OP-ED: An American Renaissance

We all know the slogan: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”. But where’s the appeal? Why the slogan hits home with so many people is the call to a ‘greater’ past. It’s the idea that America was once perfect but this was lost over time.

Anyone with a smartphone can Google ‘American history’ and find out that this past isn’t golden. But Trump’s call to a greater past implies that America lost something it used to have. “Looking back” is a strategy used in all kinds of places. Most notably in politics, but even subtly in places like malls and TV. It’s a trend that’s been used globally for centuries as a way to appeal to individuals on large scales.

In a way, Trump’s signature slogan is a call for an American renaissance. Renaissance is French for ‘rebirth’. It’s been mainly used to describe the years during the 14th-16th centuries when Europe saw a great burst of cultural, economical, and scientific change. This rebirth was sparked by the same nostalgia that Trump appeals to. Europe looked back at ancient Greece and Rome as their ‘great past’. The Europeans wanted to “MAKE EUROPE GREAT AGAIN”.

But Trump never labels a specific era that was the American great, and he doesn’t need to. When Trump tells people to “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”, he’s not addressing American history. He’s appealing to each person with a past that they miss. Many people want to think that they would never be swayed by such vague promises. But it happens everyday, whether we know it or not.

Older generations are nostalgic for their youth. Many think that our current generation has ‘lost’ something that is making us act unruly. Author Svetlana Boym says in her book The Future of Nostalgia that “nostalgia appears to be a longing for a place but is actually a yearning for a different time – the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams.”

Boym also states “the fantasies of the past determined by the needs of the present have a direct impact on the realities of the future.” Pride for the past is a powerful emotion, and people will filter out the bad parts in favour of the good. Maybe a person hates ripped jeans. In their mind, making America great again would be to ban them. Trump doesn’t need to give specific examples. We fill in the rest ourselves.

Trump is first and foremost a businessman. His gut tells him that the past sells. If you’ve watched the Netflix show Stranger Things or been to Urban Outfitters then you’ve been attacked by nostalgic propaganda. Steve Olenski, a writer for Forbes magazine, explains in his article Nostalgia Sells that we live in a fast-paced world and “many people have looked back to simpler times and been attracted to products from that past that remind them of when life wasn’t so complicated.” In other words, the past is safe and predictable. Trump promises a future that is exactly that. He uses nostalgia to sell himself and his promises to his customers, who in this case are the American people.

Where Trump falls short is his lack of connection to the much younger generation. If we guess that America’s ‘downfall’ began on 9/11 then we need to account for everyone born after that. The “MAKE AMERICAN GREAT” business falls flat with his audience who can’t remember 9/11 because they were too young and weren’t around to know a better America. This smaller generation is mostly filled with people who can’t vote yet, including the children who were born into the Trump presidency. We can’t deny that how these kids are raised will have an effect on their opinions of him. Trump, however, will need to begin changing his selling tactics if he wants this generation on his side. It will be nearly impossible to demand people remember a past that wasn’t theirs.

Trump’s American renaissance is already going down in history but it’s too early to tell what the long-term effects will be. Since these next few years will one day be our past, it raises the question of exactly how many of us will be nostalgic for it in the future.

 

 

America Reborn

We all know the slogan: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”. But where’s the appeal? Why the slogan hits home with so many people is the call to a ‘greater’ past. It’s the idea that America was once perfect but it was lost over time.

Anyone with a smartphone can Google ‘American history’ and find out that this past isn’t golden. But Trump’s call to a greater past implies that America lost something it used to have. “Looking back” is a strategy used in all kinds of places. Most notably in politics, but even subtly in places like malls and TV. It’s a trend that’s been used globally for centuries as a way to appeal to individuals on large scales.

In a way, Trump’s signature slogan is a call for an American renaissance. Renaissance is French for ‘rebirth’. It’s been mainly used to describe the years during the 14th-16th centuries when Europe saw a great burst of cultural, economical, and scientific change. This rebirth was sparked by the same nostalgia that Trump appeals to. Europe looked back at ancient Greece and Rome as their ‘great past’. The Europeans wanted to “MAKE EUROPE GREAT AGAIN”.

But Trump never labels a specific era that was the American great, and he doesn’t need to. When Trump tells people to “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”, he’s not addressing American history. He’s appealing to each person with a past that they miss. Many people want to think that they would never be swayed by such vague promises. But it happens everyday, whether we know it or not.

Older generations are nostalgic for their youth. Many think that our current generation has ‘lost’ something that is making us act unruly. Author Svetlana Boym says in her book The Future of Nostalgia that “nostalgia appears to be a longing for a place but is actually a yearning for a different time – the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams.”

