In what has become a rather famous or some may consider infamous interview in 1981, leading Ronald Reagan political strategist Lee Atwater, discussed plans of the Republican Party to win the white Southern vote over to the Republican Party. His approach was for the party to appeal to those issues most closely identified with Southern Conservatives who abhorred the changes that occurred in the South during the 1960’s. It was called Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The idea was for the candidate to be only lukewarm in his duties to implement those policies passed in the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Bill. This could be accomplished if the candidates simply pledged strong support for states’ rights. That term became the first in a number of codes to the Southern whites, that assured them the candidate was firmly entrenched in their corner for a return to the good old days.
Reagan took full advantage of the strategy when he coined terms such as “Welfare Queen.” And practically every Republican politician since has used the code word “Big Government” to express their support for cutting back on programs that have essentially protected the rights of Blacks and other minorities in this country.
Now in the political year 2016 we have the Republican candidate for president playing that same old game with codes. Donald Trump has coined the term “Make America Great Again,” and it has resonated well with a certain segment of the white male population, especially in the South and it carried him through the primaries to a victory. The term “Make America Great Again” creates visions of the past that excites Trump supporters like they have not been since Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill.”
The problem is that the population enamored by Trump’s promises, consists of those white Americans whose beliefs and practices are inimical to the continued growth and development of our country as a totally integrated and fair society. This particular segment of America, under the tutelage of right wing conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, dream of a return to a time when America was not great, and that is the irony of their efforts.
No doubt this crowd longs for the days when white supremacy reigned economically, socially and politically. In their world, Rocky, the Great White Hope, really did beat Apollo Creed and the statue at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is real. In their world, a Larry Bird led Boston Celtics could easily defeat a Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls, and Tiger Woods couldn’t even carry Jack Nicklaus’ golf bag and there is no way that Serena Williams could tie Steffi Graf’s modern day record of 22 major tennis victories. And most important, in their world President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and never should have been able to serve as President of the United States, and no way Michelle Obama should be First Lady and as gracious, poised and beautiful as any other First Lady to include Nancy Reagan and Jaqueline Kennedy.
This is the world that Donald Trump promises his followers and it is their perception of the code “Make America Great Again.” The problem with that particular America is that its premise for greatness is predicated on the color of one’s skin and not the content of one’s character. It paints all other people in a negative light, the Mexican drug lord who wants to come to America to rape and pillage, the Muslim who has to be a terrorist simply because of his religious affiliation, women who have forgotten their place in society, and of course Black Americans who don’t want to work or raise their families and have lost all semblance of a decent and honorable culture. To Trump and his followers all that is necessary is to eradicate these negatives and they will have accomplished their goal to “Make America Great Again.”