Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate. One may wonder how things have gotten to this, but it’s not that hard to understand, just hard to accept.
There is a good side to this. Ted Cruz will not be the next president. We may see him try again, but not this time. All the rest of the slate that began last year has fallen by the wayside and rarely have we seen a scarier bunch of potentials. It’s not even so much their policies as that they seemed so incredibly unintelligent and uninformed.
But this is America and if it’s one thing we have plenty of it is unintelligent and uniformed people. Someone has to represent them, I suppose.
Not that Trump is any better. In fact, he’s become representative of the fact that for some people the less substantive content you put out there, the more you’re liked.
His tag line has been Make America Great Again.
I hate that line. We’ve seen it before, it’s not like Trump is doing anything original here, but it doesn’t matter who uses it, I find it offensive.
Not, for anyone who might challenge me, because I wish my country not be great, but because that line is a fraud.
First, it assumes we’re not. Great, that is. In order to make that claim you have to define what you mean by Great. Right there we run into a problem. Great by what metric? According to who? In what way? Define your terms. What do you mean when you suggest that we are not great?
And you then run into the million-issue problem. What I might mean by the term is not what you mean. And what you mean might be cause for me to reject that definition.
But set that aside for the moment. Assume your terms. Next, you have to explain why we are no longer that. Why aren’t we great, even according to your values?
Then look around and see how true it is, what you believe. Don’t rely on that guy behind the podium to tell you what’s wrong, go see for yourself. If you know how to google at all, do some research. Or go to some community center meetings. Or, for the love of the future, read something other than the usual feel-good screed. Stop watching Fox news.
And get some perspective. History, oft-neglected and painfully necessary, goes a long way to bleeding off the panic of current-affair myopia.
But I suspect the people really supporting Trump will not do that. If it was in them to do so, they would not be supporting him. They would recognize the jingoism, the empty emotionalism, the patriotic deceptiveness. But it also means they have no idea what he’s actually saying that is getting them so pumped.
Replace one word in his tagline and it makes perfect sense. He’s not challenging his base to Make America Great Again, he’s challenging them to Make America White Again.
Several years ago I wrote an essay about the blowback on the part of the extreme Right against social change. I asked what it is these people are so frightened of and I suggested that what really bothers them is that they don’t like the way their country looks anymore. It’s pretty much that simple. They don’t like gay people living right out in the open, they don’t like women holding certain jobs and having their own lives, they don’t like the fashions, the food, and they certainly don’t like the banners raised protesting what they never thought were such bad things—like big banks, segregation, and constant war.
They certainly don’t like the complexion of the country these last few decades. It’s why they often can’t tell the difference between a citizen and a terrorist when their skin color or choice of attire is at odds with what they think America ought to look like.
I’m simplifying, of course, but only in the details. As individuals, everyone has their own trigger for intolerance. But when you look at Trump’s rhetoric and the things he gets cheered about and the reactions of his fans, it’s fairly clear that, however one might dress that pig up in pseudo-intellectual drag, it comes down to white people scared of colored people, be they Mexicans, Syrians, Asians, Africans, or Native Americans.
So Making America Great Again seems to be code for making things so we don’t have to pay any attention to Other People—their rights, their cultures, their privileges, their needs, or how they might have reasonable grievances against Business-As-Usual Americanism. It’s code for trying to make the country resemble what we think it was like just after World War II, with Frederick March coming home to the wife and the picket fence.
You may think I’m being facetious, but I’m not. As Tom Brokaw showed us, there is a Greatest Generation aspect to that entire period. It was one time in our whole history when we seemed to be all on the same page and everyone pulled together and things were simple and when the War was over we were “blessed” with an explosive economy and just gushing oodles of righteous purpose. WWII and the Fifties are this monumental epoch that we worship, idolize, and compare ourselves to constantly. If only we could return to those days, when everything was so simple and we knew who we were.
That is the image, I believe, intended by all the politicians who use that line and accepted by all the people who swallow it and follow along.
There was something special about that era.
But we can’t have it anymore. We aren’t those people, the world is not that place anymore, and things aren’t like they used to be.
In short, we have to find a new standard for Great. That one was used and belongs to another time. And forcing the country into some kind of mold so it kinda sorta resembles that just because the future frightens you is, well, infantile.
Besides, it wasn’t all that great then, either. It was just that certain issues were so big as to dwarf the other things that needed fixing. We were segregated, civil rights were not equally distributed or accepted, many women lacked the opportunity to be their own selves, and poverty still clung to vast areas,mainly in the South. We had problems, some of them the same ones we have now.
Things aren’t like they were in the “good ol’ days”—and they never were.
But myth has momentum (and creates inertia) and we take from the past what we need to dream a new future. That future, no matter what, will be different and many people will be afraid of it, no matter how shiny it looks.
You can’t maintain a civilization based on fear of change. Change happens whether we want it to or not. We have one choice—be part of it or try to stop it. If we’re part of it, we can help shape it. If we try to stop it, we will be run over and forgotten.
As far as I’m concerned, what’s great about this country is that we can, if we want, make a wonderful and wonder-filled future. We’re not bereft of talent and imagination or resources. We have everything we need to build a really cool tomorrow. What makes America Great is what has always made it great—the potential of its people. I get up in the morning and I can live and work with great people. I can find and enjoy great art, music, I can eat well, I can think crazy thoughts and sometimes do something amazing because that’s the heritage I choose to recognize. In that sense, we don’t need to be made Great Again—we are, have been, and will be.
But some people seem to believe that greatness is measured by military strength, social conformism, high-minded bigotry, and constant paeons to nationalistic bombast. They believe it’s us bullying the rest of the world and telling poor people to just get a job. It’s size and influence and the ability to order other countries around. It’s a willingness to reach for a gun at the first hiccup in diplomacy. And it’s inculcated in nurturing a wealthy class that has no regard for anyone else anywhere else as long as the GDP keeps going up, in spite of the consequences to the environment and working people.
That’s not greatness. That’s just size. And arrogance.
So I’m not inclined to accept Mr. Trump’s challenge, because on the one hand it’s without meaning to me. On the other, I’m not sure we could survive being that great.