Rethinking America, American Bystander

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!

Credit: danielfela


  • Conservatives see a gauzy nostalgia that fails to square with the real history of America.
  • The America that Trump conservatives want to Make Great Again never really existed.
  • The America of the conservative imagination is a Potemkin village. We should not go back to it.

“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.

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About Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips is a New York-based international analyst with extensive financial sector experience. [United States]

Responses to “Trump & America, You Can’t Have It Back Again!”

Archived Comments.

  1. On March 16, 2016 at 11:20 am Uwe Bott responded with... #

    Well put.

  2. On March 17, 2016 at 9:16 am Karin Barnaby responded with... #

    A great reality check for all those empty-headed sloganeers who, alas, won’t be reading your excellent piece.

  3. On March 17, 2016 at 11:47 am Mistanick responded with... #

    Freedom, that is what made America great at one time. We have lost that freedom in a soup of bureaucratic regulations pronounced by un-elected politicians, regionalism, and crooked elected who say one thing and do another. Schools are no longer institutions of learning, but houses of propaganda dissemination where young minds are taught to be “global citizens” and not freedom seekers. Thank goodness for the fire that still burns in the belly’s of some who desire that freedom back.

    Richard, you have strung together all manner of historical bits and pieces to show that the United States has never been great, creating a straw man of sorts to defeat an idea that proves the opposite is really true. The yoke of man is one of disease of the heart, to be sure. Let no man say he is without sin. Yet the answer does not lie in “globalist” thought either, which I suppose you and your publication subscribe to. Pushing down on one to spring another up to a lower level of life is never the answer and the opposite of freedom.

  4. On March 17, 2016 at 2:15 pm TyphoidMikey responded with... #

    Fun to build straw men and then knock them down!

  5. On March 17, 2016 at 2:17 pm TyphoidMikey responded with... #

    Mr. Phillips:

    You have pulled out of your hat every worn out old canard in an attempt to defame our history. I suggest you move to North Korea – then you will understand American History a little better…

  6. On March 17, 2016 at 2:21 pm Richard responded with... #

    Thanks for the comment Mistanick. Please allow me to reply.

    First off, I never said that the US was never great. I believe that the US has always been the greatest country, French Polynesia notwithstanding, and always will be. My simple point was that America is a better country today than it was at any time in its history.

    Some of the things that make America great today:

    1. The freedom to enjoin the degradation of the environment through the EPA;
    2. The freedom that allows every American to be free — male, female, black and white — because of civil rights legislation;
    3. The freedom to provide health care for our senior citizens through Medicare;
    4. The freedom to escape from the shackles of militarism through coordinated multilateral consensus; and
    5. The freedom to work as a nation to create a better future rather than to retreat into a punishing past.

    I’m sure you agree, even though I’m sure you agree that we as a nation can do better.

    Again, thanks for the comment.

  7. On March 17, 2016 at 2:51 pm Richard responded with... #

    Today, one can get vaccinated against typhoid, Mikey! Thanks for the comment anyway, Mikey.

  8. On March 17, 2016 at 3:27 pm Mistanick responded with... #

    Every regulation removes freedom from those who are enslaved by those regulations. Everyone wants clean air but the same lawmakers who devise air regulations also invent carbon credits that permit pollution.

    It is important not to use the word “freedom” in the wrong way. A tax necessary to pay for medical care for those who don’t want to work is not freedom, but enslavement. The “freedoms” of people to walk across our borders enslaves taxpayers who are paying for their care once they arrive. Such a good “global citizen” we are to be then.

    The Social Security issue is a whole different topic. Folks who work pay into the Social Security (medicare) system their workable lives. Congress has raided the Social Security Trust Fund for a long time and used the money to fund debt ridden programs such as caring for those who won’t work or worthless government programs and that waste money or load business with regulation.

    No Richard, please don’t use the word freedom to defend socialism. Oil and water.

  9. On March 19, 2016 at 2:49 pm Edward Tj Gerety, III, MBA responded with... #

    Th conception of America the Free was in the 1950s. If you worked hard and became a valuable item to your firm or dared to start you’re own, then you were free. America became the land of the great not by taxing the working-class to feed the lacking class but had a system where you either worked or died off.

    Today, we allow anyone to get a governmental paid lifestyle and then mock those who risk it all to make powerful companies. In the 1950s, we admired those who went out and blazed a trail. Today, we mock and try to punish those that create wealth and opportunities. As the Left in the US know it is better to keep people dumb and poor than provide educational opportunities to succeed. As a developed mind is one that could take the left’s control and power.

    At some point America will return to the days where success is honoured and those who refuse to work will simply fade away into the lost and broken history of today’s progressive movement.

  10. On March 19, 2016 at 2:49 pm Edward Tj Gerety, III, MBA responded with... #

    Here here!

  11. On March 20, 2016 at 10:40 am Richard responded with... #

    Thanks for the comment Edward.

    Let me start by quoting Daniel Patrick Moynahan: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

    While I respect your opinions, your arguments are either fact free or factually incorrect.

    If you consider food stamps a “governmental paid lifestyle,” you may be missing something. If you think we “mock and try to punish those who create wealth and opportunity,” you are missing the fact that more new businesses and more billionaires have been created in the last decade than at any time in American history. If you think we “tax the working class to feed the lacking class,” you ignore the fact that tax rates are substantially lower today than they were in the 1950s and only marginally higher than they were at their lowest point since the end of “World War II. If you think people are “refusing to work” in order to live a life of misery and poverty on the government dole, you have a misanthropic view of your fellow man.

    Your views are admirable but baseless. I say admirable, because we all agree that America would be a better place if everyone could get a decent job, if everyone had access to a decent education and if everyone had the opportunity to start a business.

    I say baseless because the simple reality is that not every American has access to those aspects of the American dream.

    Again, thanks for the comment.

  12. On March 21, 2016 at 4:10 am Terry Washington responded with... #

    To my mind, this rose tinted view of America during the Eisenhower era owes more to “Father Knows Best” or “Ozzie And Harriet” TV shows than any objective reality, which included such things as organized crime, racial injustice, McCarthyism and the threat of nuclear war. The Continentals had a saying about King George III and his ministers that is still as valid in 2016 as it was in 1776- “they seek to keep the past on its throne!”. Fortunately for the rest of us, much like King Canute, Donald Trump(as President) simply can NOT turn back the rivers of time!

  13. On March 21, 2016 at 4:08 pm Richard responded with... #

    Thanks for the comment, Terry. Couldn’t agree more. The word that comes to mind to describe the “back to the future” crowd is atavistic. Thanks.