Dear Donald Trump: When Was It, Exactly, That America Was “Great”?

Out of all the things I find frustrating about Donald Trump’s campaign so far – and let’s be real, that is basically everything – there is one thing that keeps nagging at me. Every time I see him smirking in that idiotic “Make America Great Again” hat, I want to know exactly what he means.

By saying “again,” Trump implies that there was some point in our history in which we were great, and that we are now not “great” like we used to be. I would like to know when, exactly, that greatness was. I want an exact time period. I want a date. I want something.

  • Was it during the beginnings of our country when we invaded a land that belonged to other people and then just killed 90% to make room for us?
  • Was it during the Salem Witch Trials?
  • Was it when we started importing slaves from Africa?
  • Was it when half of our country tried to leave over not getting to keep said slaves?
  • Was it when we had children working in factories and coal mines?
  • Was it before women had the vote?
  • Was it when we placed quotas on immigrants based on their national origin in order to give priority to Northern European immigrants?
  • Was it during the depression when people were living in Hoovervilles?
  • Was it when we were sending Japanese-Americans to internment camps?
  • Was it when we sent Jewish refugees back to Germany during the Holocaust?
  • Was it when our government essentially ignored lynching and considered it a public good? And Congress refused to enact any anti-lynching laws because they would make the South sad?
  • Was it during Joseph McCarthy’s bullshit communist witch hunt?
  • Was it when women were expected to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant?
  • Was it during Jim Crow?
  • Was it when Lester Maddox came out to beat black people with an ax handle because he was sad that the law required him to let them into his restaurant after segregation was outlawed?
  • Was it when we started a bullshit war in Vietnam, based on a lie, and sent children off to die for basically no good reason?
  • Was it during the era of Nixon, with Cointelpro and Watergate?
  • Was it during the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment?
  • Was it when we personally trained Manuel Noriega at the School of the Americas and later supported him, along with myriad other “friendly dictators”?
  • Was it when we trained Latin American death squads at that same place?
  • Was it when people were dropping like flies from AIDS in the 80s and President Reagan could not get around to mentioning that until 20,849 had already died? And then later wanted to cut federal funding for AIDS research?
  • Was it when people in Boston were fighting the desegregation of schools until 19-goddamned-88?

Let’s stop at 1988, because I’m pretty sure that Trump is not talking about the Clinton Era, and I don’t think anyone has the chutzpah, at this point, to insinuate that the reign of George W. Bush was somehow not terrible.

This concept of America’s former “greatness” has been a thing forever with conservatives. They used to outright just point to the ’50s and say “Things were good in the ’50s! Why can’t it be like the ’50s again?” until literally everyone kept pointing out that perhaps things in the ’50s were not exactly super awesome if you were a black person. Now they just vaguely refer to some nonspecific time in the past when things were “better” than they are now, and America was “great.”

The thing is, the price of things being “great” for people like Donald Trump, has nearly always been things being not so great for the rest of us. I’d rather have a situation where everything was more OK for everybody, rather than “great” for some people and incredibly shitty for others. Perhaps this is just me being a commie, but it seems fair.

I realize that for the most part, Donald Trump and his supporters (aside from those who are literally white nationalists — he has quite the support base on Stormfront) are not trying to say that they want to go back to when things were bad for other people. What they want is to go back to some imaginary time when people ignored the bad things our country did, when–when instead of confronting our flaws, people were simply told over and over again that we were “the greatest country on earth and that is that.” That is what they want. They want to pretend, and they want smoke blown up their asses. They want to be told that everything we’ve ever done has been great, and they want to be told that they are special. They don’t want kids to learn things in class that might make them think America was not always great and perfect. They want to feel free to be “patriots.”

However, it’s insulting to those for whom things were not so good in the past, and for whom things are just starting to get better, to insinuate that this country was better off then. It’s not right.

If there were a way to somehow cordon off all the Trump supporters, the Cruz supports, the people who still feel like they’re not “ready” for a  Black president, and let them have their own country where everything was like 1955? I would actually kind of support that. It could be like in elementary school reading groups where the kids who couldn’t read well yet weren’t working on the same books as those who could. They could progress at their own rate and listen to a lot of Pat Boone. But we can’t do that, and we can’t go back in time in order to make things more comfy for bigots.

The fact is, none of the events in our history that I mentioned above are what has made this country great. What makes this country “great” are the people who fought to stop those things, the people who wanted things to be better than they were, not those who fought them every inch of the way.