Can We Define “Great”?

One of the consequences of the fragmented media environment fostered by the Internet has been the development of alternate realities. Americans increasingly get our “news” from sources carefully chosen to confirm our pre-existing biases.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the divisions over Donald Trump and his slogan  “Make America Great Again.”

It’s true, as many historians have pointed out, that the people with whom this slogan resonates tend to have a somewhat selective understanding of America’s history–one that omits the nation’s frequent deviation from its cherished principles. But inaccurate/incomplete history isn’t really the problem. The problem is with their definition of “greatness,” which tends to correspond with straight white male Christian dominance.

My own bias is for the vision of American greatness described by soccer star Megan Rapinoe in a recent article in the Guardian.

The US women’s soccer co-captain Megan Rapinoe has delivered an uncompromising message to Donald Trump, amid ongoing controversy over a possible visit to the White House by the World Cup champions.

Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper what she would like to say to the American leader, Rapinoe said: “Your message is excluding people. You’re excluding me, you’re excluding people that look like me, you’re excluding people of colour, you’re excluding Americans that maybe support you.”

Rapinoe has been outspoken about LGBT rights as well as racial and gender equality. After the US won the World Cup for a record fourth time on Sunday, Rapinoe called for progress on equal pay for the male and female teams.

In a previous interview with CNN, Rapinoe had said that, should the U.S. team win, they would not go to the “fucking” White House. In the Guardian, she expressed regret for her language, but not for her sentiment.

“I would not go, and every teammate that I’ve talked to explicitly about it would not go,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we’ve worked so hard to build, and the things that we fight for, and the way that we live our life … I don’t think that we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration,” Rapinoe told Cooper.

She added that allowing the White House to “put us on display” didn’t “make sense for us at all”, adding: “There are so many other people that I would rather talk to and have meaningful conversations that could really affect change in Washington than going to the White House.”

The sports star added the US needed to have a “reckoning” with the implications of Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. “You’re harking back to an era that was not great for everyone – it might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it’s not great for enough Americans in this world.”

Rapinoe’s definition of greatness–a definition with which I concur–is inclusion.

 A great society is one that values all its citizens, a society that rewards people based upon their behavior rather than their identity–a society that encourages and celebrates everyone’s participation and contribution.

Unfortunately, a  growing segment of the Internet is fostering a fear of “replacement” in insecure whites.That fear is based upon a definition of “greatness” that frantically opposes inclusion; “greatness” is a country where “people who look like me” are in control. As the linked article reports,

The far right has set off a vicious circle of disinformation by filling the information and communication gap on topics such as demographic change with emotive, speculative and hysterical content instead of facts.

The next election will be a choice between those who define American greatness as inclusion and civic equality and those who believe that “great” means an America that privileges straight white Christians.


  1. the next election is a do or die. if trump,retakes,rescams,along with mcconnel, 2020, it will be a all,out free for all,republican take over. as a group,will,and make no mistake, decide the voter,no matter how,ignorant,misinformed,of brainwashed elected us,to do as we please,screw the electrate,as a whole,and our laws,democracy,and constituition. it seems over the past 4 decades politicians have removed the majorty rule, for whatever suits them,first. and screw who voted for them. of the working class cant see, that mcconnels game has removed far more from our clout,and wages,then its a game of sink,and throw the cover on top tight. ignorance will win trumps game,as seen, his game is just that, a game. recent article by lorenzo marsili about corprate nationalism, and the libra,is not a joke, or a far fetched conspiracy, its fact, and the next election will be the end game,for this great experiment,called America..
    now have the far right explain to everyone who served,and died and the disabled defending,and the working class who kept this nations sovereignty alive,and then have the republicans give it all to the rich and the wall street scum..

  2. “A great society is one that values all its citizens, a society that rewards people based upon their behavior rather than their identity–a society that encourages and celebrates everyone’s participation and contribution.”

    “greatness”, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What we watched all day Wednesday under the misnomer of the “Robert Mueller Hearing” was nothing more than a debate between Republicans and Democrats with little opportunity to “hear” the message Robert Mueller had to bring to the American public. He has kept to his word throughout this long 2 years of investigation of Russian intervention into our 2016 election which uncovered additional “high crimes and misdemeanors” of Trump’s family, staff members and personal attorneys, teams of personal attorneys. This country is hard on its leaders; we watch as our presidents age visibly through their administrations…until now. Trump has bloomed into the defacto Grand Dragon of the White Nationalist party, the reincarnation of Adolph Hitler, leading his personal party under the misnomer of “Republican” and is getting fat on the labors of low and middle-income Americans.

