You’ve seen the clip from The Newsroom. Or maybe you haven’t. Here.
It’s a good speech, but there’s an insidious implication behind it, and it’s the same implication behind the phrase “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, as the nationalists over on /r/the_donald put it.
At the heart of what makes the phrase problematic is this question: in what decade was America great?
Was it the 00s, when the Patriot Act started us down a road toward becoming a police state?
Was it the 90s, when the mass incarceration of blacks picked up in serious?
The 80s, with the failed experiment of Reagonomics and the cold war?
Go down decade by decade and you find more of the building blocks that got us to our present situation. So when someone says they want to “Make America Great Again,” what are they actually saying? If we’re looking at reddit’s Trump supporters, then we’ve got to accept that this population is mostly a migration from 4chan, and that it’s inherited those racist undertones. And overtones. And midtones. Great America was segregated America and Slave America to those folks, but their opinion doesn’t matter. There are non-racist Trump supporters who also fling MAGA around. (There are almost certainly no anti-racist Trump supporters, but rather, Trump supporters who have no vested interest that they’re aware of in actively participating in racial oppression.)
So what greatness are the people who aren’t actually saying MAGA as a way of saying “Make America White Again” hoping to return America to? There’s a rosy-eyed view of the decades sandwiching World War II as a beacon of freedom, but that deliberately ignores that the good things included a massive tax rate on US corporations, that there was a goddamn reason people called Reagan “the Teflon president,” and that we had a sorry propensity to assassinate leaders that threatened the every entrenching establishment.
There was never an overall American golden age. Claiming that there was gives power to historical revisionists who have vested interests in lopsided distributions of power.
So what does MAGA mean?
Nothing. It’s crowdsourced Orwellian newspeak that locks people onto the highly charged emotional raillines that make supporting Donald Trump feel good. “Great” has no real definition, and “again” refers to no concrete point in time. The call to action itself is even devoid of meaning; “make” in the imperative voice here asks people to return to a time that didn’t exist and to perform an empty set. This is the actual definition of newspeak. It is blackwhite designed to trigger bellyfeel.