Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Just One Day of Greatness

A Modest Proposal for an Ambitious Bumper Sticker

For some time now we have been living with a slogan promising to "Make America Great Again." Appearing first as the catchphrase for the Trump primary campaign, it then extended to the general election and ultimately became the mantra for the Trump administration as they began to govern the nation.

It has appeared on baseball caps, t-shirts, lawn signs, television screens, podiums, and other surfaces, some of which one would never imagine and I would avoid describing. It has been analyzed ad nauseam, become a stimulator of cheers and jeers, and likely will be soon forgotten depending on how successful are those who proclaim its message and program.

The phrase appeared unbidden on America's cultural landscape, promising much and delivering little. In fact, one could argue that its adherents have done more to divide than unite, more to coarsen the public discourse than to inspire it. Once considered the leader of the free world, America has become a bellicose bully without principles, an undependable ally and a dangerous foe. 

I have a modest proposal.

Let's try for just one day of greatness and see where it leads us.

Making America great again is a pretty daunting task. We bring mere humans to the job. At best they are imperfect vessels for virtuous objectives and worthy ideals. The realities of governing in this political climate make consensus elusive and succumbing to one's own self-interests very tempting. Given all the forces that conspire to derail our highest aspirations, maybe we should try something that is a little less demanding. Let's pull the target closer in, put suction cups on the arrows, and cheer all the archers for their best efforts rather than the sum of their bullseyes.

I don't pretend that shortening the distance simplifies the task. In some respects it might require us to stop something rather than do something.  Sometimes that is hardest of all.

Here for starters are a few things that might get us going toward our one day of greatness.
  • One Day of Silence. It is essential that we begin with 24 hours of all listening and no talking or communicating by our president and the White House staff. Not one word. Not a single tweet. No campaign rallies or backroom deals. No press-baiting or media schmoozing. He can discuss supper with Melania but that's it. No chatting with the kids about their latest fashion line in China or their plan for a branded hotel in Puerto Rico. For one blessed day, the only message to emanate from the White House is silence. On this foundation, the whole concept stands or falls.
  • One Day of Globalism. To the global community of friends and foes, we will send one message spoken with one voice, assuring the world that our country is committed to peace, justice, and to the common good. We will state unequivocally that putting America first is a statement of patriotism and not isolationism. We will hire on that one day experienced ambassadors and diplomats to fill critical vacancies representing our country around the world. We know who they are. Call them.
  • One Day of Decency. This an appeal to demonstrate sensitivity and common sense in matters of culture and politics. No berating pleading mayors of cities devastated by hurricanes, with bodies rotting in the streets, while you are playing golf at a luxurious resort. No instructions on using one's celebrity to get away with crotch-grabbing, especially while seeking election as leader of the free world. No dehumanizing name-calling for the leaders of other nations and one's own political opponents, or political friends for that matter. No commenting on professional athletes exercising their rights to free speech, threatening another culture war with no reason or value. If this cannot be achieved with the NFL and NBA, limit it to water polo teams, then let the courts sort it out. And finally, and this will be a tough one, no lying.
  • One Day of Equality. All three branches of government will affirm equal rights under the law for all persons regardless of race, religion, gender, and other basic human characteristics. Racism and white supremacy will not be tolerated in this society and all branches of government will act accordingly. If there is a question as to whether a certain person or group is eligible for inclusion under the equal protection clause of the Constitution, include them. 
  • One Day of Ecology. We will acknowledge the virtually unanimous consent within the international scientific community that human activity is largely responsible for global warming and other factors that question the long-term viability of the earth. For one day we will suspend the enforcement of devastating executive orders that repeal regulations essential to the earth's survival, including the Paris Accords. For this day all politicians will be forbidden to speak about science. Just to be on the safe side, this will include politicians who think they may actually be scientists.
  • One Day of Civility. While some of these ideas may be difficult for every American to connect with, this is one that every single person can do. Speak softly. Seek forgiveness. Do not judge. Try to understand. Seek the common good. Embrace pluralism. Try to compromise. Respect the religion of others. Be a global citizen. In respect to the president alone, the requirement to be civil shall extend to two days.
  • One Day of Kindness. I write this in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. The only response to such horrific events is to do what we saw our friends and neighbors do as they risked their own lives to assist victims, usually people they did not know. In such times we "appeal to the better angels of our nature" (Lincoln's First Inaugural). To be kind is to draw not so much from one's mind as one's heart. It is the outward measure of greatness.
I humbly offer this proposal, complete with occasional diversionary witticisms lest we take ourselves too seriously, as an encouragement to focus on the right things. Therein lies a viable future worthy of our nation's grand experiment in freedom, broken and fragile as it may seem right now. I welcome additions, suggestions, criticisms, even recommendations that I never write another word.

There is one response that I will neither welcome nor consider, and that is to tell me it is impractical. Practicality has snuffed out way too many dreams. We need much more than stifling predispositions and boring predictability. 

If we can do this for just one day, however imperfectly, we can demonstrate possibility, which is the pathway to hope.

Then perhaps we truly can make America great again.

Or proud again. Or kind again. Or respected again. Or inspiring again.

Not for the first time. Not for the last. But perhaps for our slice of human history, we should just take it one day at a time.