The Racist Nostalgia Behind 'Mak[ing] America Great Again'

09/16/2015 03:15 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2016
Donald Trump, president and chief executive officer of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is
Donald Trump, president and chief executive officer of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is escorted by security after a rally aboard the Battleship USS Iowa in San Pedro, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. Trump said Sunday that he would flesh out his tax proposals in the coming weeks, but again vowed to raise rates on hedge fund managers, who the billionaire has portrayed as 'getting away with murder.' Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Donald Trump talks about his Utopian America and his promise to "Make America Great Again!", what timeframe is his campaign slogan is referring to? At what point was America "great" and at what point did it start becoming not so great? On Trump's campaign "About" page, there is a slew of his, almost none of which revolve around public service.

One of the few mentions of public service, which is not even directly correlated with his efforts to serve the American people, is about Trump and his 7 million Twitter following to "educate the public on the failures of the Obama administration." Without going into any detail about any specific policies in particular, the reader is left to assume that the Obama administration is the benchmark for when America went from being "Great" to not-so-Great.

Trump's America is one where the world is divided into two camps of people: those seen and those unseen and/or willfully ignored. This version of a "Great America" silences im/migrant experiences, shames women, and marginalizes people of color. It ensures that the country remains divided and continues to live in a nostalgic and romanticized America, one that was built on prestige and manifest destiny and not on the backs of laborers, immigrants and those looking for a fighting chance.

An example of Trump's nostalgia is his refusal to believe or accept America's extensive history of migrant labor. Enter Trump's infamous speech in June where he promises to "build a great, great wall" on the Mexican border in attempts to keep out migrants. Trump's theory is that "[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems to us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." Trump's lack of empathy, hateful attitude and language towards immigrants and people of color makes it disturbingly clear that he not only has minimal knowledge about our country's complicated history with labor workers, but is also delusional enough to believe in a fantasy where America is a mono-racial country intended for those that are "great," i.e. white.

In Lynne Huffer's "Derrida's Nostalgeria," Huffer examines "the power of myths in shaping public perceptions of current events" by using the example of the French romanticization of France-colonized Algeria in the mid-1880s, guising extreme hate and violence of civil rights violations and anti-Semiticism with an "elaboration of myths about Algeria." Overtime, these elaborated myths about past become solidified "cultural memory" and those privileged enough to live out this cultural memory continue to ignore and stay willfully ignorant of the grievances in the past.

In other words, cultural memory and nostalgia work to refine and erase historical grievances to carve out a romantic political state, one without colonialism, discrimination and acts of violence. In the cultural myth of America, pressing issues like the growing education and wage gap, police violence, discrimination and other acts of violence do not have historical context or legitimacy. Trump's vow to make America great again is nothing more than a nostalgic and foolish man's ideal that caters to the privileged white man's existence and no one else's.

If Trump were to see this country for the entirety of its history and not just the cultural memory he idealizes, he would see that our nation has a long history with migrants, racial violence and discrimination. The sad truth is, none of what Donald Trump is saying is novel. Many live in a privileged fog that allows for this romantic nation to exist. In this nostalgic version of America, one without centuries of discrimination and violence, the poor and disadvantaged become labeled as "lazy" instead of victims of centuries of systematic discrimination, im/migrants become "rapists" and "drug dealers" instead of parents desperate to give their families a fighting chance at educational and financial opportunity.

While this op-ed may have been directed at Donald Trump in its examples, it falls on the responsibility of every person, especially those running to represent the American people as President, to see this country for what it is: one that is tarnished with centuries of systematic oppression, discrimination and exclusion.

When we willfully ignore our country's past failures in protecting our citizens, women, people of color and migrants, we endanger our future by making the same mistakes. Continuing to live in a nostalgic America and aspiring to "Make America Great Again!" will only further divide our country and repeat mistakes of the past. Let's not focus on "Mak[ing] America Great Again!" but learning from the one we have.