Nostalgia, Fear, and Politics

There is a disconnect between what is, what has been, and what is not reality. It is a belief that progress can be reversed. That the future can be remade in our own image, and that we can go back to a fictional better time.  That is not, in fact, a reasonable means for making policy or progressing a modern society. However, it is a means that is used to manipulate people. Often, people who are left behind by innovation, technology, and modernity. Or, in some cases, it is used to manipulate powerful people who feel their power is slipping with the march of time.

There can be no doubt that a slogan such as “Make America Great Again”, is such a tool hearkening to this manipulation. At no time in the past 200 years would any group of Americans call their current time “great”, though, there have  in fact, been times of great economic growth, during those times, there were still groups who were disenfranchised, disenchanted, and alienated.

In the United States, at the least, the 1950s have often been called as an example of Great America. Following on the heels of WWII, Americans enjoyed the great advancements of technology and innovation, that came with the war years spending, and Depression era infrastructure projects. Electricity was brought to all but the most remote of areas. Television was common, bringing with it daily news updates on world and national affairs. The country enjoyed a settled economic period, and for a time following the Korean War, Americans enjoyed peace and a great position of influence in world political maneuvering.

This period which is often referred to as an American dream, was in fact full of strife for those who didn’t fit into specific demographics. African-Americans were discriminated against in almost every facet of American life, from property purchase to job interviews, to where they would sit on the bus, or eat lunch in the diner. Women were not paid equally for equal work, and were frequently turned away from all but a few stereotypical jobs, when men were present to take those jobs. Even men, found themselves disadvantaged in matters of child custody and divorce. The end of the Fifties and the rise of the Sixties social revolutions are further evidence that not all was a bed of roses, in that American dream.

The presidency of America’s first Black president was perceived as a threat to a long standing unwritten social order in the United States. Though race played a pivotal role in this perception, it must also be pointed out that as a intellectual, President Obama also defied stereotypes of African-American men which has been clung too, by many ruralists. Further, his pivotal move to provide basic healthcare to all Americans through a subsidized insurance system, was perceived as an attack on the ideal of “rugged individualism”, and the insurance mandate designed to bring down over all health care and insurance costs), was seen as violating the fundamental freedom of choice. To add further grievance, Obama’s legacy included expanding and safeguarding the rights of all American citizens regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, which was seen as an affront to fundamentalists, who regard anything other than a heterosexual relationship as sinful, and do not wish to give equal rights of marriage, insurance, or legal recognition of such relationships. Finally, under the Obama Legacy, American women and minorities saw gains in political appointments and offices, as well as increased visibility in business and science.

The Obama years saw a further shrinking of the globe. Today, Americans talk to people worldwide on their game consoles and PCs and play games together. Americans talk to global counterparts on face to face video chat, and other similar software daily, for business and recreation. International travel is seen as a required part of many jobs, and this has contributed to rapid technological advancement in the last thirty years. The world is no longer full of faceless people, but by people who now easily and regularly share ideas, traditions, and even entertainment.  Ideas are shared in real time, and communication is no longer limited to costly, time-constrained phone calls.

Globalism, which has been a great boon to technological innovation and shared economic benefit, is seen by some as an unnecessary hazard to national economic growth and job creation. Some sectors have seen a loss of jobs and industry as companies move to utilize labor in countries that do not protect employee rights or regulate businesses for environmental and safety concerns, for the maximization of profit.  Further, this sharing of ideas is seen as a danger to the nation’s customs, traditions and identity. Globalism comes with  mingling of people, their traditions, and beliefs. This is also perceived as a threat by some right wing groups.

Globalism is :

a national policy of treating the whole world as a proper sphere for political influence (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/globalism)

A further perceived threat viewed by the right in both America and Europe is the concern that nations no longer appear homogeneous in race.  Statistics indicate that in America (and this is also likely for Europe) that in short order Caucasians will no longer be a majority. This may affect a number of traditionally held beliefs. As minorities grow in political power, equality in all senses of the word will be acted on both legislatively and traditionally. Society IS changing.

IN 2012, the Census Bureau announced that nonwhite births exceeded white births for the first time. In 2013, it noted that more whites were dying than were being born. In March, it projected that non-Hispanic whites would be a minority by 2044. (New York Times, June 11, 2015.)

