Updated: Sep 20, 2021
“Make America Great Again” was the slogan of Donald Trump’s bid for the White House in 2016. It appealed to those who believed that the nation had somehow lost its place on the world stage as the dominant country.
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Like the slogan “Hope and Change” that propelled Barack Obama to the presidency, MAGA had an appeal to a certain segment of the American population. It was a group dissatisfied with the current state of affairs; one that sought to adopt a policy of denial.
This leaves us with the question, when did America stop being “great”?
Most would say it happened when we elected a Black man as president. The backlash against Obama’s legitimacy began even before he won the election. The birther controversy sought to undermine President Obama’s right to be president by spreading the false claim that he wasn’t born in this country; that he was actually a Muslim agent seeking to destroy the American way of life by adopting Sharia law, denying the Christians of this country their “God given right” to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
But the origins of MAGA go back even further. They tap deep into America’s racist past; a past many who are part of the movement want to deny as they protest the teaching of Critical Race Theory in our schools. They harken to a time when White makes right was the rule of the land even as far back as to the very words emboldened on the Constitution.
The Three-Fifths Compromise
Perhaps American greatness was at its zenith at the moment it became a nation. The ratification of the Constitution was the point where the grand experiment began. It replaced the state-centered Articles of Confederation which served as the basis for our government during the first ten years of its existence. It represented the first time in recorded history that a representative government would be the rule of law. The one house legislative branch of the Articles of Confederation was replaced by the bicameral legislature where one house had equal representation and the other was based upon population.
The creation of this second house caused a rift between the more populated Northern states and the sparsely populated South. The solution was to create a greater number of those living in the South by making those enslaved 3/5 of a person, resulting in what the South saw as a more equitable dispersion of representatives. The resulting compromise codified the belief that slaves were not actually people. Instead they were allowed to be counted for the purpose of representation only.
Those espousing the MAGA doctrine are attempting to make this a reality again as they enact restrictive voting rights laws aimed at limiting access to the ballot boxes by minorities. Like the three-fifths compromise, these laws are designed to make persons of color less of an impact in future elections.
The Jim Crow Era
Following the end of the Civil War, Southern states enacted a series of laws aimed at continuing the role of newly freed slaves as second-class citizens. Backed by a Conservative Supreme Court, these laws, known collectively as Jim Crow laws, legalized racial segregation.
The current efforts by Republicans to limit voting access has been called Jim Crow 2.0. They are a reaction to the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was rife with fraud. They are at the heart of MAGA and the belief that America was great when poll taxes and other restrictive practices were in place to prevent Blacks from voting.
One of the practices of the Jim Crow era was redlining. This was the racial segregation of neighborhoods whereupon Blacks were limited to living in substandard housing and poorer neighborhoods. These areas typically had a weaker electric grid, poorer sanitation and an older infrastructure characterized by lead paint and antiquated pipes that delivered water that were also lined with lead.
A scare tactic used by Donald Trump and MAGA media in his failed reelection bid was to claim that, if elected, Democrats would “ruin the suburbs”. Except the suburbs he envisioned were those of the 1950s, when redlining was the normal practice.
Again, Trump harkened back to a time when America was “great”.
America is a nation of immigrants. It’s a Melting Pot of ideas, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Despite this, MAGA aims to vilify the very immigrants who created this country. Xenophobia, homophobia and racism are at the core of MAGA beliefs. They represent the worst of America by espousing White supremacy, Naziism, the Ku Klux Klan and other ultra-right tenets.
Using Replacement Theory as a scare tactic , MAGA amplifies the hatred of the right by spreading the falsehood that Democrats want open borders so that these new entries to the United States would vote for them as a reward. The philosophy further claims that the “invasion” of these undocumented immigrants would somehow replace Whites as the dominant race in America.
Therefore, MAGA is about maintaining the dominant place Whites have held since our country was founded. The rationale that they are preserving “American values” of a White Christian nation goes against everything the Founding Fathers wanted.
No Longer the Party of Lincoln
Republicans will never miss the chance to remind anyone that they are the Party of Lincoln. However, given the influence of MAGA, the party no longer bears any resemblance to those who fought to preserve the Union. Instead, they are the party of division. They are more about power than principle when it comes to doing what is best for those they were elected to represent.
Lincoln freed the slaves.
MAGA wants to make them second-class citizens again.
Lincoln sought to preserve the Union.
MAGA wants to stoke division even to the point of inciting insurrection.
Lincoln believed in the fact that “all men are created equal”.
MAGA spreads baseless conspiracy theories.
The Party of Lincoln is no more. It has been replaced by a dark, violent, warped philosophy called MAGA.