Of the many dangerous untruths espoused by the Trump campaign, perhaps none was so flagrant as the one embedded right in the campaign’s central promise, “Make America Great Again.” That phrase seemingly asks us to recall a period when the United States still offered freedom and prosperity to all– when the American Dream was alive and well, unmarred by today’s excesses of bad regulation, Washington elitism, and so-called “political correctness.” But when was that time? When was America great?1
- Was America great in 1776, when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence– that magnificent document, penned by Thomas Jefferson? Jefferson, who owned hundreds of slaves, and raped his slave Sally Hemings for decades, and would later push relentlessly for westward expansion and Native American extermination, believing “Indian country belonged in white hands?”
- Was America great in 1917, when President Wilson asked congress for a declaration of war against Germany, asserting “we are glad [to fight] … for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples? 1917, when suffragist Alice Paul was being force-fed raw eggs through a tube in the psychopathic ward of the DC District Jail, for the grave offense of suggesting women should be allowed to vote?2
- Was America great in 1962, when President Kennedy rallied support for the audacious national effort to land a man on the moon? 1962, when US troops plodded through puddles in Vietnam, burning the huts of the rural poor, and Americans were “faced with the cruel irony” Dr. King would later remark “of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools?”
The United States has harbored an abundance of great ideas, great individuals, and great moments. But they have always existed in tandem with profound and unconscionable violence, oppression, and anguish. Moreover, the freedoms and liberties of American life have always fallen disproportionately on the white, the male, the straight, and the wealthy, while the nation’s crimes and atrocities have always fallen disproportionately on the black and brown, the non-straight, the female-bodied, and the poor. For these reasons and more, we cannot nostalgically label as “great” any period of American history.
I want to believe that Trump’s chosen slogan is simply misguided, reflecting ignorance of historical fact. But it probably isn’t. The scarier and more likely possibility is that Trump knows exactly what “Make America Great Again” really means: make America like it used to be, make America white, make America mine. Some of his supporters rallied behind this message. And the ones that thought they were rallying behind a different message — of “draining the swamp,” or bringing back manufacturing jobs, or supporting law enforcement officers and military personnel, were quite simply duped. Trump will do none of those things.
I don’t have to ‘give him a chance.’ I don’t have to guess what he’ll do. Trump has been perfectly clear. The next four years will feature an all-out assault on climate science and scientific programs, as well as civil rights, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. We will see a dramatic expansion of state surveillance, police power, and military might, coupled with a massive neoliberalist evisceration of protective regulations and the public sphere. These actions will be undertaken to promote US corporate hegemony (expanding the power and influence of the nation’s 1%) though they will be disguised at every stage as measures to protect Americans, especially that coalition of mostly rural, blue-collar, Christians that call themselves “the silent majority.”
I do not support Trump. I do not support what he stands for, and I do not support his plans. He is #NotMyPresident and should be resisted in every dangerous, dastardly move that he makes.
Above all, I reject the original lie of the Trump campaign: the myth of bygone American greatness. I reject the notion that America was ever great, in a robust and complete sense, at any point in time. America has only been great in pieces– in the evanescent moments of courage, clarity, and strength, when its citizens have stood up to demand that their country make good on its promises and live up to its ideals. I stand behind the Martin Luther Kings and Alice Pauls of US history– the Pete Seegers, Harriet Tubmans, and Sojourner Truths. I stand behind the leaders of today’s Black Lives Matter movement, and #NoDAPL resistance, and all the other intellectuals, artists, agitators, and activists who have stubbornly tried to imagine and occupy a more honest and honorable America.
“Make America Greater” is perhaps a slogan I could rally behind. But “Make America Great Again” is an absurdity and an insult. To my many friends gathering in DC and elsewhere this weekend to make Trump know his opposition: be loud and be safe.
- I highly recommend Moira Weigel’s essay <“Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy“>
- Alice Paul smuggled a note out of the hospital ward, relaying the prison conditions she was being kept in, on the back of a letter she received from the guards that read “Why not let this miserable creature starve. The country would be much better off without her and the balance of her gang of pickets.” Read more on <feminist.org>