No President, standing alone, can lay claim to having made America great. George Washington, our first President and the undisputed Father of America, is the closest person who could remotely lay claim to having made America great.
Let’s tell the truth. America, as a collective body of people, culture, and characteristics, hasn’t always acted like it was great. There have been lapses, some severe. Like any nation, America hasn’t always behaved admirably. We are a nation of individuals with biases and faults. Each of us, from time-to-time, have exhibited sub-standard behavior.
Collectively, America is a multi-cultural body of people, gathered quite literally from the four corners of the world, complete with baggage and warts, history, and culture stretching out for millennia. But that’s the whole idea behind America, that people everywhere yearn for what this nation uniquely offers them, a life of freedom, opportunity, fairness, and future.
America was made great because the factors that made it are unique to nations, governments, history, and citizens of every race and ethnicity, every creed and class. Making and keeping America great is not a slogan or a campaign marketing tag line. America is an idea that stands alone, still.
The notion of making or keeping America great is actually an ideal predicated on fact. America was made great, not all at once, but bit-by-bit. But what are the things that made America great and can predictably keep it great?
1. Believing in Something Huge
The United States of America was originally predicated on the biggest idea in political history; that government exists to serve people, not the reverse. This grand idea was huge because it was predicated on the belief that individuals are literally endowed by a Creator with a set of immutable (unalienable) rights.
To appreciate the magnitude of this huge idea one must understand the history of governments. Prior to the colonization of America, all men were considered subservient to the greater needs and demands of the state. Kings, queens, and their noble families ruled over common men (and yes, women!).
Surrounding the belief of America’s greatness is the simple, but profound idea that one man has more rights than the government. That’s huge. Believing the notion that personhood was more powerful than the government was laughable to the British Empire. Yet, this is the fundamental underpinning of the greatness of America.
The big idea behind America meant, and continues to mean, believing that governments derived their just authority and very existence from the sole “consent of the governed.” In fact, the Founders empowered citizens to dissolve any existing government that challenges our endowed rights and to literally “institute new government.” That is huge!
People, endowed by a Creator with “certain unalienable rights” is the huge idea behind the greatness of America. We can’t make America great, it’s already great! What we can do is back-track to the fundamental premise that made and continues to keep America great, free people whose government exists primarily to ensure those freedoms bestowed by God.
These ideas are inexorably tied to uncontested values, individual and collective virtue. At a minimum, America’s original and extended greatness has been reliant on a citizenry that holds to the value that all men are equal, endowed, self-reliant, and responsible.
2. Something Definably Special
Since the founding of America is based on a huge idea, we are logically compelled to recognize it as a special country. America is exceptional because of the promise it makes to you, me, our children, and grandchildren, and all of our fellow citizens.
Exceptionalism is baked into freedom’s cake and every nation that espouses liberty must by necessity be exceptional. Despite flaws, some major, America is great because it has strived to deliver a kind of life available nowhere else on earth.
Ours is not merely a history of exceptional promises but nearly 250 years of showing the whole world by actions that demonstrate America believes, “all men are created equal.” When slavery threatened a more perfect union, we fought a war to end it and emancipate people from their bonds. When fascism, hate, genocide, and war engulfed Europe, we stormed the beaches of Normandy and Omaha because we believe the people of the world should be free.
The promise of America and the greatness of America is not limited to a specific geographic location, but to the whole world. We are, as Ronald Reagan said, one generation from seeing freedom extinguished.
While no one can ignore our faults, this exceptionalism remains uncontested. America is definably special, and our sovereignty is the insurance that we will remain a “shining city on a hill.”
In this current moment, a campaign is underway to dilute our uniqueness, to pretend that mistakes of the past must erase all the good America has done. Wrong!
Today we see powerful challenges to American sovereignty from misguided people who believe we should be like the rest of the world. We aren’t. And the moment we are, we will no longer be America…we won’t be great at all.
America is something definably special. There is simply no other nation as unique and blessed as America. This makes and keeps us great.
3. Self Responsible and Self Reliant on Me
Freedom calls free people to a unique task. Ours, while being a road less traveled, is a call to personal responsibility and self-reliance. Freedom never means being free of duty. In fact, freedom is a call to duty, and never to sloth.
America is great because its people accept freedom’s call to live a certain way, reliant, not on the state, but on oneself. Self-reliance is the springboard to a life lived free. Dependency is a straight line to government control.
