Joe Biden’s inaugural address this Wednesday must use four words early and often: “Make America great again.” Not to troll Trump, but to reach out to his supporters and renew faith in America’s core values, retreating from hate, anger and grievance that erupted in deadly violence at the US Capitol two weeks before the inauguration. Using Donald Trump’s signature phrase will invite his 74 million voters to listen.
Progressives understandably seethe at the MAGA slogan. For Trump and many followers, “Make America Great Again” lauds a bygone America that was great mainly for a privileged few. Nevertheless, America has done great things. Americans all own those achievements, and national failings don’t cancel them.
America was great when it declared the revolutionary proposition that all people are created equal, a bold idea advanced unsteadily but surely at home and abroad over two and a half centuries. America was great when it defeated fascism and, with the world in rubble, sought not the spoils of victory but built foundations for just and lasting peace and prosperity.
America was great when it met a challenge to reach the moon, advancing life on Earth immeasurably along the way.
America has not always lived up to its highest ideals and has too often pursued them unwisely. But America has been great when it has tried, admitted its shortcomings and tried again.
Joe Biden and his supporters must recognize America’s achievements, to celebrate them with fellow citizens and to draw on a rich, unique, and, yes, great heritage to restore a sense of shared national purpose.
Make America great again by accepting it is one nation, under God, indivisible, seeking liberty and justice for all. A great America pledges allegiance not just to a flag, but to those high ideals it symbolizes and to the cause of advancing them. A great America understands that shared national destiny includes shared responsibility, that individual rights must sometimes bend to the national interest.
Make America great again by resuming leadership of the free world. A great America champions the global struggle for freedom, opposing tyrants no matter how large their nuclear arsenals, how tempting their markets, how deep their oilfields or how murderous their supporters.
Make America great again by inviting friends and foes alike to tackle the planet’s common enemies of disease, hunger, climate change, poverty and oppression, seeking solutions through cooperation and fair competition of ideas. A great America doesn’t dictate to allies and try to win every debate, but seeks victories for humankind as a whole.
Make America great again by promoting free and fair elections everywhere. A great America sets an example through voter inclusion, not voter suppression, renewing its dedication to Abraham Lincoln’s cherished “government of the people, by the people, for the people” and extending its franchise.
Make America great again by recognizing that immigrants enrich and replenish society. A great America embraces these Americans by choice as reminders to live by the words on the Statue of Liberty, not rewrite them, to provide a shining beacon of freedom beside a golden door.
Make America great again by reissuing the call of John Kennedy’s inaugural address 60 years ago: “So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
Kennedy, the youngest man to take the US presidential oath – Biden will be the oldest – addressed those words to an overseas enemy with nuclear weapons poised to annihilate America and, with their use, all of humankind. But today, those words apply most aptly within America, to partisan rancor fueled by foreign and domestic disinformation that tears at the nation’s soul.
Make America great again by fighting back against agents of chaos, recognizing that while truths may no longer be self-evident, truth still matters. A great America recognizes we are all entitled to our individual opinions but must share the same set of facts.
America’s awakening from its national nightmare begins by striving to make America great again for all, not just those your side agrees with, and by behaving as a responsible partner in the global quest for freedom, peace and sustainability.
From Wednesday at 12 noon, Washington time, Joe Biden has the bully pulpit, and the whole world will be watching, awaiting an America that’s great again, instead of one that’s small and at war with itself.
Former US diplomat Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes Asia and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about TV news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.