them in bringing about regime change.
Meanwhile, the “Me, Myself and I” Trumpian ideology could be characterized by the sole agenda of running roughshod over every kind of established norm in an attempt to promulgate the America First Doctrine. Simply put, such a narcissistic foreign policy could only be construed as Henry Kissinger’s political diatribes on steroid. For as the former U.S. Secretary of State has written: “Justice is anything that serves the interest of the United States.” Still, the Greek tale, The Midas Touch, should serve to open the eyes of anyone who might aspire toward greatness at any and every cost.
The insatiable desire to wield power whether by individuals or nations is nothing new. But no matter how absolute a person’s power might become, the truism that “the longest rope has an end” must remind even the most powerful nations of their inherent vulnerability. For as most students of Metaphysics should know, while: “Man Proposes, God Disposes.”
Lest it be forgotten, things can change in the twinkling of an eye. And as had happened in other empires in previous epochs, rivers may run dry, the land may refuse to yield its harvest, locusts may begin to swarm the fields, even the iconic Yosemite Natural Park may refuse to contain its fury, and any number of other pestilences might befall “The Home of the Brave and The Land of the Free.” But Heaven forbid! For such a calamity would ricochet around the world with lightning speed. And the possession of nuclear weapons might no longer be the most reliable yardstick for determining a nation’s greatness.
To be fair, the culpability for the decimation of the indigenous inhabitants of the vast and diverse landmass called the Americas could never be rightly attributed to the many generations of the different ethnic groups currently calling America home. Even so, there is still time for the United States to amend its ways and truly become “a shining city upon a hill.”
Accordingly, while it might be fairly accurate to say that “everybody wants to come to America,” few people really do so because of disgust for their country of birth. Given the culture shock and other challenges which so-called immigrants have to contend with in attempting to establish roots in another country, most people would prefer to be finally interned “where their navel string was buried.” Instead, the primary reason that many people end up leaving their homeland is to seek broader vistas in which to realize their God-given potentials. And so, with the U.S. having a virtual monopoly on such means of development, it is easy to understand why all roads literally lead in that direction.
Needless-to-say, every enlightened economist knows that the theoretical basis for Trumpism, according to which a single country produces all of the world’s goods and has all of the world’s wealth, while the rest of the world remains destitute, is fundamentally flawed. And so, the tariff walls and immigration trenches erected by the Trump administration fly in the face of real economic progress. For no man is an island and anyone who would advocate otherwise should take a page from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. In other words, Americans should always be mindful of the fact that they cannot have their cake and eat it too.
Still, America could become a great nation even without having its own “Great Wall.” But the path to American greatness might be more soundly constructed on an appreciation of the tremendous benefits to be derived through fostering a kaleidoscope of races or cultural mosaic rather than by instituting a Eurocentric immigration policy in which only melanin-challenged people are made to feel welcome. Americans should recognize that America is the hub of modern civilization. And since The Cosmic One (JAH) had known before the dawn of time that “Diversity is the Essence of Creation,” people of every race, color, and creed should have an equal opportunity to participate in the American dream.
The United States might be at the top of the world today. But so, too, were the Romans and the British during earlier times until things took a turn for the worse.
A word to the wise is enough. And the South African reggae singer, Lucky Dube’s tune THE WAY IT IS seems to capture the prevailing state of affairs like no other song: “BE GOOD TO THE PEOPLE ON YOUR WAY UP THE LADDER ‘CAUSE YOU’LL NEED THEM ON YOUR WAY DOWN.”