No modern political slogan has endured quite as long and effectively as Donald Trump’s 2016 rallying cry, “Make America Great Again.” People adorn those four words, or the acronym MAGA, on their hats, shirts, and cars. Politicians jockey to define themselves with it: you are either a MAGA Republican or you’re not. 

But… why should America be great? And should we strive for greatness or something better?

When the French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1830s, America was not “great” in the sense we think of that word today. Territorially, it was a shadow of its current self. Texas and California still belonged to Mexico, and Alaska was owned by the Russians. A financial crisis in 1837 sparked an economic depression that lasted into the 1840s. 

The hideous stench of slavery hung over the nation.

Yet, de Tocqueville saw something else. He looked past what we were doing and peered into what we believed. The famous quote ascribed to him is one he never uttered or wrote, “America is great because she is good.” 

Two British ministers, Andrew Reed and James Matheson, used words similar to those misattributed to de Tocqueville: “America will be great if America is good. If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud.”

De Tocqueville would undoubtedly have echoed that sentiment. In the American character, he—like those two visiting pastors—saw a yearning to be something better than it was. 

He wrote: “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. … How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? and what can be done with a people which is its own master, if it be not submissive to the Divinity?”

Depending on how one defines “great,” other nation-states have claimed that badge: Macedonia, China, Rome, Spain, England, France, and even Germany. They all fell away, many to destruction.

Why should we be different? Because, to borrow from that misattributed line, we should be committed to being good.

And it does depend on how we define “great.”

Our republic’s greatness is measured not by our geographic size, military might, or economic prowess. 

We should fight to make our self-governing republic great by individually seeking God’s righteousness. That will not happen because we “elect the right man” but rather because we hold each other personally accountable to ever-greater standards of submissiveness to God’s word.

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