Can We Define “Great”?

One of the consequences of the fragmented media environment fostered by the Internet has been the development of alternate realities. Americans increasingly get our “news” from sources carefully chosen to confirm our pre-existing biases.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the divisions over Donald Trump and his slogan  “Make America Great Again.”

It’s true, as many historians have pointed out, that the people with whom this slogan resonates tend to have a somewhat selective understanding of America’s history–one that omits the nation’s frequent deviation from its cherished principles. But inaccurate/incomplete history isn’t really the problem. The problem is with their definition of “greatness,” which tends to correspond with straight white male Christian dominance.

My own bias is for the vision of American greatness described by soccer star Megan Rapinoe in a recent article in the Guardian.

The US women’s soccer co-captain Megan Rapinoe has delivered an uncompromising message to Donald Trump, amid ongoing controversy over a possible visit to the White House by the World Cup champions.

Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper what she would like to say to the American leader, Rapinoe said: “Your message is excluding people. You’re excluding me, you’re excluding people that look like me, you’re excluding people of colour, you’re excluding Americans that maybe support you.”

Rapinoe has been outspoken about LGBT rights as well as racial and gender equality. After the US won the World Cup for a record fourth time on Sunday, Rapinoe called for progress on equal pay for the male and female teams.

In a previous interview with CNN, Rapinoe had said that, should the U.S. team win, they would not go to the “fucking” White House. In the Guardian, she expressed regret for her language, but not for her sentiment.

“I would not go, and every teammate that I’ve talked to explicitly about it would not go,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we’ve worked so hard to build, and the things that we fight for, and the way that we live our life … I don’t think that we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration,” Rapinoe told Cooper.

She added that allowing the White House to “put us on display” didn’t “make sense for us at all”, adding: “There are so many other people that I would rather talk to and have meaningful conversations that could really affect change in Washington than going to the White House.”

The sports star added the US needed to have a “reckoning” with the implications of Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. “You’re harking back to an era that was not great for everyone – it might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it’s not great for enough Americans in this world.”

Rapinoe’s definition of greatness–a definition with which I concur–is inclusion.

 A great society is one that values all its citizens, a society that rewards people based upon their behavior rather than their identity–a society that encourages and celebrates everyone’s participation and contribution.

Unfortunately, a  growing segment of the Internet is fostering a fear of “replacement” in insecure whites.That fear is based upon a definition of “greatness” that frantically opposes inclusion; “greatness” is a country where “people who look like me” are in control. As the linked article reports,

The far right has set off a vicious circle of disinformation by filling the information and communication gap on topics such as demographic change with emotive, speculative and hysterical content instead of facts.

The next election will be a choice between those who define American greatness as inclusion and civic equality and those who believe that “great” means an America that privileges straight white Christians.

by Sheila Kennedy