My Liberty Pamplet® Merchants of Addiction: Reliance as a Tool of Tyranny lays out the principles of dependency and how governments have historically sought to strip away our self-reliance, replacing it with solutions that addict us to political solutions. I wrote,
Once free people are cleverly sorted by a host of criteria including origins, ethnicity, gender, economics, locale, education, sexual identity, and a myriad of artificially defined levels of societal opportunity. This is the Petri dish where the elixir of imposed dependency is concocted and loaded painstakingly into a bureaucratic syringe.
When the needle of government dependency slides gently into the artery of life, we do not suddenly enter a world of dependency. Addiction requires we come back, that we dance and flirt with the needle, and give consent to its repeated penetration. Again, and again we return to the mesmerizing allure of the narcotic of big government.
Living in America comes with a calling to self-reliance and responsibility. I’m never the real me unless I am being me. Of course, this does not mean that those among us who cannot care for themselves should not be provided a “safety net.” Caring for the needy is also a part of American responsibility, of our greatness.
We’ve become a culture of victims who have in some ways been indoctrinated to believe we are owed something. We aren’t. Our victim culture allows us to blame circumstances for what if often our self-imposed plight, resulting from a life of choices.
You see, a powerful government depends on self-doubt, fear, accusation, and dependency, it’s existence and power are wholly dependent upon our weaknesses and inadequacies. But we are not inadequate, we are people of purpose and reliance.
In Merchants of Addiction, I wrote the following:
Whenever any free people stand in line for the government to meet their needs, it’s an addiction. But God will not let us go, and our hearts never fully give in to the persuasion of dependency. Our road to addiction is always flagged with deep doubt, agonizing suspicion, and the desire to find a way out, a path back to the places of self-reliance, self-worth, self-esteem, and a clear head.
Our cry for freedom is one-in-the-same a plea for self-reliance. One dependent, inseparably, on the other.
How great is America? Only as great as our demand to control our personal outcomes, to be completely self-reliant.
We are at our greatest when we are left alone to ourselves, to be dependent on ourselves, first and foremost. In this sense, it is I who make America great and I who keep America great. No one else can.
4. Fearing the Obvious
It should be obvious that the general tendency of the state is tilted toward ensnaring us in its web of control and dependency. Whereas, America’s heritage since Jamestown (circa 1607) has been aligned with the idea of rigorous rejection of government as a provider.
To even the casual student of history, an examination of the continuum of American history indicates that the bigger the government becomes, the more insignificant citizens become, even to themself. It’s sad, really.
America became great by rejecting the control, oppression, and influence of the British Empire, opting instead to form a new nation premised upon their experience with central control and a very real fear of the obvious. Can any people be free if the government controls them? This sounds simplistic, yet it is the preeminent and profound principle that made America great.
Fearing the obvious power of the state requires little more than scanning the pages of history. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Cuba’s Castro brothers leave no doubt about why we should always fear what governments can become, and what hey can do to us.
Our Founders feared the obvious. And what was that, exactly? The colonists, which included the Founders had lived lives of oppression. They knew what it meant to be denied the freedom to worship as they desired, or not at all. These were people who were forbidden to own weapons…only the government could “keep and bear arms,” usually against citizens.
American, I believe, became great and remains great largely because we fear the obvious monster government can become when left to itself. More importantly, we’ve been able to fend off the Leviathan…so far.
Do you fear the government? You should because it’s obvious that we all should. History tells us we should. The actions of our own government tell us we should. There’s little room for ambiguity. Big fat, bloated, power-hungry, tax-collecting, all-consuming, centralized government ought to keep us awake at night. It does me!
We should respect law and order, but we should fear big government. And by the way, they aren’t the same. We know that.
America will only be and remain great by fearing the obvious. The government is bad, oppressive, and destructive to freedom if allowed to run free. History makes it obvious it must be feared and controlled.
However, I have good news. The government fears you. History teaches us that governments fear what they cannot control. People, mostly. We also know that the government only fears that which threatens its power.
Fearing the obvious makes and keeps America great.
5. Keeping the Main thing the Main Thing
Our challenge as Americans is to focus on the right things for the right reasons all the time. To keep America great we have to keep the main thing the main thing.
And what is the main thing? Wealth? Material accumulations? Power? Pleasure?
The Framers actually told us what the main thing is. And while the definition and measurement of the main thing might vary from citizen to citizen, the core remains unchanged wince 1776.
Equality. Rich or poor, bond or free, the supposition (main thing) that is foundational to American greatness is human equality. Of course, it’s not social or material equality created by the state. It’s an equality of humanity, of personhood.
It’s an endowment present in the essential nature of humanity. That’s the first main thing about the greatness of America. This nation was conceived because the Founders recognized all men, regardless of gender, race, or other artificial measurements of value are born into an equality of opportunity.
The preeminent obligation of government is to recognize and protect our equality. The fulfillment of this makes America great (MAGA) and the out-working of it keeps America great (KAG).
