NEW YORK - America is a great country. Far from perfect, but great nonetheless, Other than Donald Trump and millions of Americans who have been bamboozled by the GOP into thinking otherwise, everyone knows America is great. The Chinese know it. The Russians know it. The Europeans know it. The Muslims know it. Even Israelis know it. ISIS certainly knows that America is great, which is why it’s hell bent on taking it down.
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Some people think America used to be greater, but that’s debatable. It’s true that life may have become tougher economically, that America used to be able to dictate terms to the world and that all sorts of foreign countries have become uppity in recent years. But the past that so many Trump supporters seem to be pining for also included African Americans who knew their place, Hispanics who smiled when waiting on tables, women who stayed in the kitchen and gay people who lived in fear and darkness. A lot of people who want to make America great again only want to make white America great again.
America used to think like Muhammad Ali: it wasn’t enough to be great, it had to be the greatest. But many countries believe they are the greatest. And some countries, after centuries of tyranny and corruption, are starting to catch up. That’s not a bad thing, unless you think that making America great means that everyone else needs to be not so great.
America is certainly not the greatest in a wide range of categories: It doesn’t have the best education system, or health care system, or social welfare system, or justice system, or gun control system. Its industrial base is contracting and its infrastructure is in decline. It isn’t the safest country in the world and in some cities it’s probably one of the most dangerous. And, as everyone has seen in recent months, it has an astonishing amount of nuts, kooks, neo-Nazis and plain old idiots.
Nonetheless, America still has the largest economy in the world, the strongest army in the world, the most advanced technology in the world and the most Nobel Prize winners in the world. It still wins the most medals in the Olympics. It still has millions of foreigners who want to come into the country, and not millions of Americans who want to leave.
America dominates, some would say domineers, popular culture around the world, perhaps more than ever before. Its movies rule, its rock stars rock, its television series hypnotize, and it is the end all and be all of the internet, social media, and online commerce. In fact, an America that hosts Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Snapchat and every other digital juggernaut is, in many ways, more powerful than in its entire history. Not great? Give me a break.
More importantly, America is still the main protector of the planet. It’s deeply flawed, but it is nonetheless a beacon of freedom, an advocate for human rights, a defender of Israel. American democracy is – or at least was – revered throughout the world. The U.S. Constitution is one of history’s most venerated documents. America is still a trailblazer, warts and all, in its willingness to change, to correct historical wrongs, to allow minorities an equal shot at reaching the top. The election of Barack Obama as president was a shining moment in which America was indeed the greatest; the election of Hillary Clinton as the first woman to lead the free world could be another.
Trump says the world doesn’t take the U.S. seriously, but he’s full of hokum. Trump also says nobody respects Obama: A June 2015 Pew Survey found that Obama is admired throughout the world, with the notable exceptions of Russia, China and, possibly and unfortunately, Israel. But one thing is certain: The world takes a very dim view of Donald Trump. He arouses disbelief, ridicule and deep apprehension. If and when Trump was to become president, his election would cause many people around the world to reconsider whether America is still great or has simply gone off the rails forever.
Trump has already inflicted untold damage on America’s image abroad. Politicians, pundits and the public at large cannot comprehend how the party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and even Ronald Reagan could anoint such an unsympathetic, loudmouthed, ignorant, race-baiting rabble rouser as its candidate. They will be shocked ten times over if it turns out that the American people have elected him as president. The comparisons between Trump and the most reviled leaders in modern history will be inevitable.
Based on his wild statements about NATO, Russia, nuclear weapons and what have you, Trump will also inspire fear. But it’s not the kind of fear that many Republicans yearn for. It’s not the kind of fear that a hawkish but responsible American president might arouse: with Trump, it will be a Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" anxiety that will come to many people’s minds.
But Trump’s election as president wouldn’t only sully America’s image in foreign eyes, it would crush it in the eyes of many Americans, including the overwhelming majority of its elites. The leaders of America’s cultural, intellectual, academic and financial sectors would immediately be plunged into shock and depression. They would look in the mirror and be hard put to convince themselves that America, with Trump as president, can still be considered great. They won’t leave the country in droves, as some have threatened, but their country would certainly be diminished forever in their eyes.
It will be hard to reconcile the election of a Trump and the concept of America as great. A Trump victory would mean that racism, bigotry and hatred have triumphed. It would mean that minorities can no longer feel absolutely safe and equal. It would bring to the fore dark forces, hitherto contained, including full throttle, genocidal, Holocaust-denying anti-Semites.
A Trump triumph would mean that American democracy is teetering on the brink of something completely different. It would mean that facts don’t matter, that reality can be twisted, that a presidential candidate can say the most offensive and outrageous and hateful things and still be elected. It would mean that Americans are gullible enough to be taken in by a political stunt guy and consummate con man. It would mean that given an option to vote for a flawed but nonetheless highly competent Democratic candidate, Americans preferred to be led by the most unqualified presidential contender in modern history, a man who wouldn’t be elected dogcatcher in some countries that never were and never will be as great as America.
America was great, is great and will stay great, and might perhaps get even greater, but not if it elects a great pretender like Donald Trump. Not by a long shot. And that’s before we even consider what kind of president Trump might be, mainly because that’s such a preposterous proposition that even his most ardent supporters have yet to give it any thought.