Do you remember the “Got Milk?” ad campaign? Of course you do. How could you not? It is possibly the most ripped off slogan of all time, going on 25 years. Has there ever been an ad campaign so widely appropriated by just about every special interest under the sun as this one? It was tailor made for personalizing by simply changing the noun. We’ve all seen musical artists, lawn care, auto repair shops, and plenty other ventures insert their brand into it. The Goodby Silverstein & Partners marketing firm which created “Got Milk”, must be incredibly proud of its pop cultural reach. That has to be the shiniest trophy on their mantle.
But hold on. It seems a new contender has emerged in the wake of the 2016 political season – “Make America Great Again”. I’m no longer overtly a Republican. However, my right of center proclivity appreciates the snappy jingoism of President Trump’s campaign slogan. Borrowed from Ronald Reagan, I think it can be co-opted just as widely as the Got Milk? campaign. Just replace “America” and insert your special interest.
In fact, I have already found myself doing so. On a recent trip to the north woods, my family and I pulled into the tiny town of Grantsburg, Wisconsin looking to get some lunch. We found it in a small, nondescript cafe wedged into the main street strip with the equally nondescript customers and staff. Good food, good service, reasonable prices. Everyday life for these fine folks. By cafe practice, our son even won a dollar from the cash register because the gumball machine gods dispensed a “green” ball for his .25 cents. After finishing the satisfying meal, and examining the local history chronicled on the walls by photos and news clippings, I found myself basking …. and thinking….”Make Small Town U.S.A Great Again!”.
As a transplant from a similar blip on the map to the “big city”, I’m increasingly hungry for a return to this heartland lifestyle. Not just for myself and my family, but for America. I’m referring to small town U.S.A. where people know your name…… or at least who you’re related to.
I truly believe America was better, GREATER, when its small towns were a vital part of the national fabric. Small town churches, small town families, small town values, small town economies, small town accountability.
Accountability builds character. And we as a nation are sorely lacking in both. Character builds respectable people which in turn builds strong communities with honest businesses and trustworthy employees.
But wait. Accountability? Ahhhh yes…. the dreaded “A” word. The word that makes many people roll their impetuous eyes. The regular jab at small town America is that “everybody knows everybody else’s business”. That is an exaggeration. But in tiny towns like Grantsburg, there is also a bit of truth to it. While it is meant as a slander, I consider it a good and Godly aspect of community. Accountability is a powerful force when it is exercised. That is because accountability is closely tied to another powerful force – shame. Without a sense of accountability and shame, our sin nature (usually referred to as human nature) runs amok. When you see someone who’s life is a mess, the lack of these conscience driven forces is usually part of the problem. Sadly, these fundamental elements of civilization are a dying breed in our era of “if it feels good, do it” moral relativism.
And that is partially why we need to revitalize our small towns. By default, accountability comes with the territory of small town life. It’s a built in “honor system”. If you behave like a buffoon, the community around you is going to know about it. If you lie, cheat, steal, get drunk or stoned out of your mind, generally act a fool, commit adultery etc, many are going to suspect. Some will flat out know what you have been up to. This tends to impart a sense of shame. In the large population centers like the Twin Cities, you can embarrass yourself in public, and then become virtually invisible with your reputation in tact. Your neighbors won’t ever know. No need to feel ashamed for poor behavior. No repercussions in casual relationships, employment, or possibly business dealings. That buffer is a “luxury” not afforded to you in a small town. Thank God for it.
Accountability builds character. And we as a nation are sorely lacking in both. Character builds respectable people which in turn builds strong communities with honest businesses and trustworthy employees. This is basically impossible to achieve in the city to the same degree. Its’s not fool proof in the small town environment, but its there.
Unfortunately, one of the many ill effects of the Industrial Revolution of course is that it has herded us like sheep to slaughter into large urban areas. Myself included. This has robbed the once thriving local economies of small town America, and the character building that it spawns. Its a devilish chicken and the egg scenario. Simply put, little commerce, little business opportunity. Little business opportunity, few livable wage jobs. Few livable wage jobs, no work force. No work force, little commerce.
This has been an obvious fact for decades as small towns have been pared down to a shell of their former selves. The tiny burgs where your kid can win a dollar for getting a green gumball are running on fumes. Some get by on seasonal tourism and basic services. Others become ghost town like retirement communities. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. It’s hard to not also recognize the accompanying generational decline in the moral character, the “greatness” of our nation. Its imperative that we recapture the treasures of the past: religious faith, honor, integrity, trustworthiness, intellectual honesty, and of course accountability and shame.
Making America Great Again begins with making Small Town U.S.A. great again.