You can't have a movement without a slogan, and even though MAGA sounds a little too much like maggot for my taste, apparently, Trump supporters either don't mind or maybe relish the comparison.
But even after six years of seeing it emblazoned on goofy red hats, it sounds less like a presidential plea and more like that of a college football coach, saddled with an incompetent team, babbling about a "return to excellence" or "return to glory."
Of course, a return to excellence requires former excellence.
With that in mind, I have a simple question for all the Trump aficionados: when was that?
And I have a follow-up, how did it end?
If we know the exact year when America was great–-when its flaws were so minuscule as to go unnoticed and unrecognized–then let's just reenact it. That whole MAGA schtick would make more sense than the nonsense it makes now.
So when were we luxuriating in greatness? Was it the mid-forties when the soldiers returned from World War II? There was, indeed, patriotic fervor, but there were also 400,000 American military dead. In a country of 132 million, the death rate exceeded that of the current pandemic. I doubt we would want to return to that.
Was it the 50s when the threat of Communism and nuclear war clouded our days?
The 60s with Vietnam and its spate of political assassinations?
Was it the Watergate 70s or the income-inequality 80s?
The 90s when politics became a zero-sum pastime or the new century with 9/11 and more murderous rampages than even the headlines can register?
So, MAGAphiles, paint me a word picture of America in its hour of splendor. And be true to the beliefs you have gleaned from your icon, Donald Trump. In other words, your picture of gilded America would exclude people of color. Any Hispanics allowed in the margins would speak English or have to go "home." Homosexuality would be tolerated in whispers, and gender would be reduced to M and F, so no gay or trans people in your glorious picture. Mosques and synagogues? Sorry, it's mostly white protestant men. Lots of steeples and testifying.
And women—well they had their place once, before Susan B. Anthony, Rosie the Riveter, and Billie Jean King ruined everything. In MAGAmerica, women stay home, restricted by continual pregnancies they did not want and laws they do not accept. And if they disobey? Well, the religious zealots didn't burn men 400 years ago. In truth, MAGA has more in common with the abortive attempt to extirpate witches than with any fair representative government system. Women had that point driven home last June.
And so it appears that MAGA is not about some return to excellence at all; instead, it is a renascence of a time when democracy was merely a theory of government and America was the new home of the predominantly protestant white European male.
And today, as America approaches its semiquincentennial, democracy may not even be on the table. In Arizona, the far-right Republicans have weaponized the word itself—turned the idea of representative government based on one man-one vote into a pervasive menace. There, MAGA leadership aims to control voting and undo whatever election results it opposes. To accuse these fanatics of being undemocratic or inimical to our democracy is to praise them. And be warned: Arizona is not alone.
Remember how the 1619 Project set Republicans' hair on fire because it besmirched their Pollyannaish history of America as the land of the free and the home of the brave? That ongoing manic effort to keep history out of the schools is merely an attempt to cast America in the lurid light these reactionaries choose. Unfortunately for them, the truth of 400 years of enslavement impugns their whitewashing. So they have done what the Germans did in the 1930s, the Hungarians did 2010, and the Brits did in 2019—selected a leader without ideals or ideas, one who can lead them back to a time when knowledge was a burden and ignorance was bliss.
But despite the "G" on the hat, Trump supporters pursue ignorance more than greatness, and that fact will ultimately be their downfall. They have done and will continue to do a lot of damage along the way, but the inability to comprehend truth will thwart them. We are not a stupid country, and we have always valued learning and education. That's something that MAGAphiles lile Lauren Boebert, Mo Brooks, and even Trump himself will never understand or vanquish.