This “Denim Spirit” column appeared 8/3/16 in The Finger Lakes Times as a regular feature:
DENIM SPIRIT: A Reflection On “Stronger Together” And “Make America Great Again”
by Cameron Miller
This is not an endorsement of either Hilary or Donald; that will come later if it is not already obvious from what I write about. Instead, for now, I want to dig around in their slogans.
As has been widely probed, “Make America Great Again” can easily be used as code for “the good old days” when American society seemed to work better for members of the white middle class and men. Romanticizing the past is always hazardous for at least two reasons: first, no two people share the same memory of an event, even within the same family; and two, rarely if ever in our history as a nation have all groups enjoyed an equivalent share of power and resourcesSteel Workers and UAW members may remember the 1950’s and 60’s as the good old days when manufacturing jobs were life-long careers, and even passed on from father to son. But those good old days were painful years for African-Americans daring to agitate for equal rights and opportunities. It must have been especially galling to veterans of WWII, Korea or Vietnam who endangered body, mind and life for what they were told was the common good only to return and be prohibited from sharing in the common good.
They were bad years for millions of women too. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that women no longer had to ask permission of their husband for things we take for granted today, like purchasing a car or even a bed, not to mention enrolling in college. In the good old days most women could not have gotten a loan without a male co-signer. Worse, a husband physically forcing his wife to have sex was not considered domestic violence or rape by a majority of male jurors and law enforcement.
Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Appalachians, Migrant Workers, people in the GLBTQ community…many of these Americans might have difficulty putting a finger on exactly when the good old days were for them in The United States at any time during the past hundred years or more. So defining “greatness” by pointing to a moment in the past that was good for those in the majority or fortunate enough to hold the reigns of power, is also a whisper in the ear to those that were marginalized during that time of greatness: “You don’t count.”
Meanwhile, “Stronger Together” implies just the opposite. Whatever our goals, and wherever we imagine greatness and opportunity to be, we will get there sooner and better if we are pulling together. This is common sense learned in childhood on the playground, on the court or fields of play.
“Stronger Together” is also an ancient theological whisper blowing through human history as far back as we have records. It may not have been the modus operandi of governments and social hierarchies that have left us an abundance of horror stories over the centuries, but always there have been prophets and sages cooing in our ears that we are inter-dependent, made of one substance, and better together than separated. In fact, the sources and process of fragmentation is one theological definition of human evil that stands in contrast to human good exemplified by unity, integration, and community.
The particularity of the two candidates aside, there is no question which slogan holds the greater truth and the better vision.