Make America great again?

Cartoon by Gordon Johnson


Like it or not, America has a new president-elect. Early Wednesday morning, Republican candidate Donald Trump beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a surprising victory that left some celebrating, others in shock and even more in terror and confusion.

With a platform built from singling out minority groups, lewd comments towards women and startlingly racist undertones, it is not surprising that many question Trump’s ability to govern our country when he can barely handle a Twitter account.  

The slogan of his campaign “Make America Great Again” has half of the country in unanimous agreement and the other half wondering when America was ever great to begin with.

It is no question that America’s history is fraught with genocides, oppression and violence, but Trump thinks our greatest point as a country was during periods of rapid industrial expansion in the beginning of the 20th century and immediately following World War II.

If you look back, it really was, there was a period of time when we were developing at the turn of the century which was a pretty wild time for this country and pretty wild in terms of building that machine, that machine was really based on entrepreneurship,” Trump told the New York Times earlier this year.

Maybe America’s economy flourished after World War II and during the Industrial Revolution, but so did racism and intolerance. And, let us be clear, while people like Trump and his family may have experienced the great things happening in those crucial years, waves of minorities felt much differently.

At the turn of the 20th century, only four states allowed women to vote, and suffragettes during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency were arrested and thrown in jail.

Schools were still segregated and African Americans looking for work in cities faced exclusion and discrimination.   

After World War II, Jim Crow laws dominated the southern lifestyle and interracial marriage was illegal until the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia in 1967.

While “great” is not a word I would use to describe any of those situations, Trump has the audacity to claim those time periods as the pinnacle of American success and cooperation, even while excluding thousands of minority voices from his narrative.

Junior English major Elena DeCook said she did not know if there was a specific time period for American greatness.

“Since going any distance back into history means limiting the rights of marginalized people, we’re probably the greatest we’ve ever been at this particular moment,” DeCook said.

It is true that we as a nation have made leaps and bounds since then.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.

As a direct result of national cooperation and good, old-fashioned American ingenuity, the Juno space probe successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit five years after its launch.

Leonardo DiCaprio won a freaking Oscar.

Junior dance major Allison Haan said she thought it was unfair to say that America was ever great since it was never great for all groups of people.

“America is its greatest whenever there is a progression towards equality and when marginalized groups attain more rights that they may not have had before,” she said.

American history long erased the minority voice, so maybe we have never been the great ideal that Trump claims. Maybe those reminiscing on the “good old days” are merely viewing their past through a slightly blurry, sepia-toned lens that leaves them feeling warm and fuzzy, but with no real idea of what it was really like.

Maybe America, despite our progress, our protests and our stubbornness, is not even great now.

That does not mean that it will never be.

Trump’s idea of a great America means focusing on one that is great for him and people like him.  By refusing to accept that reality and instead putting forth a historical narrative that includes experiences from all people, maybe we can change that.

Nobody likes to hear about how brutal the 1960s were in Alabama or Tennessee, or about how white settlers slaughtered enter tribes of Native Americans just to claim their homelands.  Those stories are appalling and embarrassing; but, they are also fundamentally American.

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, so let’s not have that be us.  Let our generation and our community be the ones who demand a better future and a society built on equality.  Maybe then, we can find that America that Trump claims is so great.


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