Ciboski: When, Mr. Trump, Was America Great?

Aug 8, 2019

When Donald Trump launched his 2016 campaign for president, he announced that he was doing so because he wanted to “Make America Great Again.” When, according to Donald Trump, was America great? Was it during the 19th century, when the black population was enslaved? Was it during the Jim Crow era, when black Americans in the South were not allowed to vote? In a November 2016 Hollywood Reporter interview, Steve Bannon, then the strategic manager of Trump’s campaign, said that what was to come would be comparable to the 1930s. This would not be my idea of “greatness,” as it was, of course, a time when the United States had many fascist sympathizers.

Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley is the author of How Fascism Works.  Stanley notes fascist politics usually invoke a pure mythic past that has been tragically destroyed. He says that in the rhetoric of extreme nationalists, past glory has been lost by the humiliation brought about by globalism, liberal cosmopolitanism, and respect for “universal values” such as equality.

The dangers of fascist politics are reflected in ways that dehumanize segments of the population. It limits the capacity for empathy among other citizens. This can lead to the justification of inhumane treatment, repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and, in more extreme cases, to mass extermination. In some cases of ethnic cleansing, the victims were subjected to vicious rhetorical attacks by leaders and the press for months or years before the regime turned genocidal. All Americans should be concerned about Donald Trump, who, as a candidate and as president, has publicly vilified immigrant groups and minorities.

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