I have spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this campaign slogan, even now that that period of American history is temporarily behind us. Something thrust upon the American political landscape 5 yrs ago. Trying to understand its essence and relevance. The owner of the campaign theme never really provided a vision for what it means or what he wanted it to become. That required a level of deep thinking and understanding of public policy that was just not of much interest. The mantra by the mear use of the word “again” seems to refer to some past history, some point in time when America was truly great, how we define great is an open question. Regardless it resonated. It became etched in the public discourse. Maybe more importantly it speaks to an idea of America ceasing to be great. A loss in belief of American exceptionalism. Ronald Reagan delighted in thinking of America as a shining beacon of light on a hill. A place where people could come to share in mankinds manifest destiny. To live out their dreams however they see fit. To provide their children opportunities that were denied them. Yet somewhere that belief became lost to many and they became angry, very angry.
Growing up in the US in school you often learned about the serenity that seemed to surround the 1950’s. It was portrayed in popular TV shows like “Leave it to Beaver”, “My Three Sons” and “the Dick Van Dyke Show” to name but a few. Life was simple and literally black and white. The President was WWII hero Dwight D Eisenhower, who played a lot of Golf while acting as President. The American Family took on a definition on Husband, Wife, Two kids, 2 cars, a house and a TV. On the global scene America had a thriving economy with well paid front line workers at Ford and General Motors. These were union scale jobs and unions were strong at the time. The middle class was thriving. America emerged from WWII a nearly unmatched global power. It was a dream land for a dream time, but as in history things get put on pause. There were undercurrents of discontent. Jim Crowe still thrived. Technology was creating weapons of mass destruction that would annihilate the planet for centuries to come. As history has taught us, as simple as the fifties seemed the horizon foreshadowed what a was to come
The sixties arrived and change was in the air. The wars we had won were now in the past and new wars emerged, but not as black and white as WWII were it seemed to be good versus evil. We were now fighting perceived idealogical battles for the soul of the planet. America became torn as the battle versus Jim Crow raged in the streets. Violence would mar much of the sixties. Assassinations of many a great man – JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcom X. The Vietnam War, something we managed to inherit from the French tore at the fiber of the nation. The summer of love, The Beatles, Divisive politics and much more happened. If we are trying to make America Great again this is probably not where we would likely want to go back to. It was a period of social and cultural awakening. I
The Seventies were dull and that is about all I can say about that. Sounds like Forrest Gump. There was continued upheaval but it was the beginning if the end for the labor movement in the US. The free market economists had been making noise for sometime and though corporate CEO’s were receptive to their message, they had neither the will or strength to radically alter the status quo. The economists were left with one choice, go to the halls of power and convince those that mattered: The politicians. Milton Friedman became a god as did Michael Porter. Less Government regulation and market driven solutions. Manufacturing in the US was doomed at this point. It’s path set in motion it would only accelerate in the next decade. The idea of the American middle-class would begin to fade revered more as fantasy than reality.
The Eighties came about with the rise of conservative politics, led by a former Hollywood Actor, Ronald Reagan. It gave life to the idea that government is evil. The idea as a nation we needed less government. We were all introduced to Supply Side Economics and the Laffer Curve. It is interesting part of history in that there is no signature Reagan piece of legislation, no military activity. The biggest issue facing America was it’s battle with Soviet Union and the escalating tensions of the Cold War. The economy did well under Reagan and if anything it led to a rising belief that Americans vote with their wallet, a shallow endeavour but a belief that has held to this day. Is this where Americans want to get back to? It’s interesting MAGA supporters were tried and true Democrats, but Reagan set in motion what would eventually kill them, the destruction of organized labor. The Reagan legacy lived for 30 years after he left office, but now his star has begun to dim as the conservative movement is being replaced with something more radical. Reagan viewed America as a shining beacon of light on a hill. A welcoming nation. The new veneer is you can visit but please do not stay.
Since the end of the cold war we have slowly become adrift as the simplicity of what is right versus wrong has dissipated and though for years we led the world when problems arose the responsibility began to weigh on the average American. Part of Make America Great was now it’s time to isolate. America would cede its leadership role in the world stage. This was not stated in the campaign of 2016, but it was implied. If you need assistance you are welcome to pay for it, but the era of protection as a charity was over. By default we were creating a global power vacuum. As history has shared many times before power vacuums rarely remain vacant. It turned out there was a country waiting in the wings to do what the Soviet Union could not: split the west. China, a country with its own global aspirations has begin to assume the void left by American unreliability in the wake of the last four years
If history has shown us one thing it is that empires do not last forever. The seeds of destruction are usually self inflicted. Arrogance has a price. American exceptionalism is on the decline. A lot has been written and discussed on how empires fall due to taking on too much debt. Financing is a bit different these days than it was even fifty years ago. The knowledge of being considered a global power affects citizens of an empire. Being powerful impacts people’s psychological being. An example would be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the destruction of the Soviet Union a disaster. He still longs for respect and relevance on the world stage on his terms. I along with millions of others grew up in a time when the United States was riding the success of being the deciding factor in ending two world wars. But in the Russian mindset that desire to return to something more concrete and more stable stable time, where the world feared and respected her.
I have no idea what “Make America Great Again” means outside of the fact that it does not want the status quo to remain the same, but status quo’s are meant to die. If America is one thing, it is always evolving and trying to improve. We live in an era driven by fear. Where people digest information that makes them feel relevant, too often that relevance comes at the cost of playing the part of the victim. The government screwed you. White people screwed you. Illegal immigrants screwed you. Tech companies screwed you. I have news for you, no one ever succeeded by playing the victim. The Rush Limbaugh’s on the world were not helping you they were playing you, playing the victim. Cut your taxes and you will be free, 50% of the US Stock Market is owned by the top one percent, they thank you very much for their tax cuts. If we increase the US minimum wage we will hurt US Companies. Is it fair to ask who is helping the 34 million in poverty in the US (A number higher now due to COVID) – when you are poor a tax cut will help by additional groceries, it will not lift you out of poverty. It does enable the billionaire’s to buy a new mansion. Maybe this is what MAGA is, maybe it is something else. After listening to if for over four years I find us no closer to this illusive “vision”, whatever it may be. Perhaps my one suggestion is look to the future and not to the past. Reflecting on past greatness is for historians, but we live in the present and it is how we deal with issues that confront us now, that will determine if America will continue to be great tomorrow.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann
May 11. 2021