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In assessing America, should we focus on the mud or the stars?

By Tom Morgan


Was America ever great?

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder poses the question: “Exactly when did you think America was great?”

He competes with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as Cuomo once told us: “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great.”

Let’s review that question. But first, let’s admit these politicians are simply trying to dilute the impact of “Make America Great Again” (MAGA), because President Trump wields that slogan at the moment (Presidents Clinton and Reagan did before.)

Holder tells us Trump’s supporters yearn for the 1800s — when African-Americans and women could not own property or vote. That seems a stretch to me. But, hey, you can say anything in politics.

Cuomo says MAGA ignores the pain people endured in our past. He points to the eras of slavery, discrimination, segregation, and sexism. He is right that these were painful times for millions.

But all great questions have at least two sides. Was America great when it allowed slavery? Of course not. Was it great when it ended it? And then engaged in civil war over the issue? Yes.

Was America great when it allowed decades of vicious discrimination against African-Americans. Of course not. Was it great when it tackled the discrimination head on? When it did battle to end segregation? When it forged civil rights legislation? Yes, that seems like a period of greatness for the country.

Was America up to great things when Washington attacked the devastation of the Great Depression? When government threw measure after measure against this monster? Yes, I think it was a great and noble effort.

Was the country great when it created our Social Security system? It seems so to me.

Was America great when it welcomed millions of immigrants over many years? When it spent millions to help them assimilate?

Was America great when it sent its young men and women to Europe to help conquer the Nazis? To free the French, Dutch, Belgians? To rescue the British from Hitler’s threats? We did not have to do this. That we did was in many ways great. 

Was America great to create the G.I. Bill — to reward its soldiers and their families? Was it great to help rescue post-war Europeans from despair with the Marshall Plan?

Was it a great epoch in our history to leave soldiers in Europe after WWII? To protect Europeans from invasion by the ravenous USSR?

Was America great to lead the way in forming the UN? And NATO? Was it great to try to keep Cuba from poisoning the Caribbean and Latin America with more communism? Many feel it was. Count me among them.

Was it great of America to wage the Cold War against the oppression of international communism? I hate to imagine how many people would live under the despicable rule of communists today. Had America not been willing to fight them on various fronts.

Was America great to help Israel from its founding to today? Given the world’s history of butchering Jews, I would say yes. This is a morally great effort.

Was America ever great? Is the proverbial glass half-empty or half-full? What lenses are best to peer through, to view this country’s history? Which end of the telescope should we press our eye to? To evaluate America?

Dale Carnegie wrote “Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw the mud, the other saw stars.”

They are both out there. We can be aware of both but favor the stars. Or we can focus most of our attention on the mud.

It is your choice. As for me, I’ve always loved stars.

From Tom…as in Morgan.         

Tom Morgan writes about political, financial, and other subjects from his home in upstate New York. Contact him at, read more of his writing at, or find him on Facebook.

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