Women’s rights are being assaulted, also with the idea that returning to some imaginary past when all was right with America, includes taking away access to easy or free reproductive healthcare and birth control. There are some who believe that by taking away control of their reproduction, women will eventually return to more traditional lifestyles. Birth rates of American women, of all demographics, continue to drop as women have taken control of their reproduction and have put economic concerns ahead of having children. Many women are waiting until later in life to have children, and some choose not to have any children. Women have taken control of their lives from their biology, and now make conscious decisions about when to begin, or if to begin, childbearing. This further adds to the perceived threat to nativists who fear minorities gaining more political power through numbers. Further, Fundamentalists see this as encouraging promiscuity, placing their personal moral beliefs ahead of the rights of others to choose how to conduct their personal lives.

Republican  campaigns across American  played to all of these fears with varying degrees of extremism. They (most notably President Donald Trump) took strategies out of the playbooks of historic nativists and vilified various groups, blatantly for some groups, subtly for others, and in the process gave tacit sympathy to marginalized organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacist groups and individuals.

…the F.B.I. cataloged a total of 5,818 hate crimes in 2015 — a rise of about 6 percent over the previous year — including assaults, bombings, threats, and property destruction against minorities, women, gays and others.

Attacks against Muslim Americans saw the biggest surge. There were 257 reports of assaults, attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims last year, a jump of about 67 percent over 2014. It was the highest total since 2001, when more than 480 attacks occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. (NY Times, November 14, 2016)

     There are a significant  number of independent, reputable studies, showing that Americans are more likely to be injured or killed by non-Muslim attacks.  An article first published in 2013 by  Washington’s Blog and Global Research, argues this convincingly. The pervading fear of people of Arabic descent or of the Islamic faith, has  been used to further the political ambitions of far right wing politicians, both in the US and abroad, and fan the flame of nativist extremism.

So we return to the idea of “Make America Great Again.” A slogan which could be at home on a propaganda poster, that became a rallying cry for nativism and American superiority during the 2016 election cycle. Ralph Linton, a renown American anthropologist in the mid-twentieth century made a study of nativism and defined it as:

Any conscious, organized attempt on the part of a society’s members to revive or perpetuate selected aspects of its culture. (LINTON, R. and Hallowell, A. I. (1943), NATIVISTIC MOVEMENTS. American Anthropologist, 45: 230–240. doi:10.1525/aa.1943.45.2.02a00070)p. 230

He goes on to point out that all societies “seek to perpetuate their own cultures, but they usually do this unconsciously…” (Linton, 230).  The difference between this unconscious perpetuation, which might be seen as such things as clothing styles, language, and traditional ceremonies, and nativism, is that  somewhere along the line it was recognized that outside cultures were influencing and changing, either blatantly or subtly, the original culture.   In the case of “Make America Great Again”, the perceived attack on traditional American rural values, hard work, fundamentalist Christian values, and in some cases White Male superiority, by outside forces and agitators led to the unorthodox election cycle of 2016.

Though the economy has grown at an unprecedented rate it cannot be denied that there are regions and industries that saw downturn rather than improvement. Technological innovations have allowed companies to move to automation. Increased need for, and demand for, cleaner energy sources have seen a down turn in coal use and miners languish. Agricultural technology has increased food production, but as more land around the world is put into commercial ag, competition becomes a harsh reality.  As employment becomes more information and data based, industrial manual labor jobs have declined along with their wages, leaving older workers displaced and disenchanted. Service based employment grows at an astonishing rate, but the wages for those who work in those types of jobs are low, and benefits are negligible.

Nations such as China and India have only just reached their peak in industrialization, just as the Western nations begin to move into the technological era. The result of which is manufacturing of a large variety of goods have moved overseas to these highly populated, barely regulated centers of manufacturing, while the Western nations pioneer information, data collecting, transfer, and utilization. This is the digital age.

All of the factors mentioned have contributed to a general dissatisfaction, and fear, particular among segments of society that see themselves left behind by the shrinking of the globe. Many do not want to change their way of life from that of the generations that came before them. Preferring to do the same jobs, live in the same towns, go to the same schools, practice the same religions without change, and only see others who are just like them in their communities,  without the realization that change comes to all things, especially in a time when the basic structure of society is changing, locally and globally. Regardless of the basic tenants they claim to ascribe to, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech,  there is no hesitation to impose their will upon the rest of society, and that is, ultimately what has happened.

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