Make America Great? Again?

My country, t’is of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,

OF THEE I SING!

In honor of our country’s birthday, this article will be a subjective, personal, and individual assessment of the United States of America, and how it stands in my eyes. Your assessment may be different, but that too is one of the beautiful aspects of the U. S. of A.

My father was born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, in 1896. His mother was German; his father Polish. In 1901 Pop was just four years old when the family, he was the fifth of seven children, migrated to the area around Scranton, Pennsylvania. During the Depression he worked as a delivery man bringing cakes and pies to the small grocery stores scattered throughout Central Pennsylvania. He had a sixth grade education and worked on the cake truck until ill health forced him to take less strenuous work. He died two months short of his sixtieth birthday.

My mother was born in Czarist Russia in what is now Lithuania in 1904. She came to America as an infant in my grandmother’s arms less than a year after her birth. Her family also settled near Scranton. She was one of fourteen siblings, ten of whom survived into my lifetime. She had a tenth grade education followed by two years of nurses’ training, the normal amount in the 1920s. She lived into her seventies, although she was plagued with illness in her later life.

(About now some of you readers may be thinking, “Okay! So what?”  Bear with it just a bit more. As the magicians always say, “All will be revealed.”)

Although neither of my parents had any idea what constituted a college education, there was never any question that I would attend college. I did reasonably well in school, if I liked the teacher and the subject matter. The opposite, of course, was also true in classes where I did not like the teacher or the subject matter. Academic discipline and I were total strangers, as were most other forms of self-discipline.

In addition to my parents’ lack of understanding about what constitutes education, I had another problem at school in my formative years. I belonged to a minority religion, and I mean a small minority religion. The name ”Cohen” proved to be a dead giveaway to my being Jewish. To those who have trouble understanding the situation, let me put it in its proper context:  it is the late 1930s and early 1940s. I am the only Jewish kid in my school, not just my class, but in the entire school. Many, if not most of the other kids come from homes in which  German is the first language, and whose homes prominently display pictures of , not President Roosevelt, but of Adolph Hitler….that changed, of course, in December 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war with Japan and Germany.

An eight to twelve year old does not get used to names such as “Kike,” “Dirty Jew,” and “Christ-killer.”  Nor does he get used to the bullying. I learned to run fast, talk fast, and use my sense of humor to ease tensions. Needless to say, I hated going to school. In 1949 I graduated from high school and, to get my mother off my back, I agreed to go to community college for one semester. My world turned 180 degrees; I now enjoyed school and found that learning can be fun. Twenty-one years later, after receiving my teaching credentials and teaching at the high school level, I finished my dissertation and was crowned with a PhD.  I certainly did not get rich teaching at the college level (Surprise!), but I made a decent living and my family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle.

(To insure that no one interprets this as being nothing but self-promotion, I would like to add that I also wanted to be a professional baseball player, but had to admit that I could not hit the fast ball consistently nor the curve ball at any time. Over the years I also attempted to fix or construct things, but invariably finished the project with two extra parts left over or the “thing” had sides that were not parallel. One needs to know what he cannot do as well as what he can do.)

If my “success” story were unique or even unusual, I would not be telling it now. It is not. Similar stories can be told by the tens or even hundreds of thousands.  Not just about the person who goes into academics, does well, and enjoys life. Some of the successes are in quite different fields:  law, medicine, police, fire fighting, teaching in general, technical fields and especially in business. A person opens a small business or becomes an electrician and spends long, hard hours on the job, then expands and hires others, perhaps opening a second or even a third shop or restaurant. That kind of modest success has been repeated countless times in our country.

In our magnificent country no one asks, “What is your political advocacy?”  There is no “What is your religion?”  nor “Who is your father” test. I, you, and millions of others just have to show why their mousetrap is good or even better than the old one. Then he or she gets to “do their thing.”  Hopefully most will succeed and at least hit the curve ball occasionally.

Of the hundreds of countries on this planet, how many can boast of the success of the little, modest guy or gal? Simply count those nations that do not ask those useless questions. (Don’t worry, you probably will not need all ten fingers.) 

If you do not like counting on your fingers, just remember that for each individual who wants to leave this country, there are thousands who want to enter, seeking the opportunity to better their lives and their children‘s lives. I just have to go back as far as my parents to mirror that desire. Unless you are a Native American, you may have to go back further, but with most Americans that was the motivation for the past three or four hundred years.

In my opinion this success factor alone identifies the U. S. of A. as a great nation. When coupled with our strong economy and our military might, it makes us not only the greatest country now, but also the greatest in the history of this old, blue marble wandering about in space. We do not need to be “made great again.”  WE ARE ALREADY THERE.

Does that mean that the United States has achieved perfection?  Of course, not. When hundreds of millions of people are involved in anything, there are bound to be problems. Certainly the path to success that I enjoyed is not open to everyone—yet! Certainly there are inequities in our social systems and in our economics. When a billionaire’s secretary pays more in taxes than the billionaire, something is radically wrong. Anyone who thinks that we have achieved social and racial equity has a distorted view of reality. One homeless person or one child going to bed hungry is too many. When people who need therapeutic aid get punishment in prison instead, we need to ask why? and then make changes.

No question:  “We still got troubles, right here in River City.”  In my judgment, however, the goodness and greatness of the U. S. far, far outweighs the negatives.

During the civil rights unrest of the 1960s and 70s a story made the rounds about a backwoods, Southern, Black preacher who gave a brief, but magnificent, sermon to his tiny congregation. The grammar, in modern slang, sucks, but the philosophy applies to the entire country, even more today than it did fifty years ago…

            WE AIN’T WHAT WE SHOULD BE,

            AND WE AIN’T WHAT WE GONNA BE,

            BUT WE BETTER THAN WE WAS!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA

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