    Robert Mueller has paid the price for bringing access to the truth before the public regarding the actuality of Trump’s “Make America Great Again”. The “hearing” on Wednesday covered up much of the facts in the Mueller Report; lost in the shouting match between the two parties. This may very well be worse than the preset outcomes of previous “hearing” on Sessions, Kavannaugh, Barr and others as facts got lost thanks to McConnell’s ongoing illegal stoppage of all attempts to pass any and every bill from Democrats which could actually begin to return this nation to its once level of greatness before the world.

    “A great society is one that values all its citizens, a society that rewards people based upon their behavior rather than their identity–a society that encourages and celebrates everyone’s participation and contribution.”

  3. Off subject but funny:
    President Donald Trump on Tuesday addressed the conservative youth group Turning Point USA in Washington, DC.

    The presidential seal displayed on a giant screen behind Trump as he addressed the conference had been doctored to show what appeared to be a Russian imperial eagle clutching golf clubs.

    Instead of the bald eagle featured in the official seal of the president of the United States, the image featured a double-headed eagle, which bears a striking resemblance to the one on the official coat of arms of the Russian Federation.

    And instead of clutching arrows in its left claw, the eagle in the altered image held golf clubs — most likely a not-so-subtle reference to one of Trump’s favorite hobbies.

    Also visible is a fistful of dollars held in the eagle’s claw on the left of the image, and a series of hammer and sickle designs in place of the stars on the US flag in the middle of the seal.

    The Washington Post first noticed the discrepancies. The White House told the publication that officials had not seen the image before Trump appeared onstage.

    Citing a reader, The Post said the fake seal resembled one being sold online in which the US’s Latin motto “E pluribus unum,” which means “Out of many, one,” has been replaced by the Spanish words “45 es un titere.” This roughly translates into English as “45 is a puppet.” Trump is the 45th US president.

  4. That’s hilarious, ML.

    Megan would make a better POTUS than Trump. She understands leadership. Trump’s Ego prevents him from learning anything and daddy isn’t around to bail him out. He’s a silver-spooned billionaire without any character. Sadly, we have many of these silver spoons in Washington and Wall Street. They’re called the Ruling Class.

  5. Being married to an immigrant man of color, I worry we will never be able to come home to America. Even though we’re both citizens, if we don’t have safe and secure elections, our country will fall to the likes of McConnell, 45 or hypocrites like Megan McCain. The founders must be rolling over in their graves.

  6. It is shame that they get to identify as Christians, because they know nothing about the messages in the New Testament. They are Fascists, not Christians.

  7. Well our Republic has lasted 243 years, not a long time in terms of great world powers. It makes me wonder if we are capable of a long term of peace and prosperity. It seems we must have war or the threat of war at all times.

  8. Todd,

    YOU would make a better President than Trump. Hell, anyone on this blog would be better, even the naysayers. Why? Because they and you are probably not narcissistic, paranoid psychopaths. In fact, I’ve NEVER seen anyone who so eagerly displays the pathological traits for these conditions. The Goldwater rule is bullshit when it comes to Trump. He is a walking lab observation.

    We’ve only been at total peace for 8% of our years as a nation. In spite of a strong economy, we still have 50+ million people living in poverty. In spite of civil rights legislation and decades of trying to right the wrongs of bigotry and racism, we remain profoundly racist. The first ten minutes of “The Newsroom” says it all regarding our “greatness”. Jeff Daniels’ monologue rant covers what rampant capitalism and political hypocrisy brings forth. America will NEVER be great despite our forefathers’ ideals because we embraced money and finance instead of seeing greatness in the minds and hearts of our citizens.

  9. Has anyone figured out yet why when some democrats say things like “our country isn’t perfect” and “we need to improve” they’re evil and should love it or leave it, while Trump’s own slogan “Make America Great Again” directly states that the country isn’t great now and needs to change?

    Isn’t MAGA directly against the “love it or leave it” philosophy?

