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Debate over America must acknowledge the good, the bad

At its best, the U.S. truly shines like no other nation. But at its worst, it truly disappoints.

President Donald Trump's motto emblazoned in a red

President Donald Trump's motto emblazoned in a red hat worn by a supporter waiting for the then-GOP candidate to speak in Warrren, Michigan, on March 4, 2016. Photo Credit: EPA / Jeff Kowalsky

America has always been great. It’s had its awful side, too.

But the shouting match between President Donald Trump, who wants to “Make America great again,” and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who said Wednesday, “We are not going to make America great again. It was never that great,” has Americans hunkering into their political camps and ignoring the truth.

In the first moments of our nation’s history, we set out lofty, unprecedented principles of freedom, justice and inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These documents set a new standard for the structuring of a moral society. But those principles, then, were only for white men. Women had few rights, black humans were property, and native peoples were slaughtered.

Since then, the trend has moved in an arc toward the promise of that “more perfect union” heralded in the preamble to the Constitution. America is a more just place in 2018 than it was in 1968, or 1918, which was far better than 1818. Full legal rights are granted to women and black people, though that has yet to translate into guarantees of fairness. The same is increasingly true for those who were once marginalized: gays, people of nonconforming genders and those with physical and mental handicaps.

The United States has saved nations from genocide and hunger, and it has bombed helpless civilians. It has spread democracy and squelched it. It has welcomed immigrants desperate for its opportunities, and it has rebuffed them. It is charitable, selfish, loving, hateful, kind, mean, unified and divided.

At its best, the United States truly shines like no other nation. That is why, at its worst, the United States so greatly disappoints. The leaders the nation needs will be the ones who can grasp this, communicate it and turn the people of the United States of America toward our better angels, and toward our final, fullest potential.

— The editorial board


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