Dear Red Hats (you know who you are):
As Donald J. Trump crisscrossed across the country, spewing invective, disrespecting groups of people, and shouting the slogan that a Trump presidency would “make America great again,” I wondered what exactly he meant. I would like one of you red hats to tell me why that slogan resonated with you and what exactly you think it means.
America, in her greatness, has always been deeply divided and deeply flawed, from her very founding. The Constitution codified slavery, and through political expediency counted Africans and their descendants as three-fifths of a person, so the slave states would have disproportionate representation in the House of Representatives, because representation in the House would be based on states’ populations, despite the fact that only white men could vote. (The South, of course, wanted their numerous slaves to be counted for purposes of representation in the House, the North was opposed to this, for the obvious reasons, thus the The-Fifths Compromise.)
Eighty-seven years after the country’s founding, there was a bloody Civil War, with slavery at the forefront. At the end of this war, the country attempted to move towards the ideal of “a more perfect Union.” The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, the latter giving Black men the right to vote in 1870. It would be another 50 years before women would be given the right to vote.
This new post-Civil War America lasted twelve years, the Reconstruction years. The Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877 effectively neutralized these post- Civil War Amendments, with Southern states asserting comity or states’ rights, so they could go back to the business of oppressing and terrorizing descendants of Africans. (Part of the Compromise was removing Federal troops from the South.)
Plessy v. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court decision in 1896, made segregation , or Jim Crow, legal. This ruling was not overturned for 58 years, in 1954, with Brown v. Board of Education, with the same Court declaring that this Brave New No Longer White World could not be “separate and equal.”
In 1917, America became embroiled in the First World War At its end, in 1919, there was both a Black and Red Summer. Race riots, that is, white people targeting and killing Black people, spread across the country. Immigrants, those with left political leanings, were also attacked by good ol’ Americans.
In the 1920s, we saw the rise of the Birth of a Nation, the Ku Klux Klan, who spewed a different king of invective in trying to “make America great [read white] again,” that is, with fiery crosses, castrations of Black men and lynchings, which practically became an American pastime.
In 1941, the Japanese, seeking to take over colonized Asia while white people were occupied fighting each other during World War II, made the tactical mistake of bombing Pearl Harbor and awakening a Sleeping Giant, America. It was after World War II that America because a Superpower. Still, during this time, even during the War, America had a great but segregated Army. (My father, a teenager, served in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II.)
After this Second World War, there was a period of peace and prosperity for white people in America, with the South still oppressing and terrorizing its Black citizens, until the Decisive Decade, when a president, a presidential candidate, and a whole host of Black leaders and white allies were assassinated in an attempt to “make America great again.”
And then there was Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which Richard Nixon declared “lawless” in 1968 as he ran for president, making “law and order” part of his campaign spiel, as the Donald has in 2016 (and let’s not forget Bush I and his Willie Horton Campaign). Thus the beginning of the modern war on crime and mass incarceration, fueled by President Clinton, Bamboozler in Chief.
And then there was two presidential terms of America’s first Black president. Perhaps America was finally moving towards that “more perfect union” and a post-racial society. But President Obama’s presidency encountered unprecedented obstructionism, mostly from white male Republicans, whom I affectionately call Repugs.
And now we have Donald J. Trump, the president-elect, and the Russians rejoice. (I wonder why.)
During his campaign, the Donald appealed to the Ugly Americans: racism, sexism, genderism, misogyny, xenophobia and the red hats; yet in his acceptance speech he calls for finding “common ground” and “partnership” in “making America great again.” For some strange reason, I don’t think the Trumpsters had that in mind.
God bless America!