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Making which America great? And how?

Every person, including our political, ideological, and cultural adversaries have God-given dignity, freedom, and responsibilities, which cannot be abrogated by any human agency, cherished by God and created for a larger life beyond human imagining.

(Image: Julius Drost @juliusdrost | Unsplash.com)

Americans are battling each other, this group enraged at that group, and vice versa; more, and fiercer battling with words, legal assaults, sloganeering and slurs, mass protests, and even violence.

Ingrained beliefs and attitudes have produced this “civil war”, these hardened silos, and unless we get to the root of the conflict and stare it in the eye, we have no hope—none—of reasoned debate and civility. Despite popular diagnoses, the foundational problem isn’t political, racial, or economic.

Consider how Americans view America:

  • As a noble, albeit imperfect, nation based on an enlightened and still relevant Constitution
  • As a grievously flawed—bigoted, chauvinistic, imperialistic—state with an obsolete Constitution, and a culture needing radical transformation
  • As a nation of right-minded people, like me and my friends, and too many wrong-minded people with too much influence and power
  • As the economic and social means for my personal enrichment, without obligating me to be or do anything

The fact that millions of Americans hold these vastly different visions of America suggests that the breech is an unbreechable chasm.

But we haven’t gone deep enough. The divisions we are experiencing are actually rooted in our image of the person himself or herself, something we rarely explore because it challenges deeply held beliefs and biases. Yes, making America great depends on how we view each other. Are we…

  • Autonomous mortal creatures that create our own meaning and contentment in a God-less universe?
  • Living tools of production and consumers of resources?
  • A cognitive species, but no more special—though more dangerous to the environment—than any species on planet Earth?
  • Members of an ethnic, ideological, religious, or identity-based tribe with a wariness of, or animus toward, those outside the tribe?
  • Creatures that ought to achieve and acquire by any means necessary?
  • Members of a society that makes and re-makes laws and norms affecting human rights and responsibilities based on predominant beliefs and historical forces?
  • Subjects of a ruler, or ruling class, with rights and obligations bestowed by the rulers?
  • Creatures with God-demanded duties, with an afterlife reward for fulfilling duties, and hellfire for not doing so?
  • Creatures with God-given dignity, freedom, and responsibilities, which cannot be abrogated by any human agency, cherished by our Creator, and created for a larger life beyond human imagining?

Only one of these images of humanity can bridge the chasm between so many Americans.

Not so fast, many will insist. The B.C. Yahweh-worshipping Jews, Middle Ages Christian Europe, and 18th and 19th century Christian America decimated enemies, practiced slavery (or virtual slavery), murdered neighbors and stole their property. In response is G.K. Chesterton famous proclamation: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” In “Yahweh-worshipping” Israel and Judah, in “Christian” Europe, and in “Christian” America, there was never a majority that held this loftier image of man, and the minority that did were often reviled and oppressed by the majority and their rulers. Nevertheless, this minority, inspired by prophetic and saintly people, repeatedly inched their societies closer to authentic humanism, far closer than societies and cultures without this leavening image of man.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, entitled “The Sexting Scandal That Toppled One of America’s Most Powerful Lawyers” (July 13, 2018), is a reminder that in the current moral frenzy produced by small-constrained images of man, few can hope to retain jobs, reputations, and friends when their gravest human weakness is made public. An article about a CEO with a multi-decade marriage and grown children who succumbs to an unseemly Internet exchange with a woman he never met in person. Crazy, stupid, right? But how many of us have tipped over in something crazy or stupid without understanding how or why? With a larger-loftier image of man and woman, there is a way for such a person to own up to having done something humiliatingly wrong, and being given a second chance, because weak human nature is understood and the offender can be separated from the offense, especially when the person is perceived to be contrite. Absent this loftier image, the flaws of someone outside our “tribe”, or the flaws of a competitor, are likely to be used as a weapon to advance a political or economic agenda, for virtue signaling, or to attain a legal or competitive advantage.

In this moral milieu, a Peter who three times denounces Jesus cannot be a disciple, much less a pope.

Every person, including our political, ideological, and cultural adversaries have God-given dignity, freedom, and responsibilities, which cannot be abrogated by any human agency, cherished by God and created for a larger life beyond human imagining.

When a person with this image of man and woman encounters someone from another “tribe”, they are inclined to respect that person, in spite of differences and weaknesses, more likely to listen to the person and consider their views, and even when they disagree, or are obligated to oppose an agenda, they are more likely to view the person with goodwill rather than ill will. For all the bloodshed and injustice and hatred he experienced during his presidency, Abraham Lincoln called Americans to this lofty ideal, and tried to prod all around him to adopt it. A day doesn’t go by without me wishing I were better at it.

We may never have a majority with this loftier image of man, but we need a more visible, vocal, and active minority in the public arena. Only this can begin to make America great.


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About Thomas M. Doran 56 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), and its 2018 sequel, The Lucifer Ego. He has worked on hundreds of environmental projects for four decades. He’s a Fellow of The Engineering Society of Detroit and was an adjunct professor of civil/environmental engineering at Lawrence Technological University.

