The president wants the United States to be “great again.” I wonder to what era in our history he would have us return. We could start at the beginning. Those were lofty times. We rebelled against a monarchy. We blazed new trails into a great wilderness, we whooped the butts of those soldiers dressed in snazzy red coats, we created a democracy. But we also built it on the backs of slaves and we stole the lands of those who were already here.

We Americans take our history for granted; many of us know almost nothing about it. But we sure are wistful in our stated respect for it. We pledge allegiance to a flag. We get angry when people raise a fist or kneel during our National Anthem. Some of us even wear hats emblazoned with “Make America Great Again.” If we have any respect for the facts about our history, we would have a difficult time identifying an era when we were, indeed, so great. There were the days of the “Robber Barons” of the industrial revolution where a fortunate few exploited themany, amassing great wealth on the backs of the workers. There is the long history of racism that enabled Jim Crow, segregation and awful incidents like the massacre of Black Americans and the torching of their entire community in Tulsa. There were the all-too-frequent military interventions in sovereign nations like Chile, El Salvador, Vietnam and Iraq. There is the refusal to accept the nearly unanimous agreement of the scientific community worldwide that we are baking our planet, putting thehuman species and many others at risk.

Now, the folks who brought us “Make America Great Again” want us to mothball that message in favor of “Keep America Great.” I’m sorry, but that notion is, simply, nuts. This is the darkest period in our history. We are a great people. We as a nation have done great things. But our government is a disaster.

This pandemic is a scourge. Health experts agree that, if we had taken steps early on to stop its spread, tens of thousands of American lives would have been spared. Instead, we were told it was a hoax and it would be over by the “end of the week.” I think we could make the case that someone very high up in our government should be tried for manslaughter, if not genocide.

Because an ego was at stake, we allowed the economy to tank almost overnight. Millions of Americans, if they evade the deadliness of the virus, have not been able to avoid the ravages of an economy in complete collapse.

We have no friends left in the world. We have insulted them, turned on them, lied to them and embarrassed ourselves in front of them.

We have opened that ugly wound of racism that we have never really allowed to heal and poured salt on it. No, more like acid. And today, rogue cops are doing the lynching, all documented by video evidence. Instead of hearing calls for national reckoning, we are watching federal “agents” being turned against people whose only crime is to walk the streets exercising their constitutional right to free speech.

Amazingly, it is our corporate leaders who are heroically calling for moral sanity. They are using the power of their immense resources to stand up and point out how lost we are given the number of wrong turns we have made. And when the generals refuse to obey the orders of their commander-in-chief, we have to thank them for their righteousness but shake our heads in wonder at how we got to this point.

Whether it is “Make America Great Again” or “Keep America Great,” we are fooling ourselves. It’s long past time to retire that slogan. Our country has been divided, people left to die, our standing in the world destroyed, our economy in a shambles. The ticking of the clock on the warming of the planet has been ignored. It feels like every single element of progress has been repealed. Executive authority, like that modeled by our first president, has been abused. We have abandoned our friends, made friends of our enemies. We have pitted black against white, north against south, native against migrant, city versus suburb. And, on top of it all, the lies. We can no longer believe a word being said.

We are not a great nation. We are a nation in peril.

Mr. President, you have no idea what it means to be great. Let’s just hope your fellow Americans understand, even if you don’t,that we are all in this together. That we are better than this. That great nations don’t turn on their own people or leave them behind. And great leaders don’t lie. Please. Let’s learn from our past and work toward a better future, striving to be great. For once.