College of the Canyons (COC) professors and students packed into a classroom on the Valencia campus Wednesday to dialogue about the history of American values, the current state of affairs and the meaning of what makes America great.
The “What Makes America Great” Forum, presented by COC’s Institute of Ethics, Law and Public Policy, consisted of four speakers and a Q&A session that examined America’s political culture.
“I’ve always felt that what made America great was we have these amazing principles that are developed values in our Constitution,” said Kevin Anthony, director of the Institute and COC’s Hotel and Restaurant Management department chair. “If we can take those principles and make them our own values and exercise them, I think that’s where our greatness lies.”
During the two-hour discussion, students and professors explored the core principles of the Constitution, the value of America’s diversity, the recent presidential election, the influence of corporations and the media and the responsibility of elected officials.
“I think everyone here believes America is powerful. Great can mean powerful, it can mean good,” said David Andrus, chair of COC’s political science department. “The values we believe in are the foundation for what makes America great, and are lived and realized through the United States Constitution.”
Chris Blakey, chair of COC’s philosophy department, opened up the conversation with a question about what the meaning of greatness is and what it means for America to be great.
“We, as a nation, have recently come through an election cycle when the candidate who ended up winning used the slogan ‘Make America Great Again,’ as in we will or I will make America again, or we need to make America great again,” he said. “To say something is great it seems to imply we’re saying the thing is distinguished in a positive way.”
Blakey also asked the audience to think about what specific characteristics a nation needs for greatness, what the nation does and should value, what is worth working toward, what is worth sacrificing for and what the nation needs to preserve moving forward.
Andrus then detailed the history and foundation of American principles as explained through Enlightenment values—expressed through thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—in the United States Constitution.
“Primary outcomes of that is this idea that individuals matter. It isn’t so much about the government being great, it’s about America and the constitution and the ideas from the Enlightenment and what they enable us to be able to do and express every day in this country,” Andrus said. “What makes America great certainly has a lot to do with Americans and how thy use their freedoms.”
Majid Mosleh, a COC political science professor and career advisor, then identified what are the most fundamental elements of America’s democratic society that make it great.
These elements included the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, the division of power, private property and economic promise.
“I am of the opinion that America has always been perceived by many people being a great society, a unique society and an exceptional society,” Mosleh said. “Some great ideals of American ideology include ideas of equality, that the intrinsic worth of each person should be seen as equal, individual rights and freedom.”
At the end of the opening, Lisa Hooper, a COC kinesiology professor, weaved all of the comments together to determine what ideas are essential to America’s image, which included freedom, diversity, strength, innovation and opportunity.
“Freedom of speech… The space and the encouragement to speak your mind and to have an opinion and to have a platform to voice your opinion, that’s an essential part of the American culture,” she said.
This forum also included input from students who exchanged ideas with the professors and wrote down their beliefs of what made America great. Overwhelmingly, the audience believed it was America’s diversity that made it great.
“We’re privileged to be pursuing diversity and an understanding of all the diverse components of a multicultural society and a very dynamic society, but then the question come is how well are we doing and how well does everyone actually appreciate diversity,” Andrus said.
The panelists also discussed the importance of a diversity of ideas from individuals, the media and third party candidates.
“I would argue that there are certain institutions in the United States political system, including the media, that need to assume greater responsibility, the same rule applies to policy holders,” Mosleh said.
Hooper argued that this lack of diversity in culture and age may have contributed to some Americans, particularly college-aged students, feeling like their particular values were not being represented in the political sphere.
“To me, what is important is protecting American national interest and I’m not convinced that some people in positions of power are really looking after America’s national interest,” Mosleh said. “That’s why I think a lot of folks in America are beginning to lose faith of leadership in Washington.”
Others stated that citizens need to pursue the concept of “positive freedom” or doing what one knows is right and good for the country at all times.
“I would close with the phrase’ we the people.’ America is supposed to be a nation that wants to hear from its people,” Blakey said. “Those people [elected officials] need to work for the people and they need to start listening to each other and go back to compromise and getting things done.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_