Dear MAGA Folk: When was this magical time when America was so great that you want to return to?
I have been trying really hard to find MAGA folks who actually tell us what time in American history they want to turn the clocks back to. Knowing American history pretty well, I have a guess. But I doubt the MAGAs will see that time through an honest lens.
The post-WWII years were when America’s economy grew at its fastest pace ever. Good jobs were abundant, home ownership became the norm, and American prosperity seemed guaranteed. However, times were certainly not good for everyone then.
For the majority of MAGA folks I see, who seem to be mostly White, I get it. That demographic group mostly had it made back then. They were able to keep opportunities for success away from anyone who they did not include in their group, and they benefitted greatly from government largesse to build a prosperous future for themselves and their brethren.
In hindsight, That time period looked really good in many respects. The American nation became a superpower, politically and economically, coming out of the war and leaving behind the last remnants of the Great Depression. There is no doubt that America seemed to be on an unbreakable streak of good fortune. At the time, no country could challenge America’s economic or military might.
The nation was the hero that helped defeat imperialism in Japan, and fascism in Germany and Italy. The post-WWII economy was churning out goods at a pace no one would have anticipated only a few years earlier during the ugly years of the Great Depression. The GI Bill was instrumental in opening opportunities for home and business ownership, and advanced education for White GIs who had come back home as America’s “greatest generation.”
However, these new opportunities were limited by race. Jim Crow segregation and anti-Black violence were alive and well. In less than a decade after the war ended, the federal government subsidized nearly all-White suburban communities across the country, and built freeways to get White people to these new homes.
Meanwhile, Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi, Rosa Parks was arrested in Alabama for violating Jim Crow laws in public. The Supreme Court finally ruled legal segregation by race unconstitutional, and President Truman finally ended segregation in the armed services. The segregation changes were a step forward, but were met with “massive resistance” by the White community.
Change did not come right away or without violence ending in bloodshed. The economic prosperity for people of color did not match what the White community saw.
If America was indeed great, it was great with caveats and exclusions. So if this is the time MAGA lovers are talking about, they see it with rose-colored glasses.
I would be hard-pressed to think they see another time in American history as a time to replicate. Let us briefly explore American history. The nation created by the Founding Fathers from 1776 to 1789, was a slaveocracy.
Over 600,000 Black people were held in bondage, working for free when the Constitution was ratified. They and their children and grandchildren would still face nearly another century of legalized slavery before it ended in 1865.
Native Americans had been forcefully removed from their homelands by the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Mexicans in the Southwest had been absorbed into the United States after the Mexican-American War. And Asian immigrants out West were seeing limited opportunities to attain the American dream.
After the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) appeared to be a turning point, the 1876 election reversed the course of progress toward civil rights. Black men witnessed their short-lived voting rights rescinded, lynchings became the norm, and strong anti-Asian bias saw the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.
In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court cemented racial segregation into the laws in Plessy v. Ferguson. It would take decades of litigation to get the nation to change those restrictions back towards the types of rights “guaranteed” by the Reconstruction Amendments and the 1875 Civil Rights Act.
Along the way, women would flex their muscles and force Congress to finally give them the franchise in 1920. Four years later Native Americans gained citizenship rights for the first time in the nation’s history. The Great Depression would come just five years later ending a long period of economic prosperity for the young nation.
What other time other than the years after WWII fit into a myth of American greatness? The ending of 246 years of legalized slavery only happened after the bloodiest war in American history.
We are still today dealing with the repercussions of how the nation was brought back together after the Civil War. Americans are fighting over the removal of Confederate monuments and other vestiges of the “myth of the lost cause” 158 years after the war ended.
One element of the American dream that has been cemented into our minds is the desire and right to become a homeowner without discrimination. That right was guaranteed with the passage of the 1866 Civil Rights Bill.
“All persons born in the United States without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude … shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey the real and personal property, as is enjoyed by White citizens.”
As is so often the case, the legal remedy was not enforced. For many decades the exact opposite became the norm. As Richard Rothstein so brilliantly showed us in his book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments – actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.
The legal right to purchase homes, that so many take for granted, was denied to a large segment of Black America for decades. How is it then possible to proclaim the nation was great when elected officials were responsible for intentionally cutting off the dream of homeownership for people based on their “race?”
I was born in Mississippi when Jim Crow segregation laws mandated discrimination based on race. Imagine how some could see the nation as great when people who chose to not discriminate based on race were literally breaking the law. That is one of the realities that MAGA lovers conveniently ignore.
I am still patiently waiting for a time when these folk tell us when they think America was great, not just for some, but for all of us. I think they can only see through their rose-colored glasses, because they refuse to acknowledge the reality of people of color, when things were great for White people, almost exclusively.
This is not to say it was great for all White people, it certainly was not. But a majority basked in the glow of entitlement, having great mortgages handed to them, to purchase homes in Whites-only communities, while simultaneously denying people of color the opportunity to enjoy systemic justice and freedom and a pathway to economic prosperity.
When a large segment of this country continues to ignore the ugly parts of American history to advocate for reclaiming a time when America was great, it bothers me that they do not at least provide some details as to when that time was. I am just curious about what they are thinking.