Was America ever great? You bet it was! And it still is.


Maybe Trump derangement syndrome made them do it. Or maybe they’re just part of the Democrats’ slime-America-first caucus.

Whatever the cause, at least three prominent Democrats — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, and South Bend, Indiana mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg — have gone out of their way in the last few months to claim, as Cuomo did, that “America was never that great.” Or as Buttigieg did, that “America was never as great as advertised.” Or as Holder put it, “Exactly when did you think America was great?”

This week’s issue of the Boulder Weekly is dated July 4, so today is a good day to respond.

Exactly when was America great? Glad you asked.

America was great on the day it was born, when its birth announcement, the Declaration of Independence, offered the world a compendium of some of the most revolutionary ideas in human history — starting with those found in the sentence that begins with the words “We hold these Truths to be self-evident…” That much should be self-evident even to political dwarfs with crabbed vision like Cuomo, Holder and Buttigieg.

America was also great from 1861 to 1865, when more than 360,000 men serving in the Union armies — most of them white and most of them racists by today’s standards — gave their lives to preserve the Union and end slavery.

America was great on July 2, 1862, when President Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant College Act, and six weeks prior on May 20, 1862, when he signed the first Homestead Act — arguably the two most important and far-reaching pieces of social legislation in the history of the American republic. The former revolutionized American agriculture and higher education and turned them into the envy of the world. The latter distributed more than 250,000 square miles of land to 1.6 million homesteaders and their families — ensuring that agriculture in the American West would be defined by individual farmers working their own land, and not by plantations worked by slaves or sharecroppers.

America was great when Norman Borlaug, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, one of the more than 100 land grant universities launched by the Morrill Act, created the wheat strains that launched the Green Revolution in the 1960s — and prevented apocalyptic famine in the developing world that was widely predicted for the mid-1970s. Borlaug’s 2012 obituaries credited him with saving a billion lives.

America was great on Oct. 16, 1846 when William T.G. Morton, a Boston dentist, demonstrated that ether could be used as a general anesthetic during surgery — arguably the single most important and far-reaching American contribution to medicine to this day.

America was great in 1944 when Congress passed the G.I. Bill, which provided education benefits and home loans for returning World War II veterans. By 1956, 2.2 million vets had attended college and 5.6 million more had completed high school or received vocational training with G.I. Bill benefits — possibly the most concentrated investment in human capital in human history.

America was great on April 3, 1948, when President Truman signed the Marshall Plan into law. It provided $17 billion (the equivalent of $198 billion in 2018 dollars) in economic and technical assistance to 16 European nations recovering from the devastation of World War II — including former enemies Germany, Italy and Austria. There aren’t many examples in history of the victors in a war offering aid to the vanquished. The usual practice was to loot them.

Here are a few more.

America was great when it transformed itself into an automotive civilization, which empowered ordinary people, including the poor, by increasing their freedom of movement, and thus their options of where to live and work by orders of magnitude.

America was great when it built the 47,000-mile-long Interstate Highway System and the 117,000-mile-long Federal Highway System before that. These projects transformed the American economy — and allowed Americans to get to know each other in ways that were never before possible.

America was great when it invented both the airplane and aeronautical civilization, which allows ordinary people, including the poor, to fly — something humans have dreamed of doing since the first sapiens looked up and saw the birds. And the stars.

America was great when American builders and developers, led by William Levitt, invented the American suburban subdivision, which provided ordinary Americans with an alternative to cramped apartments in fetid cities, and with safe spaces in which to raise their kids. When home sales began in the original Levittown subdivision in March 1947, 1,400 homes were sold in the first three hours. 

America was great on Aug. 28, 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said he wanted his daughters to be judged by the content of their characters instead of the color of their skins and in so doing defined American tolerance with a single sentence. America was not so great when the Democratic Party embraced inherently racist and sexist identity politics and betrayed Dr. King’s dream.

America was great when it opened its doors to immigration, which is why it is today the world’s third most populous country and its defining civilization. America stays great because it still welcomes — welcomes — more than a million lawful immigrants a year, not withstanding the lacerating debate over illegal immigration.

America was — and is — great when the transfer of political power consists of outgoing officials cleaning out their desks, incoming officials taking the oath of office, and then both going to the same reception. America is not so great when those who lose an election declare themselves The Resistance instead of The Loyal Opposition.

All of which raises a question for Messieurs Cuomo, Holder and Buttigieg: Since you all think America is lacking in greatness, what would you do to make America great again? Just askin’. 

this opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.