When American politicians talk about "Make America Great Again", I always wonder, to what time period are they talking about? The 90's? The 60's? And for whom? At what point in history do they genuinely believe, life was better for their citizens, compared to now, and how did it all go "wrong"? I certainly believe that progress is non-linear, and different aspects of society go through different periods of change and transformation. But a blanket "rolling back" of the clock seems extreme, and lacking nuance. The 1960's were a difficult time for minorities in America, and the 1990's, while a picture of economic prosperity, were a time before the internet and good coffee. How do you defined "greatness"? When did you lose "greatness", and how do you attempt to find it again? These are the more difficult questions to answer for politicians, and they tend not to resolve them, hoping instead for their constituents to project onto their words their own hopes, fears, and interpretations into their words. That seems to be the secret of winning elections.
But --- what if we did try to define "greatness"? Clearly, many things in society are broken today, as they always are broken, due to massive technology disruptions, and so there is some truth in recognizing that the country has not recently lived up to its potential. I believe that this "greatness" that is so often expounded by politicians refers to social mobility and equal opportunity for all. How well can your citizens succeed in their station in life, and hope for themselves and their children to move up in life? How well can the society lift its people out of poverty, and to reach their creative and economic potential? Or, as President Biden puts it, how can you inspire people to have a sense of self-worth in their work, and to treat one another with respect? To me , this is the "greatness" that all leaders should aspire to, and not simply about maximizing individualism and wealth accumulation. This work towards "greatness" is never complete. Certain groups or individuals may have "done better" in the past, but it doesn't mean that others cannot be successful today. The extreme, zero-sum mentality of individual success -- where some must lose in order for others to win -- is perhaps the greatest cause of injustice, suffering, and inequality today.
House with a White Picket Fence, from Big Fish (2003)