The United States “is a hellhole” that “is going down fast.” America “is in big trouble” and “never has victories anymore.” In fact, the United States is a “laughingstock all over the world.”
Who do you think made these comments over the last few months? A. Vladimir Putin; B. An ISIS recruiter; or C. Donald Trump?
It’s actually a tough question to answer accurately. I know for sure that Trump made those remarks but it’s also possible that words to those effect were uttered by Putin or ISIS’s head honcho Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (The last two of these people we recently learned Trump wasn’t familiar with. We have all heard of low-information voters, we now have a low-information candidate.)
But we do know Trump has made the above statements and more. He even suggested at a recent event that we are now a nation of losers because we haven’t had victories in years, and he’s no longer proud of America.
Why would Trump badmouth America? Simple, because he’s trying to make the case that America is a disaster and he’s the only one who can “make America great again.” (In Trump’s defense, he does know a thing or two about debacles, given the failures of his Trump vodka, Trump airline, and Trump University, to name just a few of his failed ventures.)
When I hear Trump crapping on America, two thoughts come to mind. First, he’s unequivocally wrong. America is still great today. And second, if a Democratic presidential candidate said the same stuff, the GOP would be labeling that candidate as person who hates America, doesn’t view America as exceptional, or worse.
Look, America can always be better. In fact, President Obama offered this exact sentiment a few months ago with his remarks that our nation is “chronically dissatisfied with itself, because embedded in our DNA is this striving, aspirational quality to be even better.” But the United States is still an exceptional nation, something I have yet to hear Trump acknowledge.
The real question is, how do you measure greatness? In Trump’s case it appears it’s based on if he or others are making more money or if our airports are nicer than the beautiful ones in Dubai and Qatar that he has been bragging are far superior to our own.
But that’s not how I measure it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to see middle-class wages grow, but that’s not why people risk their lives to immigrate to our nation. It’s not why my Palestinian father moved to the United States even though he had no family here, or why my Sicilian grandparents sailed halfway across the world.
It was for the promise that continues today of living in nation where there’s not just economic opportunity, but also a place where you can raise a family without fear of warlords, or a risk of a sudden, massive refugee crisis, or the lack of safe drinking water, or being dragged off by a dictator’s henchmen to be tortured or killed for their political views. It’s the promise of a nation where we can passionately disagree on issues with the understanding that it will be ballots, not bullets that will decide the outcome. It’s the promise that all men and women are created equal and are guaranteed the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I don’t think for a second Trump appreciates that aspect of America’s greatness. And that’s what makes him vastly different from his alleged political idol, Ronald Reagan.
In 1980, Reagan’s campaign slogan, which Trump has co-opted less one word, was “Let’s Make America Great Again.” At the time, Reagan ran against President Jimmy Carter when the U.S. economy was a mess with high unemployment (over 7 percent) and even higher inflation (13.5 percent). Plus, the Iran hostage crisis was weighing on the American psyche.
But Reagan didn’t broadly piss on America like Trump. Instead he provided detailed criticism of Carter’s policies and then offered words to inspire, such as, “the American spirit is still there, ready to blaze into life...the time is now, my fellow Americans, to recapture our destiny.” That’s a far cry from Trump’s “America is a hellhole, laughingstock that’s going down fast.”
I’m sure some on the right likely cheer Trump’s ridiculing of America because they view his words as an attack on Obama’s policies. However, even Marco Rubio recently called out Trump for his dumping on our nation: “I would remind everyone America is great. There’s no nation on Earth I would trade places with.” And Rubio is not alone in this sentiment. A recent poll found that 84 percent of Americans agreed they would rather live here than any other country.
Trump obviously can choose any words he wants to wage his campaign. But there’s zero doubt that if a Democratic candidate were employing the same rhetoric, many on the right would crucify that person.
Look at what we saw earlier this year when Rudy Giuliani said of Obama, “I do not believe that the president loves America.” Why did he make that outrageous charge? Well, Giuliani explained, because Obama “criticizes America” so much that he sounds more “like he’s more of a critic than he is a supporter.” Then what does he make of Trump’s daily America bashing?
Even Michelle Obama was attacked during the 2008 presidential race when she said, “for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country, because it feels like hope is making a comeback.” Mrs. Obama came under immediate assault from the right for inferring she had not previously been proud of America. Of course, not a peep about Trump no longer being proud of our nation from conservatives.
Trump’s strategy of “America sucks” may end up helping him capture the White House. But even if it does, I still won’t believe that Trump truly grasps what makes America great.