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American greatness, once self-evident and plainly delineated, has deliquesced into a thing at once debatable and obscure.

Defining it in the modern milieu is daunting. One wing or another of the ideological divide presents increasingly divergent answers. Those committed to such foggy old concepts as civility and rationality hardly know any longer, nor might they hazard a guess for fear of offending the perpetually offended.

By objective measure, American greatness is lost in a mist of self-delusion. The United States ranks high in the civilized world in violence and imprisonment and low in literacy and heath care efficiency. America spends prodigiously but produces little. Soon, China will be the world’s largest economy, snatching from the United States one of its few remaining titles of import and last vestiges of dominance.

One might suggest this year’s coronavirus pandemic and racial tension have done little to help the country. Such a view represents the kind of myopia that has wobbled America in the first place. Greatness is defined in no small part by response to adversity. The ills of 2020 are symptomatic not just of a country that has lost its way but of a people who have lost their way.

This is demonstrated by the uncertainty that has sent a pall cascading over the land. However one defines it, America greatness at its apex was exemplified by her people, who brimmed with a self-confidence matched only by their consistency in justifying it. Europe could not slow the Nazi wave, but the Unites States did. The French could not complete the Panama Canal, but the United States did. The United States was first in flight, first to the moon, first with cellphones, first with submarines, first with the internet and the list could extend down the page and across it.

Americans excelled. They outworked and outperformed the world. That combination fueled a fervent inner belief, a knowledge, a certainty that any challenge could be conquered.

President Bill Clinton was many things despicable, but he captured part of the essence of American greatness in his 1993 inaugural statement: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what’s right with America.”

That day and those words are cast deep into history, and history is easily erased when it never has been known. In that condition, facts are never learned, including these:

No single figure propelled the United States to its position as the world’s mightiest economic and military superpower.

Evil is a force in every society, this one and every other. It can only be subdued. If one form of it is eradicated, another will grow. When the United States confronted the great evil of the 20th century, no single figure achieved victory, Americans working in unison did, at home and across the seas, men and women, people of all races and ethnicities and people of all religions and some none at all. And even they did not do it alone. They did it working hand in hand with allies, with their friends from around the world.

No presidential candidate, incumbent or contending, can cure what is wrong with the United States now. Greatness is forged in the character of the people of this country, not in that of the transient figure occupying the executive office.

Time is dwindling for the United States to turn from the path down which it now wanders, that followed by other former world powers. If we want true greatness, we the people, no matter our color or creed, will have to link hands and produce it together, or together we will fall.