Trump & America, You Can’t Have It Back Again!
Grandpa was dead; the kids were being poisoned; mom was enslaved and Armageddon was just around the corner!
“Make America Great Again” and “Take America Back, Dammit” are common refrains among Republican politicians in the United States. They both raise the question, “What version of America are you talking about?”
When was America “great” in the first place? And from whom do you want to take America back?
The conservative point of view is swaddled in a gauzy nostalgia that fails to square with the real history of America.
Evidently, conservatives remember a country in which men were the breadwinners and women spent their days in the kitchen, contentedly baking pies in cute little gingham aprons.
It was an America where kids frolicked happily with Grandpa in the backyard sun, while birds chirped in the trees. It was an America where the air was fresh and the water was clean.
It was an America where white was white, where blacks and other minorities were never seen and immigrants didn’t exist.
It was an America where morality was “moral,” where homosexuals were closeted and Americans were protected from pornography.
It was an America that was strong and secure.
It was also an America that never really existed.
When exactly was that?
When Republicans insist on Making America Great Again or Taking It Back, they are probably talking about returning America to the 1950s.
They couldn’t be referring to America after 1963, because it was then that socialists, radicals and do-gooders started to take over the country.
From that point forward, there were disruptions to contend with: Radical social movements, race riots, foreign wars, oil embargoes, political scandals, hyperinflation, greed, big hair, terrorism, economic collapse and reality television.
And it couldn’t have been before 1952, because before that, there were World Wars, Great Depressions, bathtub gin and dust bowls to spoil things.
No, it could only be that the golden sunbathed period of the conservative imagination started with the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 and ended with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
But there was a harsher reality back then that doesn’t line up with what exists in the conservative imagination. Let’s start with Grandpa.
Grandpa was dead
Medicare didn’t exist and most old folks couldn’t get an insurance company to insure them, even if they could afford the premiums.
Someone over sixty-five who got sick had no alternative but to die, likely going broke and becoming a burden on the family in the process.
Grandpa probably wasn’t playing happily with the kids in the back yard. He was probably dead, since the average male life expectancy was below sixty-five years.
And he would have died having endured the horrors of disenfranchisement from a socially indifferent health care system. It was only in 1966 that grandpa could get health care coverage through Medicare.
The kids were being poisoned
And then there were the kids frolicking on sunny days with clear skies. But the skies weren’t always so clear.
Car engines knocked at the start of the 1950s, so gasoline companies came up with an antidote: they put lead in the gasoline.
This stopped the knocking, but exposed Americans to potentially poisonous background levels of lead, especially in concentrated population centers.
If you had an interstate running through your backyard, you were just out of luck.
Some believe that mass lead poisoning was responsible for the crime waves that afflicted much of America until the mid-1990s.
The crime waves started to subside exactly twenty years after leaded gasoline was banned in the United States.
While the kids played in the back yard, they were sucking lead into their lungs, defining potentially sociopathic behavior down the road. And that was if they were lucky!
That was if they didn’t live near one of the thousands of toxic waste sites created in the 1950s across the American landscape. Remember Love Canal?
The Environmental Protection Agency came into existence only in 1970.
Mom was enslaved
Mom might not have been as happy as she seemed baking pies all day. She was suppressed — professionally, socially and sexually.
She had no rights and was doomed to suffer one indignity after another if she tried to build a career or be independent in any way.
It wasn’t until someone inserted “sex” into Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that discrimination against women in the workplace was forbidden.
And speaking of the Civil Rights Act, let’s not forget that much of America practiced a form of apartheid in those days, every bit as insidious as the South African version.
It wasn’t until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts became the law of the land and were enforced by various federal organizations that African-Americans were ensured basic rights under the law — work still in progress today.
Women, African-Americans, homosexuals and various minorities had few if any rights in the America of conservative dreams, leaving more than half of the U.S. population pretty much without options or luck.
And armageddon was just around the corner
“But,” conservatives will say, “we were strong then!” And America was indeed strong compared to the rest of the world, coming off a decisive victory in World War II without a scratch on its domestic infrastructure.
But Americans lived in fear – a fear far greater than today’s fear of terrorism. This was because the US was engaging in a new and even more dangerous war, building more and more nuclear bombs and closing the “missile gap.”
America’s military, weaned on the horrors of World War II, had grown accustomed to military and civilian casualties counted in the millions.
Inured to the potential for devastation, they kept the expanded nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger and believed they could “win” a global thermonuclear war, threatening to unleash devastation that would make a modern terror organization like ISIS recoil in horror.”
At the same time, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency meddled in the internal affairs of countries far and wide, setting the stage for wars and conflicts that plague the world — America included — even today.
The reality is that the good old days were not remotely as good as modern conservatives think they were. The America they want to return to never really existed.
It was an illusion then and now, the creation of a media that operated under strict guidelines and stubborn censors.
The poverty rate in the United States in 1960 was over 22%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, it is down to 15%.
In 1960, average American life expectancy was 69.85 years. Today, it is nearly a decade longer. By every statistical measure, America is better off today than it was then.
And the biggest joke of all is that throughout the 1950s the marginal Federal income tax rate stood at 91%!
And yet conservatives are consistent in calling for the modification of Medicare and Social Security, the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency, the rolling back of civil rights legislation and the ramping up of a confrontational military posture.
The America of the conservative imagination was a Potemkin village. No one should really wish to go back to it.