It is fair to ask, since Donald Trump has adopted as the slogan of his campaign "Make American Great Again," what he means by "Great." It is also a fair observation that so far, little Trump has said about his intentions are comforting to conservatives.
This does not mean that his ideas about ending illegal immigration and reinvigorating business activity and taking the battle to our enemies around the world are bad ideas at all. Quite the contrary. But it means that none of these, in the long run, matters, or rather that none of these will last if we do not anchor our nation firmly in true greatness.
Our mediocrity today is moral. We have descended into a yawning indifference to or (at best) a limp, token interest in goodness and honor. The moral relativism and secular progressivism of the left have removed us from Judeo-Christian value systems, encouraged poxes like pandemic abortion and bastardy, polluted art and culture with nauseous glop, and directed our attention to the ephemeral and superficial.
These are not problems to be solved by doubling the per capita GDP or effectively controlling our borders or defeating terrorism or outwitting our international rivals. If Donald Trump as president means to wage a war against poverty in America or to make our society great, then he will be pursuing, albeit by better means, the War on Poverty that LBJ waged in pursuit of the Great Society fifty years ago.
Every good thing about our country rests, ultimately, upon our embrace of decency, honesty, faith, courage, and wisdom. We got to the sad condition that we are in today because these virtues have been cast aside, often for reasons no greater than political or economic expediency. Curing our problems is not a question of cleverness or brashness or popularity, but a question of giving life to these bedrock virtues, without which nothing much will really change.
Consider two groups of Americans who are waging war and often winning against radical Islam. The brave men who sign up, often again and again, to fight the evil enemies of our way of life are doing so not as a business decision any more than the brave men who signed up after Pearl Harbor and later bled to death on Omaha Beach or Okinawa were seeking anything like personal gain. These best of us were then (and are now) offering their flesh and bones to the grim cauldron of battle because they hear a higher cause than prosperity or fame.
The other, often unnoticed, Americans go at their own expense and at their own risk to poor and dangerous places around the world bringing the joyful message of Christianity and operate clinics or build schools that quietly prevail against the shrill screams of jihadists. These Americans, like the Americans fighting overseas in our military, could not be moved by wealth or power, which are a pale shadow of the greater goodness they embrace.
It is unclear whether Mr. Trump understands which greatness America really needs to survive and prevail against the many pitfalls and traps at home and abroad the left and other America-haters have laid for our harm. As a celebrity-businessman from New York, Trump has been operating in the largely amoral systems of politicians, bureaucrats, academicians, and newscasters.
If this means he has seen their shallowness and intends to resist it strongly – and taking on political correctness is surely a good sign in that regard – then he could be the best man for our nation since Reagan (who knew Hollywood inside-out and was, like Trump, already a success in life). If Trump does not see anything wrong with the world of glittering celebrity and fat bank accounts, even at the cost of true virtue, then he poses a greater danger than anyone since LBJ.
Surely the time for Donald Trump to pick up the banner of traditional and vital values and virtues is now, because in the general election, most candidates move away from the base of their party and toward the base of the other party. Many of us would dearly love to have a man on our side who understands the establishment in all its vapid pomp and who intends to challenge this establishment directly.
But so far, what can we see one way or the other on what Donald Trump means when he tells us that he wants to make America great again?