Column: Trump promised American greatness but only the people can deliver
Peter Schussler of Peoria, Ill. laughs in the crowd during the inauguration of President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. After receiving free tickets to the inauguration, Schussler packed up his two preteen daughters ages 10 and 12 for not only their first trip to Washington D.C., but also to, "watch the beginning of making America great again," said Schussler. (Photograph by Rebecca Noble)
Though Donald Trump’s actions this week, including issuing many executive orders, criticizing media and promoting aggressive foreign policy, were unnerving, the most terrifying aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency was laid out on the day he announced his campaign at Trump Tower. Looking out at the crowd, he declared, “We need somebody that will literally take this country and make it great again.”
Granted, in general, Americans do want their country to be great—free of racism and political divide and full of safety and political representation. But one person, no matter who it is, can never solve any one of these issues single-handedly, let alone all of them.
This state of mind is not only illogical, it is characteristically un-American to put so much faith into one person and take his word with so much weight that he becomes president on the grounds that he will bring back the American Dream. People who have enough faith to believe that Donald Trump can make the country "great again" will also allow him to exercise any power to make this true. However, the power to influence how Americans feel about their country lies not with one man but one people, united.
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Today, Americans have fear about the country’s direction, but this fear cannot possibly match the pure shock of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Suddenly, the people lost a sense of security in their nation, thousands died and the effects resonated in the heart of every American. But the first action of Americans was not to lose hope in the future but to come together to help. No one told the thousands of people who donated blood that day to do so; people stepped up because they thought they could make a difference.
George Bush’s first address after the fact was not pointed toward filling the nation with fear or naming enemies but at telling the people of the United States that “We will go forward,” emphasizing that every American would need to be part of the effort. An era of bipartisanship and patriotism ensued. Some even claimed that there was no road rage for a period of time.
The point here is that Americans did not overcome difficulties and come together because they were forced but because they saw it was necessary. Americans did not buy out all of the American flags from stores and volunteer in droves because a leader unified the people but because Americans laid down their differences and built each other up through the time of crisis.
This is important today: Americans cannot look to Donald Trump for the solution to their problems, because more than the leader, it has been the American people who have done great feats, from beating the best army in the world during the American Revolution, to helping the Allies win in World War 2, to keeping our nation together in the early 2000s.
A wall, a ban on Muslim refugees and suppressing the media will not solve the problems that many feel in America. Only the people can change their perceived insecurity, their perceived American decline, by learning about different cultures, showing respect, upholding constitutional values and moving forward optimistically.
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In the same way, if change originates from the people, Hillary Clinton did not need to become president for Americans to be "stronger together." Americans have the choice every day how to impact their communities through volunteering, listening and respecting contrary points of view, showing kindness and participating in politics.
The coming years will be difficult, so grassroots American action is more important now that any time in recent history. If Americans were able to enter a time of unity after tangible disaster, then it should be possible again. America can only be "great" when Americans are great.
Follow Toni Marcheva on Twitter.