America’s ‘greatness’ period varies
“Make America Great Again” is a brilliant political slogan.
Who doesn’t want America to be great?
And who can’t think of a time in the past when America seemed more beneficial, more promising, more comfortable than now?
For older, white American men, that time might be the years after World War II, when the United States was the sole undamaged world power and pent-up consumer demand generated red-hot economic growth at home.
People of color, and women generally, were consciously or unconsciously treated as second-class folks, socially and/or legally, and white men were the alphas.
For baby boomers, that time might be the 1960s, when civil rights and youth movements in culture and politics gave them a powerful voice that changed the direction of American society.
For Republicans, that time might be the 1980s, when President Reagan’s time in office saw the high unemployment, high inflation “stagflation” of the Carter years rolled back, along with tax rates and some of the progressive legislation of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
For modern-day Democrats, that time might be the Obama years of 2009 to 2017, when nonwhites and progressives appeared to have a champion in the White House who pushed for legislation and regulations to help the environment, global cooperation, equal treatment under the law and civil discourse.
So America’s “greatness” period varies from person to person, but most of us think there was a time when things were better than they are now.
Donald Trump wasn’t the first politician to use the slogan.
In the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan posters carried the slogan “Let’s make America great again” to highlight the nation’s economic distress under Jimmy Carter.
Then Bill Clinton employed the phrase during his 1992 campaign, although not as a standard slogan. He also spoke it in a radio commercial for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008.
In September 2011, Trump’s longtime political aide, Roger Stone, who had worked in Reagan’s 1980 campaign, tweeted “Make America Great Again — TRUMP HUCKABEE 2012 #nomormons.” (That last bit was a slam against rival Republican candidate Mitt Romney.)
Three months later, Trump stated that he wouldn’t rule out running for president in the future: “I must leave all of my options open because, above all else, we must make America great again.”
That same month he published a book with the subtitle “Making America #1 Again.” When the book was reissued in 2015, he changed it to “Make America Great Again!”
On Nov. 7, 2012, the day after Obama was re-elected over GOP candidate Romney, Trump formally began using the slogan. First he thought about “We Will Make America Great,” but that didn’t have the right ring to it.
Next it was “Make America Great,” but Trump decided that phrase implied that America was never great in the past. He settled on “Make America Great Again,” and had an attorney register it as his slogan.
(In 2015, three years later, Trump said he was unaware that Reagan used the slogan in 1980. I believe him.)
Trump moved fast.
He applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Nov. 12, 2012, for exclusive rights to the slogan for political purposes. The office registered it on July 14, 2015, after he formally began his 2016 campaign.
“Make America Great Again” was so important to Trump’s 2016 campaign that the campaign spent more on making the familiar red hats with the slogan in white letters than on polling, consultants or TV commercials. Trump claimed that “millions” were sold, for $25 each.
In January last year, the president said that his 2020 re-election campaign slogan would be “Keep America Great,” and he had a lawyer trademark that phrase.
And that’s the secret sauce for Trump and the Trumpites.
He wants America and Americans to believe that by 2020, his movement will have “repaired” the deficiencies that past administrations have caused the nation, and that it will be up to the voters to protect the America that he has returned to its former glory.
In other words, that he “made America great again.”
Judging by his most-repeated utterances from campaign days up to now, that would be an America that discourages immigration, both legal and illegal; lowers taxes, especially on the rich, while increasing spending on defense, thereby adding $1 trillion a year to the federal debt; holds residents of all Muslim nations under suspicion of terrorism; pooh-poohs scientific theories of climate change; and gives private corporations and entrepreneurs dominance over the environment.
It will be up to American voters — all of them, not just those who elected him in 2016 — to decide if that’s what American greatness means to them.