  10. The subject of “greatness” and this nation today is difficult at best to make a connection between the two. There is another issue raging through this country which is comprised of opposing factors; Impeachment vs. Impeachment Inquiry vs. no Impeachment. Impeachment of Trump is possibly the only way we can survive and prevent his reappointment for a second term but timing is the ultimate factor. Is it too late in this term to begin without full information and DOCUMENTATION? If we wait until a possible second term as president will that run out the 5 year statute of limitations on his crimes, preventing indictment; many of which he has been paying millions to cover up for decades? His campaign foundation all along has been built on W.C. Fields’ long ago comment, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

    “America will NEVER be great despite our forefathers’ ideals because we embraced money and finance instead of seeing greatness in the minds and hearts of our citizens.”\

    Vernon; “greatness” like beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, it is a matter of relativity. The forefathers were the wealthy element of their time on this earth so money and finance has always been a factor at some level within this government. Years ago my kids would ask, “When is diner?”, me “about 5 minutes”, kids, “is that a long time?”, me “it depends on if you are eating ice cream or an elephant is standing on your foot.” The term “great” will never be applied to our current government unless it is referred to as “The Great American Fiasco”. We could consider this a “great” time in our history because actual Civil War has not YET broken out. Everything is relative.

  11. MAGA is a mythical time, which can be what ever you want it to be. The followers of President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence embrace the Bronze Age Mythology of the bible, with all it’s male dominated authoritarianism. As many have pointed out here today – America was never Great for all Americans.

    The talking heads on CNN and MSDNC as they have done now for months are in excruciating detail trying somehow to parse the Mueller Report into a smoking gun for impeachment. What a waste of time.

    President Agent Orange has now invoked that old Vietnam War era bumper sticker “Love it or Leave It”. This translates to Support Agent Orange and Pastor Pence no matter what – Blind Allegiance.

    I would counter with Union General Carl Schurz – “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Another quote by Schurz is, ” Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.”

  12. How great were/are we? Check out our planet ratings on maternal death, education, inequality, etc.

  13. A neighbor behind me is flying his Trump 2020 flag. The slogan now is “Keep America Great.” What a brilliant lie to propagate, and it maintains Trump’s alternate reality. To get elected the first time, he had to create the vision that the US is an unmitigated “disaster.” Now, to get re-elected, he has to make the bald-faced lie that he’s got it all sorted out, and now we need to elected to keep it great. Sad.

  14. Michael Gerson in today’s Washington Post: “A democratic country is generally not saved by the virtues of a single man but by the composite character of millions of principled citizens.”

  15. Robert Mueller is only 74 but his cognitive decline was abundantly manifest in his testimony before the Congressional committees yesterday. (Elephant in the room!) Some of us witnessed the rapidly diminished capacity of Ronald Reagan when he reached his mid-70s in his second term. Check out Donald Trump decades ago on You Tube. While sudden onset of dementia and various associated diseases increases exponentially with age, simple normal cognitive decline also occurs. Its pace has significant individual variability but it occurs in all. And because some elements of cognition are less affected than others, it can be masked and thus difficult to immediately discern.

    In our 60’s these things begin to occur.

    1. The brain actually begins to shrink!

    2. Recent memory and formation of new memories are impaired.

    3. Simple multi-tasking is more difficult.

    4. Word retrieval and processing is slowed.

    5. Slowed cognitive and motor processing.

    I am 71 and have observed these changes in myself and peers. We all need to think carefully about electing an older man or woman to the Presidency for 4 or 8 years.



  17. As expected the Mueller hearing was a waste of time. If Mueller looked weary, I would be to. Senseless questions and grandstanding, which did the Democrats no good and a predictable fanatic defense of President Agent Orange by the Republicans. What a big blank or dud, no silver bullet.

    CNN, MSDNC and FOX had all reached their own conclusions before the hearing. It just became a question of how best to parse the answers to suit the preordained conclusion, each network wanted.

  18. Exclusivity is a perilous notion around which to rally a nation or even an electorate. While it may serve your tribe’s current interests, how can you defend your position when a future president decides that it is your tribe that needs to be excluded? You’ve already declared for exclusivity, so do we engage in a civil war whenever the trend changes to favor a more numerous or more clever group than yours? That would become both bloody and tedious and, very quickly, self-defeating.

    Is it in anybody’s interest to exclude the contributions of Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities from a role in the national defense? Should their contributions to economic growth be excluded? Would professional sports survive if we excluded minorities? Could universities staff their faculties without minorities?

    It only requires a moment’s reflection to conclude that exclusivity is doomed. Tragically, that moment is excluded from the thoughts of Trumpists.

  19. The key operative word in Trump’s MAGA mantra is not “Great” but rather “Again”. Trump appealed to a base who wanted to restore, to take one’s country back, is a giant pushback against the difficulties and hardships of adapting to new, unfamiliar, often threatening realities.

