Jack Ohman

America is great, and I’ll tell you why

In Donald Trump’s nocturnal Twitter spewings about Making America Great Again, a salient fact is dramatically missing from what’s passing for dialogue.

America is great already.

Very, very great, if you will. So great. Fantastically, terrifically great. Bigly great, even.

America is also flawed. It’s deeply flawed in many ways. But, at least, the idea of America isn’t deeply flawed. The execution is often flawed.

Still, this meme persists. We’re not great anymore.

Listing all the reasons why America is great falls on deaf ears to millions of Americans, and, frankly, to millions of Americans for whom America has worked very well.

For those of whom it hasn’t been great, well, thankfully there are still millions of Americans who want to help them.

Those who think America isn’t great should talk to someone I met a few months ago.

She is 49 and works at Lilly’s Hair Design on Freeport. Her name is Kelly. She’s a Vietnamese immigrant who came to the U.S. in 2000.

Her husband was an electrician, but he was badly injured and now, at 55, can’t work. She keeps cutting hair, doing manicures and pedicures, and plucking eyebrows.

This is very hard work, if you think about it – standing all day, repetitive motion, or waiting for the next person to come in and give you $12.

Some of the women stylists, who are either Chinese or Vietnamese, bring their children into work. Child care is expensive. The kids seem to be happy and safe. One of them is a 1-year-old.

When Kelly was 1, she had a very different experience.

Her terrified mother was carrying Kelly around Vietnam during the 1968 Tet Offensive, a hideous hell that left tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians dead.

She tried to describe B-52s and it took me awhile to understand she was saying “bombers” as she kept pointing at the ceiling.

I tried to engage her in a discussion about the political motives behind the Vietnam War. She had never heard of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon. I showed her a photo of JFK. Nope. Never heard of him.

You see, the political aspect of the Vietnam War wasn’t really her concern or her mother’s. They were just dodging bombs falling from the sky. She has no recollection of the politics.

She cuts hair, trims nails and plucks eyebrows of a lot of different people: people more like her and some people like me, privileged white affluent males who did not dodge bombs dropped from B-52s in 1968.

There is a photo of me taken at Christmas in 1968, smiling broadly and holding a toy plastic M-16 and wearing a toy helmet, and I am sure I enjoyed endless hours of pretending to be in the Vietnam War.

She wasn’t pretending.

When Kelly got to the United States, she told me that families back in Vietnam would not tell anyone they had relatives who emigrated to America. Why?

Because they would be killed.

When I hear Trump talking about how America isn’t great anymore, and how it should be great again like it was back in 1968 or 1955 or 1861, I think of Kelly as an infant being hauled around by her mother, who was trying to keep her baby alive.

Kelly is why America is great. It’s great because Kelly works hard and doesn’t complain.

It’s great because we opened our arms to Kelly, and she didn’t even get a million dollars from her dad to start a real estate business. Oh, and she put three kids through college.

America is great, right now.

Despite what you’ve heard.

  Comments