Liberal commentators like to interpret Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” as code for a racist agenda. One day on MSNBC during the campaign, Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson put it neatly,
. . . whiteness and nation are seen to be indissolubly linked. And, as a result of that, you don’t have to talk about whiteness. All you have to do is talk about making America great again. Black people hear those code words, and they understand what they mean.
So, in other words, people responding to the call to greatness hope to see separate drinking fountains once more. The more than 60 million citizens who voted for Trump don’t say that openly, of course, but the liberals one encounters in academia and media claim a remarkable ability to divine the hidden motives of non-liberals.
But this isn’t a special perception that enlightened people on the Left possess. It is blindness to the very American greatness that people on the Right revere. That greatness has nothing to do with racism. It is a roster of words and deeds, geography and facts, that inspire Americans to take pride in their homeland.
The legacy is vast and diverse:
- Ben Franklin arriving in Philadelphia, a teenage runaway, broke and ragged, with no advantage but his own wits and work ethic.
- Emily Dickinson up in her room late, a candle burning as she writes,
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you ― Nobody ― too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise — you know!
- Frederick Douglass rising up against the sadistic overseer Mr. Covey, beginning the account later with the words, “You have seen how a man was made a slave, you shall see how a slave was made a man.”
- The 25,000 women who applied to become Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II, 38 of whom died in action.
- The 3,500 libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie and placed around the country to give every American youth the opportunity to read and advance.
- UCLA basketball coach John Wooden beginning each season by showing players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes.
- The Cumberland Gap and the Oregon Trail, Route 1 and the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Bodie, and Tombstone . . .
- Monticello, the Rose Bowl, the Empire State Building, Falling Water, Dulles Airport . . .
- “give me liberty, or give me death!” “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” “I have a dream . . .”
The list goes on, but the liberalism of our day doesn’t honor these greatnesses, not unless they can be tinged with identity politics. Feminists, multiculturalists, and globalists have turned the American heritage into a dubious past that is to be overcome by a progressive present.
The lesson of Donald Trump’s victory is that they haven’t succeeded in abolishing the faith. Ben Franklin’s life is too remarkable to be swamped by the fact that he lived in a society that didn’t allow everyone equal rights. The story of the American West includes the displacement of Native Americans, but the displacement doesn’t cancel the epic scope of the story. Greatness may be mixed with complications without losing its status. We don’t lose our appreciation for what Martin Luther King, Jr. did when we hear lesser details of his personal life.
The lesson of Donald Trump’s victory is that they haven’t succeeded in abolishing the faith.
Many Americans are tired of the cynicism and blaming. They have heard their country and its heroes disparaged too many times, as when UCLA Professor Gary Nash, head of the National History Standards Project, told NBC News that the first thing youths should learn about George Washington is that he emerged out of a slaveholding society. No wonder high schoolers score so poorly on U.S. history tests. If you cannot love a thing you can have no sense of wonder about it.
And if liberals really believe these things, it helps explain why thousands packed into Donald Trump’s campaign events and had a rollicking time. For once, it seemed to them, they might escape the shadow of political correctness and take pride in the American heritage. For eight years, they had listened to a leader who couldn’t speak of his country without an undercurrent of resentment and to a First Lady who famously said after her husband won a 2008 primary, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”
To face a new leader with unquestioned love of country and sharp sense of heroism was exhilarating. People don’t want to be scolded for their patriotism. They want to find in the past materials of inspiration. Until liberals figure out that the rehearsal of sins is no basis for civic unity, the polarization we see today will only get worse.