Donald Trump wants to “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton claims America has never stopped being great. But maybe we should just try to make America meh.
Here’s a question, how do we define American greatness? In politics, American greatness is usually described in comparison with other nations. This comparison is part of human nature. As René Girard states in his masterful book on human social dynamics called Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, to be human is to have a tendency “to compare oneself with others.”
What’s true on the personal level is also true on the national level. Historically, the United States has compared our greatness to other nations – England, France, China, Germany, and Russia, for example. But now we also compare ourselves to terrorist organizations. Our greatness as a nation is being defined by our ability to destroy al-Qaeda and ISIS.
To make America meh would be to stop defining our “greatness” in comparison with other nations. On an individual and national level, comparing ourselves with others leads to relationships of constant and escalating rivalry.
Many of us are addicted to that rivalry. We gain a sense of “greatness” by being against our enemies. But that’s a false sense of greatness. It may give us a temporary high, a sense of meaning in our lives, but we will always need another fix, another enemy to be against.
True greatness isn’t formed in a relationship against our enemies. Rather, true greatness is formed in a relationship with our enemies. Or, as Jesus put it, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
When we are addicted to rivalry with our enemies, loving them might give us a sense of meh. Or, even worse, some may claim that Jesus’ command to love our enemies is naïve. But in an age where weapons of mass destruction can be obtained by almost anyone, it’s naïve to think relationships of escalating rivalry will make us safe.
Girard ends his book The Scapegoat with this apocalyptic warning, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be time enough.”
Love? Forgiveness? They might make us feel pretty meh. But at this point in human history, they are our greatest hope.
Image: Flickr, Donkey Hotey, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump – Caricatures, Creative Commons License, some changes made.