Followers of the Trumpian Make America Great Again movement imagine the golden age of America as taking place in the 1950s, particularly as represented by the television shows from the 1950s and early 60s that Baby Boomers nostalgically rewatch today and ask themselves what happened to that America. Shows like Leave It To Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show, which younger MAGA fans picture as practical documentaries of social life in an America conspicuously white.
However, Trump-loving MAGA acolytes promise that their past-tense notions of American greatness have nothing to do with the pervasive racism that contrasts 1958 so sharply with 2018, so what could it be that makes 1950s America so attractive to our contemporary MAGA-hat enthusiasts?
Could it be America’s post-war economic strength? Let’s give Trump supporters the benefit of the doubt on Republicans’ suspicious white-identity politics, and examine the 1950s’ economic strengths.
It is a great irony that Trump fans idolize the 50s because America was wildly liberal then compared to today. Conservatives railed against President Obama and called him a communist when the Congressional fiscal cliff deal raised the top income tax rate from 35% to 39.6%, yet in the 50s the top tax rate peaked at 92%. Granted, nobody actually paid that much in taxes, and the effective tax rate was dramatically lower, but, similarly, rich people with armies of accountants and lawyers today are not coming anywhere close to paying their actual tax rate. However, back in our idyllic era of American greatness, President Eisenhower understood that it made no sense to cut taxes before budget deficits were tamed and exchanged for surpluses (in contrast, the current GOP Congress recently repealed Obama’s halving of the annual deficits he inherited, and simultaneously cut taxes while adding over a trillion red dollars to the budget).
The 50s’ high tax rate had a funny effect on the US economy and society in that employers and companies were forced to hide their profits from the government with expansion in order to avoid paying such high taxes. As the American foreign war machine converted to domestic production, employees earned envious wages, quality healthcare, pensions, and company benefits, while businesses all across America hired hundreds of thousands of new workers every month. Back then labor was rewarded for increases in productivity, so much that families needed only one working parent. It was a real trickle-up economic wonderland, and we owed it to relatively high taxes that kept America’s superrich from selfishly keeping all the economic gains for themselves like they do now.
America’s private enterprise was booming in this golden era that MAGA fans yearn for, yet this was only made possible thanks to heroic governmental subsidies and public endeavoring. Perhaps the most successful governmental subsidy in world history was the GI Bill Franklin Roosevelt passed into law in 1944, which turned America’s victorious military into the most prosperous middle class the world had ever seen.
The government gave literally millions of returned soldiers FREE tuition money for college and vocational schools with living stipends, a full year of unemployment benefits, guaranteed loans to start a business or farm, and low-cost mortgages to buy a home, all of which was exempt from income taxes. Meanwhile, the rest of the population reaped the benefits from the alphabet soup of New Deal programs that had subsidized families throughout the hardship Depression years, constructed national infrastructure projects still vital today, and welcomed the impoverished South’s entry into the modern world. This era of public-obsessed funding and focus catalyzed American ingenuity into literally unprecedented prosperity and was fortified with hugely popular and successful social safety net programs like Social Security that would be given booster shots in the 60s thanks to President Kennedy’s liberal idealism and President Johnson’s legislative pragmatism. Even Eisenhower in the middle of this Democratic generation of governance established NASA, expanded Social Security, and championed the interstate highway system. What a Republican!
The contemporary Republican Party has since discredited, dismantled, and auctioned the peerless society post-war liberalism constructed, and the duped struggling blue-collar Americans who elected the most privately-interested man America has ever produced as president atop a fully Republican government intent on jackhammering the few public cornerstones left unprivatized have ruined their own livelihoods falling for the Republican scam one presidential election after another that tax cuts for rich people will ever help poor people.
What made America great back in the 50s was, quite simply, unashamed liberalism that galvanized our society with passion for all things public. Everything the US government did back then that converted the US war machine into MAGA-hat enthusiasts’ fantasy land of American greatness is what Democrats are calling for today: revitalizing infrastructure projects, subsidized education and student debt relief, housing reform, expanded healthcare and safety net programs, and a new industrial revolution with blatantly prosperous green technology that will create millions of jobs, whole industries ripe for American ingenuity, and a better country in which to live. The only thing the MAGA crowd wants to subsidize is an unneeded, symbolic wall to remind themselves that even though they’re poor and have voted for decades against their own public interests, at least their immigrant ancestors were white.
A return to liberal American greatness will, of course, include tax increases on the rich, but maybe after decades of Republican privatization of all things public, tax cuts, deregulation, fermented anti-government hatred, and consequence-free capitalist selfishness that has entitled virtually all new wealth in America to leapfrog the labor that toiled for it, it is time for superrich snowflakes to be compelled to give a shit about America again and to stop convincing disgruntled Americans that the country’s woes are because of immigrants and brown people.
Which is why MAGA fans’ support of Donald Trump is inextricable from their racist tendencies. If Trump supporters really wanted to Make America Great Again, they’d vote for Democrats, tax hikes on the superrich, and governmental solutions to the problems private enterprise has no financial incentive to care about.