Building a wall along the southern border? Rallying the police to arrest undocumented immigrants? Threatening the deportation of “aliens”? Is this what will define our country–“the land of the free and the home of the brave,” as we Americans like to think of ourselves–in the years to come? What about that warm welcome to the “poor and huddled masses” that our old schoolbooks use to proudly proclaim?
Of course, guarding the borders may not be the entire package under this new administration. It might be just part of the bigger agenda: taking care of ourselves first and letting others pick up the scraps and provide for themselves the best they can. After all, we must make America great again before we can spare any thoughts for the rest of the world.
This sounds like a radical reduction in mission to me. There was a time when US leaders talked about “exporting democracy”… “sharing American values”… “winning the hearts and minds of the Third World.” Even the old Manifest Destiny drumbeat a century ago, however colonialist the mind set, offered the rest of the world something: a little piece of the American dream.
I’ve spent nearly all my adult life overseas engaged in a mission that might be described as religious but was even broader. The reason I was first sent to the Pacific, back in 1963, was to build a church in a society that didn’t yet have the resources to do that. Even then, and much more a few years later when Peace Corps were first dispatched to Micronesia, I found companions in other Americans who came to staff schools and dispensaries and law offices that also needed support. We all thought of ourselves as being on mission–myself and my fellow Jesuits on a religious mission (“God loves you”), and the others on a mission sponsored by the US government that was supposed to testify that the US also cares.
Even if I’m winding down in years and strength, I still feel the importance of my religious mission. But what about that secular mission that the US once proudly assumed? At its best (and even sometimes at its not-best) the US thought of itself as having something to offer the rest of the world. Armed troops… military advisers… consultants… teachers…disaster relief and aid. And when everything else broke down in these countries, asylum and a new home. What, if anything, is our country prepared to offer these days?
If Making America Great Again means locking the doors, closing the curtains and leaving others to their own devices, I want no part of it. Why would I? It would mean abandoning the core of the mission that I and so many others have held dear for so long. If the best we can do is to huddle around the kitchen table as we feed our own kids, while trying to ignore the hungry neighbors scratching on the window, then we’ve lost our national sense of mission. We’ve also lost sight of the fact that our concern for those outsiders who lacked what we enjoy was a huge part of what truly made America great in the first place.
The slogan being marketed today in new attire may be appealing to some, but I regard the price as prohibitively high.