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Guest Commentary

America can be ‘Great’ — despite Trump and GOP debates

9/30/2015

Say what you will — and we all have — the lead up to the 2016 election so far is….is….is?

Well, maybe Shakespeare characterized much of the give-and-take among presidential candidates in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Or maybe he caught the spirit of today’s political rhetoric in Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

When it comes to the “sound and fury” of presidential debates, consider a quote attributed to both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

And some 270 years ago, Thomas Gray explained why Republican and Democratic candidates ignore obvious and well-founded truths and instead play to the misguided, and even false, beliefs of their base. Gray wrote, “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” (So GOP candidates question the worth of vaccines, ignore climate change and defy anyone to mention evolution.)

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Linking any one of the Shakespearean or other insights to a specific episode in today’s campaign entertainment is frustrating, however; the flow of charges and counter charges, slogans and sound bites is halfway around the world before you can sort things out.

Better to focus on something relatively stable in the 2016 campaign — Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” and the other candidates who say our nation is a basket case sorely in need of their quack remedies.

The line “Make America Great Again” scores at least a hat trick by being much ado about nothing, full of sound and fury and appealing to a blissful base. It’s the sort of political and mindless manipulation that George Orwell warned about in his essay “Politics and the English Language.”

“Make America Great Again.” What does that mean? At Fourth of July commemorations three months ago and for at least a century Americans have heard speakers say America IS the greatest nation on earth. That declaration Fourth after Fourth goes unchallenged — at least until it suits today’s candidates to resort to Halloween and horror stories instead of flag waving.

In a few ways, we’re better than ever. The Affordable Care Act has extended medical insurance coverage to several million of our fellow citizens. Court decisions have extended human rights to people other than white men. Few of us desire a supposed return to be “great again” if that “again” means subservience to white males with everyone else in the back of the bus.

Besides, an agenda for greatness must look forward, not backward.

Look forward to actions and not just talk about serving the millions of armed forces veterans so long neglected in actions, but well-supported by bumper stickers. Look forward to dealing with our prison incarceration rate, the worst in the world. Look forward to enhancing, not debasing, women’s reproductive rights and health care. Look forward to making college education costs manageable and encouraging, not prohibitive. Look forward not to cutting or raising taxes, but to giving citizens a better return on the taxes they already pay. Those and other steps to greatness are all but ignored in the “Much Ado About Nothing” and “sound and fury” approach.

Further, what does it mean to be a great nation? Is that a goal simply to strive for and then lean back and relax or maybe strut about, having achieved greatness? Or is national greatness always more of a starting point, a challenge to continually extend freedom and the fruits of greatness to others in our nation and beyond, and not build walls.

Sadly, we remain far short of the nation that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others envisioned in their grand experiment. Rather than yearn for a return to a delusional past, however, we should accept the challenges and opportunities in the years ahead. That’s what elections are supposed to be about — despite Trump and the debates. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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