Boym also states “the fantasies of the past determined by the needs of the present have a direct impact on the realities of the future.” Pride for the past is a powerful emotion, and people will filter out the bad parts in favour of the good. Maybe a person hates ripped jeans. In their mind, making America great again would be to ban them. Trump doesn’t need to give specific examples. We fill in the rest ourselves.

Trump is first and foremost a businessman. His gut tells him that the past sells. If you’ve watched the Netflix show Stranger Things or been to Urban Outfitters then you’ve been attacked by nostalgic propaganda. Steve Olenski, a writer for Forbes magazine, explains in his article Nostalgia Sells that we live in a fast-paced world and “many people have looked back to simpler times and been attracted to products from that past that remind them of when life wasn’t so complicated.” In other words, the past is safe and predictable. Trump promises a future that is exactly that. He uses nostalgia to sell himself and his promises to his customers, who in this case are the American people.

Where Trump falls short is his lack of connection to the much younger generation. If we guess that America’s ‘downfall’ began on 9/11 then we need to account for everyone born after that. The “MAKE AMERICAN GREAT” business falls flat with his audience who can’t remember 9/11 because they were too young and weren’t around to know a better America. This smaller generation is mostly filled with people who can’t vote yet, including the children who were born into the Trump presidency. We can’t deny that how these kids are raised will have an effect on their opinions of him. Trump, however, will need to begin changing his selling tactics if he wants this generation on his side. It will be nearly impossible to demand people remember a past that wasn’t theirs.

Trump’s American renaissance is already going down in history but it’s too early to tell what the long-term effects will be. Since these next few years will one day be our past, it raises the question of exactly how many of us will be nostalgic for it in the future.

 

Second Klan as a Case Study for Populism

Although every organization is different, Gordon’s article informs readers about some common characteristics of populist movements such as conspiracy theories, distrust of experts, extreme nationalism, isolationism, and victimization. The author writes that the Trump and Sanders campaign have been circulating discussions about populism. She also writes in detail about the KKK, and how its characteristics could fall under those of a populist movement. Indirectly, the author is trying to draw similarities between current American political parties, and the KKK of the 1930’s. Gordon however does not describe in detail the Trump or Sanders administration, their actions, mandates, or how they could be characterized as populist or similar to the KKK. If the message the author wanted to deliver was for us to be weary of present political atmospheres which could have devastating effects comparable to those of the KKK, then it could have been more effective if the author had specified some of the actions of ideologies of the Trump/Sanders administrations which she was concerned about.

Some connections can certainly be made between the Republican party and a traditional populist movement, for example the isolationist policies, the travel ban, and the conspiracy of ‘Islamophobia’, however Gordon does not go into hardly any detail of present American politics. If Gordon’s intent was to make warn people about the possible negative effects that actions and ideologies can have on parts of the population, then perhaps she could have spoken more about the current atmosphere in America, how people are being treated, and how they will be affected by upcoming policy implementations. If Gordon’s intent was simply to present current American parties as populist, then it is a wonder why she compared them to the KKK with it’s history of violence and human rights violations, as opposed to another populist movement which is more ethical, humane and successful.

 

 

 

Improper Use of the Term ‘Populist”

The article’s main argument is centered around the misuse of populist terminology when describing popular grassroots organizing and movements.  Linda Gordon writes that ‘populism’ became a trendy word during the recent US election to describe Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns.  These referrals are damaging to the political landscape and emphasises that historians and media should be stricter when calling a person or group populist.

The argument is expanded upon by outlining the history and practices of the KKK, what she calls a true populist movement.  The KKK is characterized by all of the 13 elements that are displayed by populist groups such as, large size, mass mobilization, extreme nationalism, victimization and conspiracy theories.  For example, the Klan considered all white Anglo-Saxon protestant’s victims who have fallen to the Jews and Catholics.  The Jews, ran Hollywood and attempted to subvert women’s morality through their near naked depiction and the Catholics invaded the police, politics and schools.

Is the ‘alt-right’ filling the void that the KKK once occupied?  I believe they could fit in most of the 13 elements, but they seem less harmful.  They have mass participation which can be seen online and in the event in Charlottesville.  They are anti-immigration and angry and distrustful of elites.  A distrust of experts can also be seen in the ‘fake news’ campaigns.  The alt-right has also expressed disdain for the Jewish community following the fashion of the KKK.  One of the leaders, Richard Spencer is a proponent for a Jewish free white only North America.

