Nostalgia is a powerful emotion and MAGA—MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN– has been a powerful weapon for Trump and his forces. But of course it doesn’t hold up under more than two seconds’ scrutiny.
Just when was that great America we want to go back to?
That great period energized, for some anyway, by the pursuit of our Manifest Destiny of European development of this continent coast to coast? (But what about that business plan including near genocide and slavery?)
The late 19th century period of industrialization when railroads were pushed across the West to reach the Pacific? The early 20th century until the Roaring Twenties ran headlong into the Great Depression? (But what about then unprecedented income inequality, unregulated exploitation of workers by rich men we call “robber barons,” the Jim Crow legacy of slavery, lynchings, the heyday of the KKK?)
The fifties then. That must be what the MAGA folks have in mind. The depression behind us and victorious in a terrible war, a decade of relative prosperity for some, a rising tide. But surely Trump would not return us to the ongoing segregation and lynchings, the pre-Women’s Movement version of domestic life, back alley abortions, unequal rights for women.
True, that was also a period of labor flexing its rights. And the courageous start to the civil rights movement. But that’s probably not the sort of greatness Trump and supporters are thinking about.
In fact who these days could with good conscience and without historical amnesia recall fondly any of the previous eras. Every candidate for earlier greatness was as terrible as it was great.
Actually, this year of 2020, as counterintuitive as it seems, is arguably the closest we have come to greatness. Never, except perhaps during those other troubled times the 1930s and 1960s, have we faced more squarely so many problematic aspects of American society and institutions. If online polls are to be believed, never have we been more unified in our idea of what represents progress and genuine greatness.
May this election come down to a referendum on what constitutes the real direction forward: Healthcare as a human right as in every other country with which we compare ourselves, an improved Obamacare at least. Vs .GOP’s determined efforts to take us back to the good old pre-Obamacare days of healthcare as a privilege of those who can afford it, tens of millions uncovered and exemptions for preexisting conditions exemptions.
Reproductive rights of women vs. GOPs goal of reversing Roe v Wade and returning us to the he victimization of women in the long dark past of abortion.
Heartfulness and inclusivity for Blacks, women, gays, transgender people, and people fleeing other countries for their lives vs.white supremacy and other forms of exclusivity and hate.
Taking the increasingly obvious problem of human-created climate change seriously vs. returning to a period when we didn’t have to think about such stuff.
Sharing the wealth of the nation more equally vs. the growing inequality of the past 45 years or so to the point where we have de facto rule by the very rich.
Polls (available online) show that all of these ideas of progress are held by the great majority of Americans. The fact that the current administration in returning us to an imaginary former greatness has done its best to reverse every one suggests that we have become that strange thing, an unrepresentative democracy, a democracy in which the minority rules.
Progress would be making changes to the Electoral College, Senate, and Supreme Court appointments necessary to ensure that commonsense definition of democracy as majority rule.
It is important to be armed in this momentous election (and whatever struggle ensues) with a strong notion of what constitutes progress in this life of ours.
This is doubtless a dangerous moment for our country and individual lives. But—if we survive it– a greater America than we’ve known is within reach.