Making headlines across the country, Rick Tyler, running for a congressional seat from the 3rd district of Tennessee, put up a billboard with the words “Make America White Again” to bring publicity to his campaign. In an interview he practically admitted it was to stir up controversy, but still claimed there was a great amount of truth to it. In his own words he wanted to go back to the America of the 1960’s, or what he calls the “Ozzie and Harriet” or the “Leave it to Beaver” America. But something striking about this interview is how completely composed the man is: he speaks intelligently (or just what he regards as intelligent sounding), he has his ideas clear and articulates, he even provides a few shady statistics to reinforce his claims.
There were already speculations about the true meaning of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and what it actually meant, but Tyler’s slogan takes all suspicion out of it. He confirms our suspicions in a way that even the demagoguery of Trump would not dare to do.
While it is more than easy to refute Tyler’s claim that the supposed degradation of America is due to non-Caucasians, his slogan reveals some unsettling truths about the state of reactionary politics. The first thing to really analyze is what exactly these reactionaries are responding to. You could point to the obvious and say it is Tyler’s point that the ratio of whites in the country has shifted, but that almost seems too easy. But as made clear by the interview, his feelings could not be self-justified if he felt a good amount of social dominance from the white community. It is not merely the number that has changed, it is their status in the social spectrum. Whether this is actually true or not, meaning even if there is no true evidence to fully support this claim, this is what the reactionary community feels is happening.
So reactionaries feel they’re becoming inferior, which makes it natural for them to strike back in hopes of reclaiming their supposed superiority. This is where the fundamentalist “Make America Great Again” comes from. The natural question arises “When was it ever great?” This is merely speculation, but for many conservatives it is represented by the Reagan era. The emergence of neo-conservatism in the 1980’s is well documented, but is the slogan “Make America Great Again” not the failure of the Reagan project? Meaning that the conservative promises made by Reagan and other neo-con politicians deteriorated into animosity and bitterness at the modern era. With this conclusion, it is almost fair to say that Trump is the failed Reagan. And others, such as Rick Tyler, are just following his lead.
It’s interesting to note that this isn’t a new feeling at all. There has always been a great deal of American exceptionalism floating around, with the feeling becoming more prominent in some periods more than others. In 1938, the poet Langston Hughes wrote a response to the same reactionary sentiment we see today in his poem “Let America Be America Again”
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free. (America never was America to me.)
Again this is all mere speculations, and sadly attempts at scientifically supporting this may end up being superficial. The last important thing to consider though is, “What will satisfy the reactionaries?” and this may be the most crucial. Here I have to disagree with many other speculators out there. I do not see the fundamentalist movement as an ‘all or nothing’ type campaign. There will be no conservative revolution if Trump is not elected, as many silently hope for. The most important thing to is to simply change, to take a different approach from the actions of the Obama administration which they over vilify. Sadly however, many reactionary conservatives view Clinton as the extended arm of Obama if not viewing her as the devil itself. In which case her name may blind them of any change she brings about and they will continue to protest her very being. In this case I wish Clinton would reproach her fake progressivism and go back to her moderate stances, simply so the progressive ideas won’t leave a dirty taste in conservative’s mouths.
Rick Tyler’s anger may be justified in some twisted way, but he is wholly misguided. The conservative atavist utopia he seems to have created in his head is nowhere near to being created. For anybody looking for optimism in these deeply irrational times, just remember: they can’t stay angry forever.