Does the alt-right wield the same power as the KKK once did? Does the alt-right lack central leadership that diminishes the cohesion needed to wield such power?  Can they evolve to be as recognisable as the KKK?  How has the Trump era influenced groups like the KKK and the alt-right?

Riley Bowman

First Responder: It Can’t Happen in the USA – Or Can It?

 

Many people believe that the United States is immune to populism due to their strong beliefs of personal freedom, democracy and their political and military history (for example, fighting with the Allied Forces against Hitler’s regime in WW2). Unfortunately, we are now seeing that this belief has generated a false sense of security. This has allowed populist roots to take hold in many different aspects of the country. Some citizens seem to be downplaying the presence of these roots – almost as a form of willful ignorance. This is reinforced by the belief that the United States oversees the policing of other parts of the world (they are labelled as leaders of the free world), but they themselves do not require intervention as they are the supposed role model. On the other hand, there are many who are not ignorant to the changes taking place but justify this shift as a necessary extreme for the greater good of the American people and to protect the American way of life (consequentialists).

This is further complicated by the great divide that is taking place not only in America, but all over the world. Not all, but some, label those on the other end of the political spectrum as extremists and state that they are out of touch with reality. They dehumanize each other and don’t see each other as fellow human beings with differing view points. All they see is red or blue, liberal or conservative – an enemy. Some are extremely indoctrinated in their nationalism because of the system that they were raised in. When a child acts inappropriately we don’t usually blame them, we blame the parents – can the same be argued for those on the extreme right and left? We cannot excuse the behaviour as it has severe (and sometimes violent) consequences for many marginalized groups, but this demonstrates the difficulty in bridging the gap between the two extremes and opens the door for understanding both ends of the political spectrum.

Populism functions on a variety of levels, but the largest and most powerful motivating factor, in my opinion, is victimization. If people felt empowered and didn’t feel like victims, the tactics used by many populists wouldn’t be able to take hold in people’s minds. It seems that the large majority of people still clinging to Trump and his beliefs are those who feel as though they don’t have any other options available to them. For example, there are those who state that the “liberals in the big cities” have forgotten about those inhabiting the rural areas. The most vulnerable to indoctrination of populist beliefs are those who feel as though they have nothing to lose (and everything to gain); this is further complicated by some of those who have racist and xenophobic tendencies. As discussed in the article, there was a heavily racialized aspect of the victimization process during the second wave of the KKK (and now, especially in regards to the topic of immigration and refugees), not solely economic disparity between the large “liberalized” cities and rural areas. There was – and arguably still is – a belief that the American dream and true freedom was only for a select group of people, and that allowing outsiders to take part would tarnish America. This mixture of denial and victimization, in addition to the dehumanization and constant labelling of everyone who doesn’t share the same opinion as themselves as the alt-right or the alt-left is a deadly combination, one that has created an environment that is allowing hatred to flourish and one which is further dividing us instead of allowing us to come together to create a dynamic society that attempts to cater to the different needs of each socioeconomic group.

 

Jay Countaway

The Middle Ages in the 20/21st Century Response

The introduction from the textbook From Populism to fascism in History provides an insight into the history of populism and fascism and where the terms come from.  One of the arguments that intrigued me most was how people from the media to pundits and to politicians misuse the terms when labeling politicians, they do not agree with.  The reading proposes that they do not know the historical context of these words which provides a danger in throwing them around when describing a right-wing politician whose ideological stripe does not align with them.  One can find many blogs and articles that describe former Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a fascist.  This hyperbole used to describe a democratically elected politician is damaging because it likens him to real fascists such as Mussolini and Hitler.  When describing moderate politicians as fascist one downplays the actual atrocities that are committed under ultraviolent regimes. Do pundits really believe far-right politicians are fascists or do they use the terminology for shock and awe to improve their audience base?

 

The reading from Amy Kaufman titled The Birth of a National Disgrace: Medievalism and the KKK discusses how the myth of medieval times that was constructed of a white male patriarchy affirms the roots of the ideology of the KKK and other white nationalist movements.   The myth of medieval chivalry is nothing but a form of blinders similar to those used by race forces to enforce the ideas of weak minded individuals to justify their actions.  If the white-nationalists would take a step back from their narrative of protecting white virtue they would realize how far behind their rationales are.  These people are trying to turn their America into a utopian Camelot by closing their minds to what is going on around them and not realizing that they are on the wrong side of the coin.  The movement of white nationalism reared its head during the Trump campaign but does it have the strength to continue on to 2020?

Riley Bowman