What Makes America Great? (Opinion)

By Matthew D. Gamble

What really defines what makes the United States a special country, what really makes the US great, memorable and influential compared to the rest of the world? Certainly, Donald J. Trump cannot successfully answer this question as his (and his followers) definition is rooted in bigotry with no evidence to prove his points. Trump’s campaign usage of the slogan “Make America Great Again” which was first attributed to Ronald Reagan and his 1980 campaign, is deliberately used to evoke feelings of nostalgia. It is used to appeal to the undereducated masses who need a scapegoat to blame for their poor economic status. That would be recent immigrants and established minority groups. Trump’s use of this slogan heavily implies that White supremacy and segregation is what made America “great”. However I argue that it is not close to any reality and is quite illogical.

What made America “great”, as in creating the strongly distinct cultural and economic status of the United States was its diversity and cultural exchange. From when the time the Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch and English settled in the Americas, they heavily relied on the Indigenous peoples in order to learn how to survive in the new environment, to hunt and grow their own food. Cuisine such as corn, turkey, cornbread, cranberries, blueberries, popcorn, chocolate, hominy, tomatoes, etc. and products such as log cabins, cotton, tobacco, rubber, canoes, snowshoes, kayaks, etc were derived from Native American societies and adapted into modern American and later Western cultures.

The advanced agricultural methods of Natives were a great assistance to the White settlers who relied on this to prosper in the foreign environment. Native American tribal governments had a big impact on the development of the government of the United States. The idea of a federal government where certain powers are conferred over to a central government and the rest of power reserved for the states was inspired by the Iroquoian League. Also, a rather large percentage of the US states are named in tribute to Indian tribes and terms, such as Alabama (from tribe Alibamu), Ohio (Iqoquoi word meaning “beautiful river”), and Texas (name of group of tribes, meaning “friendship)[1].

Later when Africans were brought to the Americas in the 1600s, in a brutal system of chattel (systemic) slavery lasting until 1865, they heavily revolutionized the already diverse culture of the colonial Americas. African Americans have made great contributions in agriculture, cuisine, science, technology, art, folklore, medicine and language of the United States. African traditions of rice cultivation, medicine making, metalworking and woodworking were preserved and utilized in slave territories.

Cuisine was another area of African American influence on modern American culture particularly Southern cuisine. Africans introduced techniques of deep fat frying and making cornbread, gumbo and nut stews. Crops such as okra, black-eyed peas, kidney and lima beans were brought from Africa through slave ships. The development of American cattle raising and techniques such as open-grazing and cattle drives were developed by peoples of Fulani descent. These people would also be referred to as “cowboys”, ranch hands who worked for their master, the ranch owner. Majority of cowboys were in actuality Black men despite the media’s persistent portrayal of them being White men.

Dance and music was also greatly influenced by African-Americans and still is today. Dance forms such as the Charleston, jitterbug, swing, hip-hop, breakdancing and twerking are of Black origin. Instruments such as the banjo were of West African origin and were commonplace in early African-American music. The musical art forms of jazz, country, gospel, spirituals, rock and roll, funk, blues, soul, rhythm and blues (R&B), hip-hop, reggae, disco, house, techno and trap were all products of African diaspora in the Americas. Linguistics also were influenced by Black Americans, terms such as OK, cool, hot, phoney, boogie-woogie, jive, juke(box), dig (to understand), and rap were adopted into American English[2].

Apart from Black and Native American influences on American culture, Latino influence is also present in modern American culture, especially due to increase in immigration. Mexican food has become a popular staple in American dining. Foods such as tortilla chips, guacamole, salsa, and tacos are among some of the most popular snacks in the US[3]. Latin American music is also becoming a part of American musical styling, being incorporated into blues, disco, rock, jazz, and hip hop[4].

Middle Easterners and Asians have also shown to be an influence on American culture. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Thai foods and chopsticks have already been adapted into American cuisine. Kung fu, samurai and anime films are incredibly popular forms of entertainment. The influence of Asian designs in the arts are also present as shown with the increase of anime-influenced American animations and origami being taught in elementary schools. Many fashion brands are utilizing Middle Eastern, Indian and East Asian designs, aesthetics and patterns into their clothing. Middle Eastern and Asian sounds are becoming more common in many popular music forms such as pop, hip hop, rock and R&B.

So with all of the non-European influences in American culture and the positive effects that immigration has had to develop the unique identity that the United States holds, why would encouraging isolationism and bigotry make America “great”? The most exceptional aspect of American society was its diversity and multiculturalism. The US has profited from the creativity and labors of all of its peoples regardless of their color or origin. Though the amount of credit given to minorities has historically been little to none. Donald Trump and his followers in my humble opinion, do not understand what really makes America a “great” country. Reviving bigotry, racism, tribalism, isolationism, and sexism certainly will not make this country better. This instead will we bring this country down and reverse all the hard work that many activists and intellectuals have put in to better the state of this country for all individuals.

If we truly want to make America great again, let us be more tolerant, more open-minded, more patient and more willing to discuss and cooperate with each other to create a society which can benefit everyone.


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