MAGA: Make America Great Again. That was Donald Trump’s slogan for 2016. He obviously believes he has succeeded, since his slogan for 2020 is Keep America Great. “Great” is obviously vague, protean, and labile in meaning, but what does it mean to Trump?
It’s a serious question that deserves consideration. Here, to my mind, is how Trump thinks he’s made America great, keeping in mind that greatness to Trump is all about that which produces adulation for, well, one Donald J. Trump.
- Military might. Trump loves to brag about how he’s “restored” the military, making it bigger and badder than ever.
- More riches for the richest. Hence that huge tax break for the richest, perhaps the signature achievement of his first term.
- A galloping stock market. Well, until Covid-19.
- More power and money for Trump and his family. Trump views greatness in terms of what’s best for him and his family empire.
- Walls to keep out “the other.” For Trump, part of being great is denying that status to others. A world of great heads like Trump demands lots of little people suffering.
- A neutered press (the “enemy of the people”). For Trump, the press is his foil, his lapdog, his trumpet, and his enemy, all in one. When it’s dancing to his tune, Trump knows he’s winning – and he feels like a winner, too.
- Permanent partisan divide in which the Democrats are seen as almost demonic. Trump needs an enemy to measure himself against, and “Demoncrats” like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi are tailor-made rivals to belittle, which helps to make him feel bigger.
- Near-total dismissal of expertise, especially of science (climate change as a “hoax”). A “very stable genius” needs no help from others; he is omniscient. He even knows the best way to tackle and treat a pandemic!
- Always blaming someone else for any setback. Greatness, to Trump, means never having to say you’re sorry.
- Disenfranchising or discouraging as many “bad” Americans as possible from voting. Not every American can wrap their heads around Trump’s greatness. Those who can’t really don’t deserve to vote.
In all seriousness, Trump is great at one thing: shameless deception. The man knows the craft of the con. He often can fool most of the people most of the time. Imagine the good a man like this could do if he had empathy, ethics, and truly sought to serve others. But Trump serves only himself. A petty tyrant, he has commanded the attention of Americans in an almost unprecedented way, only to divide them and diminish democracy.
Herein lies a conundrum: How has a man whose spirit is so small, whose sense of service is so shriveled, whose judgment is so un-great, convinced so many that greatness lies within their grasp if only they listen to him, follow him, cheer him on, and reelect him?
Great may indeed be a protean concept – but by any definition the greatness of America does not reside in enabling or empowering one Donald J. Trump.