Last Sunday, Krystal Lake, a 22-year-old Home Depot employee on Staten Island, was photographed wearing a hat that says, “America Was Never Great.”
It’s in the same font and style of Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again.”
Of course, death threats and hate mail targeting her have come pouring in — which, if you think about it, lends itself to her feeling like she was right to wear the hat in the first place.
About two months ago, I wrote a column about the word “again” in Trump’s slogan. I think it’s a racist dog whistle and it gets to the heart of the point of the hat Krystal Lake was wearing.
What does the word great mean?
What sustained period in the history of this nation, what decade, what era, what generation was truly great for everybody?
What era is Donald Trump saying America was so great that he wants us to go back and relive it?
He clearly doesn’t think we are great right now, so when in our history were we so great, Donald? Do tell.
Has the country had historic achievements? Sure it has. But while this country might have been great for George Washington, it wasn’t great for the Africans who were forced to live and work on his plantation.
While America may have been great for the white settlers of early America, we must be sure to see if the indigenous people who were slaughtered and forcefully relocated felt if those same periods were so awesome. I kind of doubt it.
Was America great in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal?” Was it great for generations of Africans forced to live and work on small plots of land from birth to death? Was it great when they were forced to breed like animals? Was it great when women saw their children sold off like furniture?
That doesn’t sound so great.
The United States was one of the biggest slave-trading nations in the history of the world for hundreds of years. Were we great during that time because the Capitol and the White House were built? What about the slaves who were forced, day and night, to toil and build them? Was it great for them?
This rhetorical recounting of history could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that this country has never been great for everybody.
In 1887, when the very words “liberty and justice for all” were written into the Pledge of Allegiance, at least 70 African-Americans were lynched. Thousands more were lynched in the difficult years ahead.
Was America great during Jim Crow when African-Americans were denied the right to vote and forced to enter restaurants and bus stations from dark alleyways?
Was America great when it bombed a Birmingham church that killed four little girls? Was it great when Medgar Evers and Martin King were murdered?
As I search through the history book of my mind, I’m struggling to find that era of greatness for all?
Was it last year when the deadliest hate crime in over 75 years against African-Americans took place when a white supremacist gunman slaughtered churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.?
Is it great that we now have more prisoners than any country in the history of the world?
When is it? When were we great?
No doubt, we’ve had celebratory moments here and there, but the more I think about it, the more I think I want to buy myself a “America Was Never Great” hat.
Until this country is great for the least among us, until it is great for people of color, for Muslims, for immigrants, for the LGBTQ community, for the people working their butts off who still can’t afford to provide for their families, until it is great for all of us, we’re not great.
Sure, let’s make America great, but drop the again. Wherever we’ve been before, most of the people I know and love aren’t itching to go back.