Rights. You and I have rights. We are NOT given rights by state decree, nor are our rights diminished by any action of the state. We, humanity in general, and Americans, in particular, are endowed by a Creator with rights. Inseparable rights, or as the Founders put it, “unalienable rights.”
Our unalienable rights are irrespective of social class, race, education, or special measurement invented by the government. Our rights are inseparable from our existence. That is, as long as I am, I have divinely endowed rights that are as real as my existence.
Governments say the Founders, are instituted among men with the obligation and recognition that they protect these unalienable rights. Guarding the Creator’s endowment of rights is the very nucleus of what makes America Great.
Responsibility and Self-Reliance. Contrary to contemporary socialist thought in the western world, we are under a social contract to assume individual responsibility for personal outcomes, to tend to our own lives, separate from those around us.
There exists no transference of personal responsibility to another individual or to the collective body politic. America is great because I cannot deed my responsibilities to another, any other, including and especially, the state.
Limited Government. The American experience, by its very design, limits the power of the state. The government is walled-off from accumulating the roles, rights, and responsibilities belonging alone to each citizen.
The powers of the federal government are limited and in fact, the state is prohibited from stepping into the rights of persons. Thomas Jefferson stated,
The policy of the federal government is to leave its citizens free, neither aiding nor restraining them in their pursuits.
Where the government errs, and where the state usurps its authority, is in the assumption that it knows best what the people ought to pursue. Socialism is government, by some dreamy notion of power, that it has a presumptive right to define what is right or relevant for a citizen. No such right exists.
America has no King and no one empowered or endowed to act as Lords. This limitation crowns each citizen with sole authority.
Rule of Law. A classless society, one where are men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, demands codified protections. We call the codified protections law, and it’s the application of these protections, the rule of law.
In a free society, the people must consent to the enacted laws. And, in those cases where the law violates our divine endowments, those laws are unjust and unenforceable. It was the intent of the Founders that a body of law exists to restrain, not the people, but the government.
Law is meant to be the body of checks and balances to protect us from unlawful acts that might deprive us of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Free Markets and Enterprise. Ownership, creativity, enterprise, and the free exchange of ideas and assets based upon value propositions are all a part of the greatness of America. No government is not commissioned to provide employment or to control free commerce.
Matching people to jobs would have been unthinkable to the Founders. Petitioning the government for its consent to the right to enter into legal contracts, employment agreements or places of employment infringes upon our individual and collective right to live in a free-market economy.
Today, ours is a government engaged in picking winners and losers in the larger economy. The supreme role of the state is recognized and limited to its assurance of the maintenance of free markets where the citizen chose the winners and losers.
Within free markets and open enterprise, people, not the government, introduce the products, ideas, and value exchanges.
Property Rights. America is great and kept great because its people have the right to accumulate personal property, and thus, accumulate personal and familial wealth. Owning land, developing commodities, starting a business, selling products, and other assets within the free market economy are a part of personal property rights.
Restraints on trade or the undue taxation of personal property is a threat to American greatness because it throttles individual liberty and our right to engage in unlimited accumulation of personal wealth and property.
Then too, we ought to think of property rights and wealth creation as a bulwark against an abusive government. When the government has and controls wealth and property, it controls freedom, by necessity.
America is great when the people prosper, and the government does not.
National Defense. The American people, through the Constitution, have charged the federal government with defending the nation. Or, as it’s stated in the founding documents, protect the nation from enemies, foreign and domestic. But what does this mean, precisely?
Naturally, the primary intent is to protect the citizens from the threat of war, national or regional. But the idea of providing for the national defense has a fuller meaning. Why does the government protect its people from foreign and domestic enemies? In actuality, these protections are not simply diverting, halting, and winning wars. What is actually being guarded and defended internally and externally is liberty, freedom.
The bottom line is that the federal government is providing national defense, not just of territory and treasure, although that is true, but of the very freedoms of its people.
When I say, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” I’m referring to the basic guarantees of equality, inseparable God-given rights, individual and collective self-reliance, strict limitations on the reach of government, a body of law that protects our rights, open and free-market enterprise systems, accumulation of personal property, and the national defense of freedom itself from enemies both foreign and domestic.
No one person or collective body of bureaucrats and politicians make America great, nor can they keep America great. America is made and kept great because we are free! When we stop being free, we will no longer be great.
America’s greatness, past, present, and future are inseparably wound up in these five things. We cannot let go of the idea that American greatness is living something huge, definably special, dependent on my fulfillment of personal responsibility, our fear of the obvious dangers of government, keeping the main thing the main thing.
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