I never liked the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” The implication was that we’d entered some dystopian era in which America was unexceptional, unpleasant, and diminished. Watching the red-hatted #MAGA folk cheer at Donald Trump’s rallies angered me, because the passionate elders and enthusiastic youth were inspired by a flimsy myth, namely, that America was second-rate.
The irony was not lost on me. These followers of a man —who wore the mantle of a conservative as uncomfortably as a porn star would wear a cloistered nun’s habit— were adopting an attitude that was typical of the left.
Back in 1981, this Philadelphian who fancied herself an internationalist signed up for two semesters in the City of Lights, intent on perfecting my French and finding a boyfriend. The former was a wash, since I ended up telling my host family that I had a giant radish (I meant radio) in my bedroom at home, and that I had many prostitutes (I meant Protestants) for friends, and that we put too many condoms (I meant preservatives) in our food. The search for the boyfriend was even less successful.
But even if my initial goals were unfulfilled, I did return home with something of value. The United States of Ronald Reagan was not viewed with great appreciation in the France of Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, and I found myself defending my country at bakeries, at museums, at cinemas, at pharmacies, and pretty much everywhere else. Some of the most heated arguments took place at the university, where pretentious natives with superfluous scarves wrapped around their necks let me know that my president was going to kill them all with his lust for nuclear dominance.
If my French had been good enough I would have said, “Good, I hope he takes out the Sorbonne first,” but instead I straightened my shoulders and muttered quietly, “Thank God I’m an American and understand the purpose of deodorant.” And I came back with the ability to look at my country with uncomplicated devotion, which was becoming increasingly unpopular on college campuses and among the nascent special-interest groups that would one day channel their annoyance and resentment into something called “multiculturalism.”
The vast majority of the people who criticized the U.S., both during my stay in France and when I came home, were what we would today call “progressives” and what we then called liberals. They made an art out of finding fault with the country they refused to abandon, probably because no other nation would allow them the freedom to whine incessantly and then applaud their constitutional engagement. My year in Paris turned me from a rather apolitical suburbanite to an unadulterated conservative who was in love with America.
It wasn’t a blind love. There was the understanding that improvements were needed. Utopias only existed in the mind of Thomas More. But while I got the part about working to make positive changes, I was repulsed by the way so many on the left refused to acknowledge what was good because of their addiction to pointing out what was rotten. They proved the old axiom that the perfect is the enemy of the good.
Then, 17 years ago this week, the enemies of America ground two majestic towers into human dust, murdered thousands of innocents, and tried to crush our dreams under the weight of their hatred. For a very brief moment, we joined together and sat Shiva for the memory of an invincible America. And for that very brief moment, before the dust settled and the tears dried up, we were worthy of our citizenship.
But that willingness to suspend personal grievance has an infinitely short shelf life, and we were soon back to the bickering about how America was racist, and sexist, and homophobic, and then Islamophobic, and then xenophobic, and then… and then.
I was catapulted back to Paris 20 years before, battling the French as I tried to articulate why my country was and always would be an imperfect but glorious Valhalla. Plus ca change.
So imagine my disgust to hear people allegedly on my side say that we needed to be “great again.” Donald Trump may scream that we are less, and he is wrong. Colin Kaepernick may silently condemn us for being unjust, and he is wrong. They are the same, in their shameful displays of ingratitude. And they are free to look like the fools they are.
We cannot diminish ourselves, despite our best efforts. America will always be great.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at [email protected].