One of the most banal challenges from the left regarding President Trump is challenging his assumption that America was ever great.

When was it great? When we were killing off the native Americans? When we had slaves? When women couldn’t vote? When blacks had no civil rights? 1

The problem with this one-sided approach is that it begins with the utopian assumption (that all statists seem to start with) that only a perfect country has any right to claim greatness. But this is a fallacy.

Another way to measure greatness is to compare a country to those before it, as well as examining its ideals, not just its progress towards those ideals.

When Western Civilization was considered Great

The 20th century was so dominated by American and Christian ideals and progress that it was dubbed the American Century, and the similarly named magazine The Christian Century, birthed in the optimism of the early 1900’s, is still in existence. The social and technical progress made in the United States was so great that another term was coined for the unique and liberating ideas behind it – American exceptionalism. Its ideals and ideas were seen as exceptional compared to all previous human history.

But American economic, cultural, military, and moral leadership and dominance were preceded by a few centuries of progress in the West that was built on both the enlightenment (which emphasized reason and the ability to determine and shape the future positively, instead of depending on fate), and the Protestant Reformation, which led to, among other things, secular government and the abolition of slavery.

Before the modern universities became bastions of socialist thought 2, students had to study what was called Western Civilization; the ideas and history that made the west free and flourishing in human and economic terms.

However, this pro-western (and some would argue pro-anglo) emphasis was rightly seen as failing to appreciate what we could learn from other cultures and value systems and from our failures (instead of covering them up), as well as failing to highlight the role of non-whites and women. In reaction to this imbalance, and in conjunction with the rise of moral relativism, universities and media swung so far in the other direction that they ignored the very ideas that led to freedom (of the press!), even to the point of being anti-west and anti-America.

So now, we have arrived at a juncture where some youth have no feeling of the greatness of the West, having lived in freedom for so long that they are like fish who have no idea what it’s like to be out of the water.

Our Former Greatness

When Donald Trump and others refer to making America great again, they assume that we were great in the following areas, but have fallen from greatness in most or all.

1. Military Greatness

One of the few explicit Constitutional responsibilities of our limited government is to provide for a standing military. Often with peaceful motives, pacifist and leftist leaders have defunded our military and relied more on diplomacy, yet ended up sending our young men and women into combat ill equipped because the real world tyrants do not always respond to diplomacy. A return to military greatness includes not only supporting the moral goods of democracy and freedom world wide, it means returning to strength and primacy on the world stage.

2. Economic Greatness

Looking at the American economy is a glass-half-full half-empty proposition, depending on who you want to credit or blame. But the economic situation since the bank scandals and housing bust a decade ago is still mixed to bad. In addition, the national debt balooned under the last administration, and some economists are predicting we will pass a point where it will be impossible for the US to pay its debts.

Whether or not Trump-era tax reform and other reforms will make the economy better is an open question, but there is no question what greatness looks like – growing GDP, lower national debt, living wages and employment, and real wage increases.

3. Moral Greatness

No other civilization (arguably) has made chattel slavery illegal. It is still practiced legally in many nations, especially Muslim nations, as the Koran arguably explicitly condones slavery (while Judaism and Christianity do not). 3 4 5 6 In modern times, abolition of slavery in the west was and is a beacon of hope to many.

Moral greatness was also exemplified by the many human rights movements of previous decades, including women’s suffrage and the success of black civil rights. Women and minorities in many countries are still oppressed, abused, and killed for no other reason than that they are female or minorities. This does not happen in the west, at least not by the government or society and not on a grand scale.

How have we fallen morally speaking? The sexual revolution has opened the door to the majority of marriages failing, out of wedlock births as high as 70% in some ethnic communities, the glorification of pornography, and the killing of unborn children by the millions each year. Worse, progressive policies on race which highlight the continued structural inequities result in retrograde policies of reverse racism, trying to make a right out of two wrongs and exacerbating the racial divides.

Making America great means returning to first principles – equality of opportunity without respect to race or color, support for the nuclear biological family, and support for human rights, especially those of the unborn.

GLBT rights, however, is a mixed bag – while on one hand, it is a human rights issue, it is also a sexual morality issue – so it’s not a clean win or lose on the moral front. This goes for many other increasingly popular family structures and sexual proclivities, including open marriage, polygamy and polyandry, group marriage, and even pedophilia and bestiality, though these still remain beyond the pale for the time being.

Conclusion

The ideals and ideas that made the West great are still the ideas that lead to human flourishing, and America, with its unique limited form of government, is the best embodiment of it in history. That is true greatness. There is something not only to return to, but to surpass. In many ways we have surpassed the founding fathers, but in modern times, we may have slipped significantly – militarily, economically, and morally .