Anyone who was milling around the counter-protesters at Sunday's "Unite the Right 2" rally in Washington, D.C., might have overheard the incessant chants from a small group of Revolutionary Communist Party members, one of which concluded with the line "five, six, seven, eight, America was never great."
It's the kind of commentary one would expect from Marxist demonstrators. It's more surprising to hear it come from the mouth of a sitting governor up for re-election, and who might well be mulling a 2020 run for president.
"We're not going to make America great again," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday at a bill signing ceremony. "It was never that great. We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged."
The line drew a mix of gasps and claps from the audience, some of whom clearly appreciated Cuomo's #resistance bravado. Others were likely a little offended at the governor ragging on the entire country.
The comment has naturally torn through conservative media as well, earning write-ups at Foxnews.com, The Federalist, and The Free Beacon, as well as a number of sarcastic jabs on Twitter from people who suggested the governor use the line for his own, much-speculated-about 2020 presidential run.
Seems like a winning 2020 slogan https://t.co/SaqochciO8
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) August 15, 2018
Bold strategy, Cotton. https://t.co/HoUhqPYHcu
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) August 15, 2018
Cuomo has since tried to walk back his comment with a statement saying that while America is in fact great, it could also be a lot better.
CUOMO's office clarifies:
"Governor Cuomo disagrees with the President. The Governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman, and child has full equality. America has not yet reached its maximum potential."
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) August 15, 2018
I think few people would disagree that a lot of things in America are not quite reaching their "maximum potential," and it's surely no sin to criticize the bizarrely nationalistic and backward-looking slogan of our current president, especially when it is invoked to justify pointless trade wars and immigration restrictions.
Nevertheless, Cuomo's statement does deserve a little bit of piling on, if only because I see in it the same dangerous, illiberal idea that undergirds all of Trump's #MAGA shouting. Both statements are predicated on the idea that it is the role of politicians to make America the right amount of great. For Trump, that means reclaiming an idealized past that never actually existed for white people and was actually a lot worse for most non-white Americans. For Cuomo, making American great means something seemingly more anodyne, but also way less specific. (Really, what is engagement? What is "full equality"?)
The latter might sound a bit better were it not for the fact that Cuomo—in full campaign mode as he fights off primary challenger Cynthia Nixon—can't help but tie making America great again to his own political fortunes. Reelecting Cuomo gets you the greatness. No Cuomo, no greatness.
Whether they want to make American great again or the first time, every politician who believes your and my success depends on theirs generally wants to prove it to us by doing something upon assuming office. Often times, they want to do many somethings. Cuomo, while hardly as left-wing as those chanting RCP members, has never shied away from using the government to shape New York in his image, whether that involves banning plastic bags, giving out tax credits for every activity under the sun, preserving net neutrality, cracking down on fraternity initiation rituals, or doing "something" about gun violence.
These are small potatoes compared to Trump's MAGA-inspired trade wars, but American politics are trending towards upping the intervention ante. Both parties are pushing for increasingly more government, not less. We should all be worried about any politician who says they'll make things great. Chances are they won't.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.