Alan Zendell, July 15, 2018
Donald Trump famously began his presidential campaign with his signature slogan, “Make America Great Again” combined with a virulent attack against Muslim immigrants. When he went on to attack Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, he was accused of being a racist. But while the connection in Trump’s mind between making America great and immigration was obvious, most of us didn’t grasp the broader implications then.
I suggested early on that Trump was not a racist, but was in fact something worse: a panderer who was willing to appeal to racists, white supremacists, and other assorted Despicables to win their votes. I wasn’t wrong in that assessment, but I too missed the point, and it’s taken until now to finally begin to grasp it.
Trump’s administration has been marked by a soaring stock market, a tax law that significantly enriched the already wealthy while throwing a small bone to the middle class and working people, and a couple of intensely fought attempts to reduce health care options for people who depend on help from state, local, or federal government programs. There has been a constant and loud appeal to seal our southern border and to assure that America will no longer be a haven for refugees and asylum seekers.
I hear that our military has been strengthened, but I cannot identify what that means specifically. And at the same time that we’re allegedly strengthening our strategic ability to defend ourselves, our administration has relentlessly attacked our allies and weakened our treaty commitments. We have withdrawn from international attempts to achieve barrier-free trade and protect our environment, and the political rhetoric out of Washington sounds more isolationist than it has in a hundred years.
That sounds like a pretty diverse basket of unrelated events and policies, but there is a subtle common thread that clarifies what Trump really means by making America great again. The key word in his motto is “again,” because Trump believes the country has lost its way and ought to return to what it was in an earlier time. But most of us who’ve been around for a few decades know the “Good Old Days” really weren’t all that good. Since World War II we’ve seen major conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan which have drained our national vitality without resulting in anything we can reasonably call victory. And in the past thirty years we’ve lived through three financial shocks that came close to wrecking our economy.
Exactly what are the good old days that Trump views as a greater America than the one we live in? There were some clues in the new tax law and the failed attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Both were driven by a concerted effort from the political Right to head off what it saw as an intolerable transfer of wealth. The simple, obvious truth was that providing health care to every American was going to be expensive, and most of the bill would be have to be paid by taxing the wealthiest Americans.
It was also obvious that while the all-out attack against immigration was advertised as a need to protect the security of our nation, it is in fact an attempt to halt the browning of America. The white majority has been steadily decreasing for decades, and it was in jeopardy of becoming a minority that would shift the balance of power in future elections.
Trump’s remarks in Europe and the UK over the last few days brought all this into focus. His most blistering attacks were against Europe’s two strong female leaders and he warned them that immigration was destroying Europe’s culture and undermining its security. But that’s just semantic code for the same white supremacy-enabling rhetoric we heard in Charlottesville. Changing culture is a euphemism for allowing non-whites and women to have equal rights and permitting Islam to gain a foothold. It’s a fascist mentality that we thought we had suppressed after World War II, but apparently it is alive and well in the mind of Donald Trump.
Our relatively uneducated, ignorant president never learned the lessons of either history or science. Everything evolves, and that includes cultures and planetary environments. Nothing in the universe remains static and fighting against change is inevitably a losing battle. Trump’s better America is one in which its wealth is concentrated in the hands of a white, male, Christian oligarchy. His lack of respect for women in general and his unsubtle attempts to reduce their access to health care are similarly code for returning to an era when they stayed home raising children while men controlled business, commerce, and governments.
Trump’s dream of a greater America looks like a 1950s sitcom. But under that superficial veneer, it’s about greed and selfishness and excluding anyone who doesn’t look like Trump’s ideal American. And it’s not the world most of us want our grandchildren growing up in.