I must confess that I do not quite understand the campaign slogan “make America great again” When exactly did America stop being great? We certainly have some major problems that need to be addressed, but as a retired baby boomer, I find the America of today to be a vast improvement over the society into which I was born and raised. And while reflecting my age in not “getting” social media, I believe there is a new generation with the talent and inclusive values to make America and the world an even better place. In other words, I find myself looking optimistically toward the future rather than harkening back to some nostalgic past greatness.
The America in which I grew up during the 1950s was a rather racist and homophobic society. My high school in the Texas Panhandle was not desegregated until over a decade after the Brown Decision, with blacks and whites living in separate sections of town. We didn’t have to worry about political correctness, so sexist, racist, and anti-gay slurs were common inside and outside the locker rooms of my youth. But my little hometown and America are a better place today for a Civil Rights Movement that raised the racial and social consciousness of the nation.
We certainly have some major problems that need to be addressed, but as a retired baby boomer, I find the America of today to be a vast improvement over the society into which I was born and raised.
We have a more inclusive society today with many immigrants and refugees from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds contributing to a nation rich in diversity. We have elected a black president and may soon select a woman as head of state. Women increasingly have control over their bodies, and the gender gap in the work place is narrowing. Members of the LGBTQ community are increasingly feeling free to publicly acknowledge their identities. Finally, same-sex couples enjoy the right to announce their love and devotion to one another through the institution of marriage.
The United States is finally beginning to realize the promise of American life as called for in the nation’s founding documents. This optimistic reading of recent American history certainly does not mean to suggest that we have solved all of our problems. As the Black Lives Matter movement indicates, we have considerable work yet to be done in regard to racial relations. The same is true for sexism, religious intolerance, and discrimination toward the LGBTQ community. Past gains must be defended as we work toward expanded opportunities for all citizens; for there are constant pushbacks against these gains, and progressives must remain vigilant rather than complacent.
In terms of economic opportunity, there remain tremendous structural inequities within American capitalism which require redress and reform. Social mobility remains a possibility, but the growing gap between rich and poor makes such mobility increasingly problematic. I was born into poverty, yet the student loan program made it possible for me to become the first in my family to attend college—although rising college costs are beginning to put higher education out of reach for many young Americans. Government assistance such as Social Security and Medicare made the final years of life for my parents more comfortable than that experienced by my grandparents, but the social safety net requires considerable mending. Health care costs are much too high, and we must assure the access of all Americans to quality medical treatment. We need to increase the minimum wage and assure that paid work leave is available for all families. Corporate control over the political and economic system must be addressed through regulation and restoring the countervailing power of organized labor.
Job creation, gun violence, terrorism, and American militarism/imperialism are also matters of concern, but the greatest challenge facing our children and grandchildren is climate change. My generation did not do an adequate job of caring for the environment, but I have faith that the new tech-savvy generation will be better in their practice of environmental stewardship—providing new employment opportunities and worker re-training as we switch to sources of clean energy. And as the millennial support for the Presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders indicates, American youth are shedding themselves of the Cold War baggage regarding socialism and are willing to openly examine socialist programs that have increased the quality of life in many Western European democracies.
There are tremendous challenges ahead, but in the words of the Beatles from my generation, “I must admit it’s getting better, so much better all the time.” We don’t need to make America great again, but simply continue the struggle to create a better tomorrow for America and the world.