Donald Trump keeps talking about making America great again. He promises, if elected, to return us to that time. But what period exactly does he have in mind?
Was it perhaps the post-WWII period, from say, 1945 through the 1950s? I grew up during that time, But it wasn’t exactly golden.
In 1945, no black ballplayer was allowed to play major-league baseball. Basketball was a white man’s game, too.
Jim Crow laws that brutally subjugated people based on skin color reigned unchallenged in the South, and much the same flourished by custom in the North. Construction workers labor unions did not allow blacks, so my father had less competition for scarce jobs during the Depression and after.
Mortgages for the post-war suburban housing boom were not available to black families. Not a single home among the many thousands built in the classic Levittown development was owned by a black family,
Marriage between blacks and whites was still a crime permitted by the Constitution.
Immigration was limited by law in ways that excluded people of darker skin color and different religious beliefs.
Selling birth control even to married couples was a crime still permitted by the Constitution.
A woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy was a crime in every state.
So was sexual relationships between same-sex couples.
The FBI spied on political dissidents without any basis to suspect them of criminal activity, and wiretapped anyone they wanted, free from Constitutional restraint. This included Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hysteria about dissident political beliefs led to the blacklisting of actors, writers and directors in Hollywood, and the firing of teachers in New York.
In California, Washington and Oregon, American citizens of Japanese descent were stripped of their property and incarcerated for the duration of WWII, and were wholly uncompensated afterward throughout the 1950s, and all this was held to be constitutionally permitted.
Women, blacks and Latinos were systematically excluded from educational opportunities and from jobs.
Was this when America was great? Is this the golden time to which Donald Trump wants to return? Is this what he means when he talks about making America great again?
And if it isn’t, what time exactly does he have in mind?
He hasn’t said, but it would be nice if some journalist asked.
Ira Glasser is the retired Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (1978-2001).