America can be great if America chooses to be great.
This America. My America. The America that I live in today, that I will leave to my children and grandchildren,to the next generation, and the next. This America will be a great America because today, we are choosing greatness.
What is it that makes America great? The American people.
The American people are where America’s greatness lies. The people who choose their own government. The people who give their labor every day to enrich themselves and to care for their family, their community and their nation. The people who look after those who are downtrodden, who are out-of-luck, who need a helping hand and a loving heart. These are the people who make America great.
America’s greatness lies in its people.
NOT BY OUR RICHES ALONE
We measure greatness not by how tall our buildings are, or how high the stock market gets, or how rich our richest people are.
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
We measure America’s greatness by how poor the poorest of us are. We measure America’s greatness by how healthy our sickest people are. We measure America’s greatness by how accessible we make the necessities of life in America – a home, an education, health care, gainful employment, family time, security when our earning years are done. This is where America finds its greatness.
THE WELCOMING LAMP
Like no other, the Statue of Liberty has been the symbol of America’s greatness, standing for over a century in the harbor of New York City. “Lady Liberty” welcomes all who approach her and who, through her, approach this great country. The statue stands inscribed with words that express America’s greatness as The New Colossus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows worldwide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We measure America’s greatness by how wide we throw open our doors when the poor, the tempest-tost, the huddled masses yearning to be free gather at our borders.
GREATNESS IS EARNED
But greatness is not a gift. It isn’t something that comes about because we say it out loud. We don’t have a great country because we stitched it on a hat.
No. Greatness is hard to get, and it’s even harder to keep.
America’s greatness comes from the sacrifices its people made, the losses its people suffered, the risks its people took, and the pain its people endured.
America’s people make those sacrifices still – they endure that pain, take those risks, suffer those losses. Even today.
And yet, we rise – still, we rise – facing forward with hope, with confidence, with dedication to the values that define us.
To be great is to be authentic, genuine, honest about ourselves – above all, to be humble.
Choosing greatness means choosing to live a value-driven life. By living those values, we earn the respect, the honor, the following that makes America a world leader.
What are those American values?
They are the values of humanity. We know them well but forget them often.
- RESPECT for the humanity of everyone
- HONESTY and dedication to the truth however harsh
- EQUALITY for all because all are created equal
- FAIRNESS in our dealings with friends and strangers alike
- KINDNESS toward all whether they agree or disagree
These are human values. They are American values. When we discard any of these values, we discard our greatness.
If we choose greatness, we must choose to live these values.
AMERICA’S HISTORY OF GREATNESS
Our history as a nation begins with our reach for greatness. Our founding documents say it plainly, in our Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And in our Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Our greatest leaders confirm it. Abraham Lincoln spoke in 1863 of America as “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He knew then that the Civil War tested us “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” That test continues today, over one-and-a-half centuries later.
John Kennedy campaigned in 1960 on the inequality of American prosperity.
“[American prosperity] is a prosperity for some not for all. And it is an abundance of goods, not of courage. We have the most gadgets and the most gimmicks in our history, the biggest TV and tail-fins — but we also have the worst slums, the most crowded schools and the greatest erosion of our natural resources and our national will. It may be for some, an age of material prosperity — but it is also an age of spiritual poverty…. This is the year of our greatest victory. For it is a time of decision — a time for Democratic leadership — a time, my friends, for greatness.”
More recently, it was Meghan McCain, speaking at the funeral of her father, the late Senator John McCain, who gave voice to how we mark American greatness:
“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”
AMERICA’S HISTORY ISN’T PERFECT
Like its people, America’s history has not always been great. Just as America’s greatness has been found in its people, so too has America’s failures been found in the personal and public failures of its people. We stand as a democratic nation, one in which the people bear the responsibility of guiding the nation. And from time to time, we have been distracted from our responsibility – by greed, by fear, by confusion, yes, but often by some who see an opportunity to exploit America and Americans for their own selfish purposes.
We have a history that places a burden on us even today. A long history of racial injustice, rooted in slavery and economic exploitation. A history of conquest, destroying indigenous peoples and cultures that don’t match the English-speaking, Christian-worshipping, European origins of our early colonists. A history of exploitation of those who labor daily, who are not born to wealth and privilege, who worry every day and night that they can’t provide for their families and for themselves.
Choosing greatness means we do not hide from our history.
Choosing greatness means we face all of our history, whether with pride or with shame.
Choosing greatness means we move now, today, to correct the harms that we have done in the past – and that we dedicate ourselves to ending those harms today, tomorrow, and forever.
THIS IS NOT GREATNESS
If we are choosing greatness, then we cannot be choosing what is not great.
Living in fear of “other people” – that is not greatness. That is weakness.
Demonizing, insulting, diminishing those who disagree with us – that is not greatness. That is bullying.
Stealing public dollars, dollars intended to help the people, and using those dollars for our own personal benefit – that is not greatness. That is theft.
Promoting and voting for policies and practices at the behest – or command – of donors, rather than choosing what serves the most people who need the most support – that is not greatness. That is corruption.
Degrading democracy itself, suppressing the ability to vote, mocking those who try to make voting easier – that is not greatness. That is un-American.
We cannot choose these and still choose greatness.
Choosing greatness requires us to put an end to these practices wherever we see them, whenever we face them, by whoever is doing them. Greatness means these bad practices, these misbehaviors must stop.
TO FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION
Since its earliest days, first as colonies, then as a nation, America has chosen greatness – chosen the difficult path of standing alone against tyranny, creating a national experiment, struggling against its own self to expand freedom, in fits and starts, eventually stepping outside of its own shores to stand against tyranny and for democracy around the world.
Choosing greatness is how America works. We stumble but we stand back up, find our way forward, and keep moving.
WANDERING OFF TRACK
We stumbled in recent days, choosing someone who claimed greatness but delivers fear, weakness, greed, corruption, confusion. Who delivers insult, derision, and mockery to America’s friends, and platitudes, flattery, and encouragement to those who seek to harm America.
In two short years, America has surrendered its standing. Allies are looking for new leadership among themselves, doubting whether America can be trusted to stand with them. Enemies rebuild their might while enjoying the turmoil of American against American and America against friendly nations.
This cannot continue. This will not continue – not if America is choosing greatness.
REGAINING OUR GREATNESS
But we have stumbled before. We have fallen before. We have always regained our stance and moved forward.
We have always become great again.
It is time now – time to make America great again.
Time to restore America to its place as the leader of the free world.
We can and we will – by knowing we have wandered off our track – by restoring our American values, our human values – by making better choices – by earning once again the greatness that has marked America’s history.
By choosing greatness.