10 Comments

  1. The phrase “make America great again” was plagiarized by Trump from Reagan’s speech during his 1980 campaign. Reagan was more of a role model especially for children. Trump is a distant last as a role model. My mother threatened us with mouth soap if we lied. Trump’s mother probably never shopped the soap section.

    Trump has so much turmoil in the WH, his own intelligence organization and in his personal life we don’t hold much hope.

    All that we can say is “God save the Union”.

    • While Trump is grating and full of himself, he has exceeded my expectations in work actually done. The turmoil in the White House(intel groups) were largely left behind by his predecessor,as were some of his most serious foreign issues. I believe God sometimes uses the oddest characters to do his work. The elephant in the room is abortion, and in Trump we finally have a president that is fighting on behalf of the millions of of infants that do not have a chance. God bless Trump as well as our precious Union.

  2. Another Catholic essay making use of the tyrant Lincoln. This is why Catholic civic nationalism will lose — it fails to respect the historic American peoples and their cultures.

  3. “God save the Union”. But at what price: the bloodiest war in US history?.
    Sorry, but Lincoln is not my hero. He was a fanatic and the inventor of total war. I’ll take Trump or Nixon any day over Reagan and Lincoln. And not that I am a latter-day Confederate sympathizer. Far from it.
    The problem with the US polity is not a want of “civility”. The craving for “civility” is a sentimental reminiscence of an imagined political “politeness” (read: “political correctness”) of 19th century Victorian Conservative/Liberal politics. That never has worked in the US nor in most countries where the hold of the elites and the intellectuals has been weaker,for better and mostly worse, than it was in 19th century England.
    The fault lines in most Western countries run much deeper. What we are witnessing with the advent of Trump (and witnessed 50 years ago with Nixon) is the ralliement toward the Left of both “liberal” and “conservative” elites and intellectuals.
    What good is “civility” then?

  4. Very sad how the good being done by President Trump does not appear to be recognized by the words in this article. No one is claiming that he is perfect, but the unborn babies have a much better chance to be born under his policies, Christians in the military can practice their faith, the truth of transgenderism is being revealed, the education of children in sex ed is on its way to being allowed to be monitored and chosen by parents, and mich more. God is with him and he is following God’s lead in mich of his governing. Pray for him daily to do God’s will. The divisions we are experiencing are mostly between godliness and ungodliness with the Left now pushing for soccialism and continuing their fight to continue allowingm legally, mothers to kill their unborn children. Thank you God, for Presidents Lincoln, Reagan, and Trump. God bless, C-Marie

    • Did it ever occur to you that all this “good” you allege is happening (if it’s happening at all; personally, I don’t see it) may be happening in spite of Trump, rather than because of him?

      What specifically has Trump himself done to bring all these alleged “blessings” about?

      • It seems that President Trump has done more for the pro-life movement and for Christian liberty than any other president in American history. Okay, so he is a blowhard trumpeter with flaws and faults. We all have our flaws and faults.
        Also like the rest of us, Trump has good qualities — such as political courage, basic fairness, and genuine kindness. Sad to say, most of the media exaggerates his failings with the most hideous distortions, burying his goodness in hysterical rage (a telling sign that Trump is doing something right).
        I agree with C-Marie: Let’s get behind this president in his continuing efforts to support common sense and common decency in America. We should be wary of all those in power, but let’s not lack for appreciation when an officeholder seems to be sincerely doing a great deal of good for us.
        For examples of Trump’s accomplishments, check out the Population Research Institute (PRI) for a good Catholic perspective. Also, the Family Research Council is a solid Christian organization. Perhaps Catholic World Report will do an overview of President Trump’s many positive policies and actions.
        Again, any leader is open to criticism, but let’s not lose perspective. Those of traditional American values have been given a great gift in President Trump, a seemingly miraculous reprieve from the relentless attacks of Secularism. God works in mysterious ways, and I see our current president as perhaps a last opportunity to save America for faith and family and fairness.
        Indeed, without Trump, we Catholics of authentic belief are about to be severely persecuted for not catering to the agenda of the Secularists. Thanks be to God for this president!

        I

      • The Democrat Party does not respect any religion. Religion is a joke to them. So I voted for Trump.
        The Democrat Party does not respect the family, as defined for two thousand years. So I voted for Trump.
        The Democrat Party now has its own pseudo religion…Socialist politics Uber Alles. So I voted for Trump.
        The Democrat Party couldn’t care less about the life of a baby in the womb. So I voted for Trump.
        Hillary Clinton, enemy of the Catholic Church, needed to be defeated. So I voted for Trump.
        Imperfect as he is, nevertheless….Thanks, President Trump.

  5. What I get from this article is that we have to be more civil in how we present our opinions. People seem to find it easier to attach a person’s character than to speak out against their platform. Instead of saying Trump, Clinton, Lincoln, (or whoever) is a liar, fanatic, crazy person, bigot (or whatever), we should be saying “I do not agree with what they are doing because …”. Let’s put the issues on the table to dissect, not the person!

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