It is not my habit to write about the internal politics of other countries, but, since the President of the United States is so often described as “The Leader of the Free World” (even those Presidents in whom qualities of leadership have been conspicuously lacking – and I shall name no names), and since I can’t recall another election campaign so cut-throat in nature, I shall make an exception in this case.
Quite apart from the rather obvious comparison to “House of Cards” – or possibly, to “The Game of Thrones” – what has struck me most in this race between two of the worst contenders America has seen in many a long year (and certainly within my adult memory), is the fact that other than cutting down the other side, neither candidate seems to have very much to offer. It has been a campaign of slogans rather than substance.
And I have to say, some of those slogans have me quite baffled.
Take this one, for example: “Let’s Make America Great Again”.
What does that mean, exactly?
I posed precisely that question on my Facebook page and received the swift response from a Clinton supporter: “America is great already”.
An answer as meaningless as the original slogan.
How does one measure a nation’s greatness? By its military might? The strength of its social fabric? Its wealth? Its determination to uphold its ideals? Its contribution to science? To the arts? To humanity in general?
The aforementioned Clinton supporter wrote: “I would say we have the most versatile culture in the world – we are a culture that regularly produces Nobel laureates and Olympic medalists; Americans are (or have been) behind most great advances in science and technology since WW1 or even before. America pioneered the concept of international law and global democracy with the League of Nations and the War Crimes court. At the heart of America’s greatness is the freedom of expression, which, while not an American invention, is still something that the American culture has adopted as sacred.”
For this Bostonian, then, America’s greatness lies in the versatility of her culture, her sporting prowess, her pre-eminence in science and technology.
Another of my friends, however, a New Yorker who supports Trump, sees America’s greatness in her military and industrial strength. She writes: “When an American soldier walked down the street anywhere in the world after WWII and Korea, they were respected. When we had factories in our country that were making American products, rather than send all our factories to other countries who can do it cheaper. Go along the whole of the North East on the train or a bus. See all the factories that are sitting there in ruins.”
A third friend, born in the United States (I know not where, precisely), but now living in Israel, came up with a more unusual definition: “A country, any country, is great when its citizens are proud of their country, are proud to be a part of that country’s process, and are proud to represent their country.”
I have to admit, I was tempted to adopt his suggestion. It certainly has its merits. But after I stopped and considered it more deeply, I realised that that statement could also have defined Nazi Germany!
I pressed my friends further. What about morality?
It was then that my Bostonian friend finally came up with the Jewish point-of-view (which was, in fact, what I had been waiting for).
“Judaism judges the greatness of society by how its laws treat the lowest societal rungs – the poor, the orphans, the immigrants and strangers. “
Well – almost. I would say that Judaism judges a society’s greatness not merely by how its laws treat its weakest members (de jure), but how that society treats the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger in deed. It is not so much the letter of the law that counts, as its spirit.
And all at once, I thought of a hymn that we used to sing in school, in England,when I was a young girl, on Commonwealth Day.
“I Vow To Thee, My Country” was a favourite of both the late Margaret Thatcher, and the late Princess Diana, and was, in fact, sung at both the wedding and the funeral of the latter.
In these changed times, the ultra-nationalist nature of the first verse has aroused controversy in “progressive” circles:
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
Now, those are lyrics that could be encapsulated in the words of another American President – none other than John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
But take a look at the second verse:
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
Not jingoistic at all. And the oddest thing is that last line, which strangely parallels the words sung in Jewish synagogues after the Torah reading, as the scrolls are being carried back to the Ark:
“It (ie. the Torah) is a tree of life to them that grasp it…its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”
So for the writer of that hymn, maybe a truly great nation is one based on God’s law, whose ways are ways of gentleness or pleasantness, and all of whose paths are peace?
Is there such a nation anywhere on this earth?
I leave it to you.
What do you think?