Even before President Obama took office, the conservative machine was firing up, churning out messages of gloom and doom and manipulating public opinion from behind the curtain. The Tea Party, with the rhetoric and imagery they employed of “taking America back,” was grounded in the pervasive idea that the country had somehow been taken (where did it go?) and that true patriots could liberate it with white-powdered wigs, muskets, and American flag bumper stickers. For the last eight years, obstructionist Republicans in Congress, bolstered by the alt-right media, engaged in a propaganda war designed to undermine faith in our nation.
Unfortunately, progressives are complicit in this process, for we yearn for progress and are quick to point out areas of improvement. The far-right uses this mentality against liberals with a gleeful kind of evil judo, making progressives appear somehow unpatriotic for being skeptical, creating the perception across middle-America that Democrats are the party of pessimists. Now, more than ever, progressives must deliver a message of hope.
America is great, in spite of our deep divisions; the ultimate irony of Trump’s victory is that the candidate who promised to “Make America Great Again” is poised to do quite the opposite.
We are a nation of immigrants, and our strength is now, and always was, built upon diversity. The United States is a rich tapestry of cultures, ethnicities, and religions. Throughout our history, each successive wave of immigrants has brought innovation, manpower, and desire to succeed that elevated America to superpower status. American universities continue to attract the best minds from around the world, and our cities remain the top destination for entrepreneurs, scientists, educators, and freethinkers.
America gave the world the gifts of jazz, blues, rock-and-roll, Maya Angelou, and President Barak Obama. From the former slaves who built the South, the Chinese workers who constructed our railways and opened the West, to the Italians and Irish who invigorated our cities, diversity defined America and transformed the world. We’ve never stopped being a melting pot, and while many of those on the far right would like to portray our increasing diversity as a threat, it is one of the key reasons that America is great.
Our founding fathers aspired to create a “shining city on a hill,” and in many ways they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, for from our great diversity springs a uniquely American culture that shapes the world.
American culture is a reflection of our values. Springsteen, Superman, and Luke Skywalker are global icons, sculpting the way people see America and the world we share. Our culture crosses borders and permeates the collective global psyche, and it is largely a culture of optimism and decency. We cheer for the lanky cowboy who is quick with a gun, standing tall against the army of villains and impossible odds. We recall our essential goodness, and that the United States stopped Hitler when good and evil hung in the balance. While we have made grave mistakes as a nation, we are still capable of great things, for it is our people who make us great, not our politicians. We have reason to hope.
Often maligned, the emerging generation of millennials should make us smile. This is the least racist generation in history, hungry for change and vocal in their quest for social justice and solving environmental issues. Young voters propelled Obama to the Oval Office, inspired by a message of hope and change, and mobilized again in record numbers behind Bernie Sanders.
The next generation embodies the ideals that have always made America great: a desire to do what is right and good, the determination to speak out against wrong, and the discipline to mobilize and act. These are the values that won a revolution, gave birth to our democracy, and shaped America into a beacon of light in times of darkness.
Trump’s ascendance to power is chilling, and millennials have the opportunity to fulfill the promise of their generation, combating climate-change deniers, protesting systemic racism, advocating for LGBTQ rights, and working to ensure women’s rights are not trampled on. More than at any other time since the Civil War, the United States is in grave danger from within. We must organize, vote, and make our voices heard, for we are not alone. There are more good people than bad.
Now is the time to remember what makes America great, for we are still the same country that we were before the election. This is the season to fight for liberty and truth. Today is the day the battle for the American soul, and it is up to you and me to ensure that our great nation remains great.
Sean T. Smith is a thriller author living with his wife and children in Riverside.