I have contemplated, for a while, what “Great Again” means in Trump’s world. My conclusion, based on what he says and what he does, is that he promises a return to a time that, if you were white and, more or less, middle class and up, existed only in our minds and the protected comfort of our homes, families and friends.
The promise of Trump’s “Great Again” suggests that he is going to return us to a time of “Father Knows Best”, “Make Room for Daddy” and “Leave It to Beaver” where the worst thing in our life is the occasional Eddie Haskell to get us into “mischief” or if “Kitten” were to stomp her foot. Anyone of us who watched those shows knew that they were not realistic, then, much less now. We did not live in a time where every problem resolved itself in half an hour. Not everyone lived in the perfect family with its 2 or 3 perfect children who only showed respect.
What most of us remember is the relative safety of our lives and my friends and I remember being able to ride our bicycles all over town to the pool, once it re-opened after the polio vaccine made it safe again, to play baseball, football or other sports, to visit our friends. The most dangerous thing was crossing Highway 280 and the most difficult was riding up the hills on Columbus Street without having to walk your bicycle.
The Great Again being promised did not exist if you were poor, or, especially, black.
During my childhood—I am in my 70’s now—there were posted signs pointing out white only water fountains, restrooms, waiting rooms and the like, with the attendant “colored” signs designed to make sure that everyone knew there were separate rules. We went to segregated schools. Remember this was a time of “segregation forever”, where the politicians refused to comply with the law and blamed minorities for their failures—sound familiar.
If black people lost track of their “place”, there was the KKK to burn a cross and remind them of their place, there were church bombings to make sure these same black people knew there were consequences to their uppity actions, when black people marched peacefully asking only to be given the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, they were met with fire hoses, police dogs, tear gas and police batons.
While there were schools that were supposed to be “separate but equal”, the schools while separate were certainly not equal. The schools made available to black children were, more often than not, rundown, poorly heated and ill-equipped. When school books were provided, the schools for black children were often given too few books, not to mention out of date books.
When the U.S. Supreme Court declare “separate but equal” unconstitutional and ordered the desegregation of schools, it took decades and, often, the National Guard, to enforce the law. Quite honestly, desegregation continues to be an issue for a wholly different set of reasons.
These same black people were called dogs, rats and all manner of subhuman in order to send the message that they weren’t like “real Americans”, namely, white people. Those descriptions are now used by the man promising “Great Again” to describe immigrants and, while he talks in terms of people who come to this country illegally, he has thought nothing of using those terms to describe anyone with a foreign, especially Hispanic, sounding name—remember the Federal Judge, who was an American citizen, by birth, but came from Hispanic roots.
The Great Again being sold is a promise that cannot be kept, but serves only to play to fears. We have politicians who call Hispanics the same names that their predecessors called black people and who refer to African countries as “shit holes”, because they do not have the benefits we enjoy and, oh yeah, they look different than the one’s doing the talking. What “Great Again” is really saying is, “When will these people learn their place.”
My concern with the “Great Again” concept is that the rhetoric that drives it has nothing to do with great, it has to do with calling upon the fears and prejudices of a time that exists only in our childhood memories. Memories driven by our very protected upbringing, memories that allow us to conveniently forget how others, who looked different, lived during that time. Great Again plays that tune now and directs it against a new group that the powerful seek to marginalize.
The time of “Great Again” also included the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy and, of course, five little girls in a Birmingham church. That doesn’t even count the people killed in the voting rights campaigns.
Lest we forget, the War in Vietnam happened in the “Great Again” time longed for by so many. It, as we now know, was based on a lie, but nonetheless over 58,000 men and women died there. It, also, led to protests and the sometime violent conflict between protesters and police. Those protestors were called names and met with violence—remember Kent State.
If your “Great Again” means people who look, speak, or think differently; whose politics disagree with yours, or who you want to “know their place”—and that place is most certainly not living in your neighborhood, going to your church or aspiring to something better than they have now, then your definition of great is seriously distorted.
The “Great Again” mentality would have us believe that the world had no oppression, no violence, no disagreement during the time of segregation and “white” & “colored” rules, when “people of color” were systematically denied the right to vote, serve on juries and boundaries were gerrymandered for the purpose of denying certain people representation. The “Great Again” being sold today is a promise devoid of truth.
If denigrating people with stereotypes and prejudice is what it takes to be “Great Again”, count me out and if you, as someone who holds yourself out to be a decent human being, thinks it’s okay, then I suggest you take a look in the history books and then in the mirror.
NOTE: I first started this essay when most attacks were directed at the people coming across the southern border, but in the last several weeks, it is clear that the unresolved issues, particularly, of the integration into our communities of the same people who faced dogs and firehoses during my childhood, dog us even now.
“Great Again” would have us believe that it is the answer, but “Great Again” has this week sought to stoke the fears of those who were “safe” with the idea that “those people” are coming. “Great Again” suggests that it has the answer, but in real time “Great Again” has shown us only confrontation and oppression, using mercenaries to kidnap peaceful protestors off the streets, using troops and tear gas for a photo op at a church that “Great Again” does not attend.
Great cannot be achieved by going back, or doing something again. Great can only be achieved by going forward, by acknowledging that problems continue to exist, by admitting that no one person has all of the answers and by realizing that the “Great Again” being sold is nothing more than a repackaging of old failed ideas.
John F. Kennedy, when talking of going to the moon, said we would do it, not because it was easy, but because it was difficult and we did the difficult. Going forward to be actually great and achieve the promise of this country will be difficult. It will require vision and fortitude and the “Great Again” being sold now, has neither. It is a dangerous look backward.