If we are willing to be honest, there was no ambiguity in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The word “again” says we aren’t great any more but we used to be. It is an aspiration to go back to the past, to the time when we were great. When was that? Trump has never said. But we all know what he meant – again, if we’re willing to be honest.
If you began last weekend early, you may have missed Trump’s Friday afternoon pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. The man Trump affectionately calls “Sheriff Joe” had been convicted of criminal contempt in July for ignoring a court order to stop racial profiling Hispanics. The president, thus making his condoning of racial profiling official, had foreshadowed the pardon a few days before at a campaign-style rally in which he shamelessly exhorted his hero-worshippers to join him in condemning Democrats, unsupportive Republicans, the media and just about everyone else except Sheriff Joe, white nationals and Vladimir Putin.
This all comes on the heels of Trump’s response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he showed far more anger and contempt for the people protesting white supremacy than the white supremacists marching through the streets with torches chanting racist threats. This includes the lunatic who drove his car into the protesters and killed one of them, an act glorified on Nazi websites. Trump went on to denounce calls for removal of Confederate statues, even lamenting the removal of these symbols of slavery as unpatriotic.
Trump announced his presidential candidacy in June 2015 by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. He promised to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, beautiful, powerful” wall across the country’s 2,000-mile border with Mexico to keep them out – and that Mexico would pay for it. He proposed “deportation forces” to root illegal immigrants from their homes. He said during the campaign that the judge in his Trump University lawsuits could not be impartial because the judge was of Mexican descent.
Also during the 2016 election campaign, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” after several terrorist attacks in other countries were carried out by the terrorist group Islamic State. Faced with criticism over a religious test, he expanded it to, “All those who do not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted.”
The joke on the Left was that by this definition Trump himself would not be allowed to enter the country. But it was no joking matter. One of Trump’s first acts as president was to issue a travel ban directed at keeping Muslims out of the country. And, of course, Trump’s claim to fame in the political arena before running for president was leading the “birther” movement, claiming Barack Obama was not really born in the United States and therefore not a legitimate president. Trump even implied that Obama might secretly be a terrorist.
Trump stood idly by while his supporters verbally and physically abused blacks and other minorities at his campaign rallies. He supports voter ID laws that suppress black votes. He hems and haws when asked to disavow David Duke.
Now Trump has threatened to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t budget money for his wall. Realists have never taken him seriously on the wall with its costs estimated at $8 billion on the low end; most experts say it would cost much more than that. Trump had insisted throughout the election campaign that “Mexico will pay for it, believe me” but did anyone really believe him? So I guess now we have to pay for it – unless the Republican Party suddenly develops a spine and some self-respect. I’m not holding my breath.
Trump wants to reduce the percentage of the country’s foreign-born population to 1960s levels. Right now it’s about 12 percent, the highest it has been since the 1920s. At that time, the U.S. imposed immigration controls that reduced the foreign-born population to about 5 percent by the 1960s. To get back to this level, you’d practically have to end immigration. In 2016, the U.S. was admitting only about one million legal immigrants a year.
It will be hard to make America totally white again, but this seems to be Trump’s obsession. It is an endorsement of the Alt-Right and other supporters who don’t like minorities, are uncomfortable with the country’s increasing diversity, and blame immigrants for increased crime and taking jobs away from red-blooded white Americans. It doesn’t matter that both crime and immigration levels are near all-time lows. It’s not hard to smell racism behind these initiatives.
This is what Trump meant by his slogan “Make America Great Again” – as if we didn’t already know.