    I posted earlier about my personal experience witnessing the transformation of oil refineries in southeast Texas that put hundreds of laborers and their sixteen pound wrenches out of work … forever. Trump implied he could restore work opportunities for the guy who knew how to adjust pressure flow valves with a sixteen pound wrench now done better and more efficiently by new technology. Trump promised a retrofit he could not deliver … unless those white boys were ready to relocate to Nigeria. “Send them back”? We did. And you don’t belong there. Instead of chanting “Send them back” … face the hard truth and YOU go back to school and learn a 21st Century trade to sustain America as a leading trade partner.

  20. Thank you, JoAnn, for shouting out that Mr. Mueller is EXHAUSTED by the continuous harassment by the Trump puppets (Barr, et al) to cover up the things they don’t want seen by the American people. The poor man DID NOT seem confused as much as just WEARY by the constant need to defend his work. And when you look at the FACTS he found, it could not be any clearer that Trump is guilty as hell! And Mr. Mueller was downright resolute in pointing out the most damming conclusions — crimes were committed and the President’s campaign team used the interference by the Russians to gain advantage and they are CONTINUING to do so! I say, Bless the man for his courage and determination to present the FACTS!! He deserves 3 relaxing months at the resort of his choice!!

  21. I recently read an article about the two American myths, Conservative and Liberal.

    The Conservative myth is of the Wild West, rugged individualism, where singular heroes did everything on their own. They received no help; the federal government never sent the army to chase away the Indians; those heroes didn’t need community cooperation, and everything was perfect. This lingers in the myth of the “self-made” man.

    The Liberal myth (Emma Lazarus, but especially in more recent times) is that we are a nation of immigrants and have always understood this and gloried in the “melting pot” that was America.

    The article treated these myths as equal and opposite, but I disagree. The first half of the Liberal “myth” is actually truth. We are a nation of immigrants (some, not by choice) and the fact that there were no (non-Indian) national people helped form who we are as Americans. It is the recognition of that fact and the acceptance of immigrants that is myth.

    As Norris properly points out, the “Again” is as troubling as the “Greatness”. I have to agree with Sheila that inclusiveness (and an expanding view of “us”) is the definition that I prefer. While history isn’t a straight line, the “all men are created equal” idea, along with the franchise, has been expanding to be more inclusive throughout our nation’s history. I like to think that after a terrible episode, we will return to that trajectory.

    As for “Go back where you came from”, only the American Indians should be allowed to say that — and they came from Asia if you look back far enough — of course we all probably started in Africa.

    What I truly love is the “Love it or leave it” idea. [Thanks for those better quotes ML – they are great.] I just have this vision of Trump back in 1776 trying to tweet King George telling the King that he told those “far left socialists” in Philadelphia to “Love it or leave it” and since they are still in the King’s own colonies, the King should hang those trouble makers.

  22. Washington Post
    National Security

    Mueller’s team is said to have told Congress his acuity was not an issue. Some lawmakers privately worry it was.

    At times during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on July 24, former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III appeared unaware of what was in his public report. (Video: JM Rieger/Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
    By Matt Zapotosky and
    Rachael Bade
    July 27 at 11:21 AM

    The whispers started in 2018, though where they originated remains unclear: Robert S. Mueller III, the taciturn Marine veteran leading an investigation of the president of the United States, might not be as sharp as he once was.

    At least some members of Mueller’s team rejected the insinuation out of hand. Yes, Mueller was 74 years old. But he worked nine to 10 hours a day, attended every meeting with the team leaders he appointed and appeared focused and engaged in those interactions, two people familiar with the special counsel’s investigation said.

    When congressional staffers, prompted by repeated media inquiries, asked Mueller’s team about his cognitive acuity, they were told — three separate times — that he was okay.
    “They were unequivocal,” according to one congressional official familiar with the talks.

    After Mueller’s halting, sometimes confused testimony before two congressional committees Wednesday, some lawmakers are privately wondering whether there was some truth to the rumors — and whether they were right to force him to testify against his wishes.

  23. Great in reference to a country DOES NOT EQUAL INCLUSIVENESS. Jeez, what an inadequate proposition!

    Great includes inclusiveness but also many other qualities. One, for instance, is the ability and willingness to lead the world, especially when part of the world needs protection from a bully nation. Great also means that a country is successful in uplifting its least privileged/least lucky people. Great includes living up to a country’s own myth and propagating the myth with enough charisma and intelligence to maintain the country’s moral backbone. Great is what a country does; it is not how a country preens and poses.

Comments are closed.