Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again!” And just to hammer it home yet one more time, he repeated it as the final words of his inaugural address. The slogan implies two things: 1) America is not great now, and 2) America was great at some earlier time. So when, exactly, was America GREAT?
It turns out that there really was a time in the United States, between 1953 and 1957, when many of the things Donald Trump talks about were at their very “GREATEST.” Looking at the Great things that were going on during this time, I have come up with an exact year! But it also turns out, some of the things going on were not-so-great. Turns out…we might not want to go back to them.
Here are the main issues that Donald Trump has said that he wants to address in order to Make America Great Again: Less Crime, More Christian Values, More Jobs, Bigger Military, Re-Criminalizing Abortion, and More Deportations of Undocumented Immigrants. It’s a mixed bag.
Less Crime – Greatest year, 1957
Trump says that he is going to solve the “crime epidemic” by being “tough on crime.” Despite Mr. Trump’s alarming claims, most types of crime, including violent crime, have actually been declining in the United States since 1990 and are actually at levels similar to those of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. For example, the homicide rate in 2014, per the FBI, was at the same level as in 1963, about 4 homicides per 100,000 people per year.
Religion – Greatest year, 1955
Trump said that he will be the “greatest representative of the Christians they’ve had in a long time.” He promises to bring the nation together “under a single God.” The graph below shows when America was more religious than today. The mid-50’s was the Greatest time for religion in the United States.
Employment – Greatest year, 1953
Donald Trump has said “I will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created.” The year with the lowest unemployment rate was 1953 – 2.9% Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There is no question that some parts of the country and some segments of the population are suffering unacceptable unemployment rates at this time. But the overall national unemployment rate in January 2017 finally dipped under 5% and into the zone that unemployment rates ranged in during the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Bigger Military – Greatest year, 1955
Although Donald Trump has no military experience, he boasted that he “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.” He also claims he will make our military “so big, powerful and strong that no one will mess with us.” Clearly, he intends to make our military bigger and Greater!
In the period after World War II, in which year did the United States have the largest troop deployment? 1955. Unfortunately, to make our military this Great again, spending on military would need to increase by 300% over what it is today. That would be the spending level that would match the Great military spending in 1955, correcting for inflation.
Illegal Abortion – Greatest years, anytime before 1973
Although he was originally pro-choice and even joked on the radio about the possibility of his mistress getting an abortion, Trump now says that he is pro-life. He has said that abortions should be criminalized and that there should be “some kind of punishment” for women who get an abortion. America has had legal abortions for 43 years, so America hasn’t been as Great as it could be since at least 1973.
In the 1950’s, not only was abortion illegal throughout the United States, but birth control was also illegal in many states. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the states or federal government to prohibit married couples from using birth control. In 26 states, unmarried couples had to wait a while longer for legalization.
Deporting Undocumented Immigrants – Greatest year, 1954
Not only has Donald Trump promised to build a big wall and make Mexico pay for it, at times he has also promised to deport 11 million people from the United States. Was there another time when the United States had a massive deportation program? Yes, there was.
Operation Wetback (yes, it was really called that) – In 1954, acting on orders of then-president Dwight Eisenhower, teams of Border Patrol agents, using buses, planes, and temporary processing stations, began locating and deporting Mexicans who had illegally entered the United States. The operation involved 750 immigration officers, border patrol officers and investigators; 300 jeeps, cars and buses; and seven airplanes.
It is estimated that in the first year alone, somewhere between 250,000 to 1,100,000 people were deported. Some deportees were legal U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry whose documentation was ignored, causing American families to be torn apart with no due process of law. Some of those deported were abandoned several miles south of the Mexican border and left to die in the desert heat.
1954 – the Year Donald Trump’s America was the Greatest
Looking at the period 1953 to 1957, I have to choose 1954 as the GREATEST YEAR! 1954 was a great year if you were employed or if you were dependent on the military budget. But it was a not-so-great year if you wanted birth control, an abortion, or happened to not be white. What else was happening in 1954?
Some other things happening in 1954
Women in the workplace
The majority of employed women were single and did jobs such as nursing, teaching and typing. Women of color were almost exclusively employed as farm workers or maids.
Women who experienced unwanted sexual advances in the workplace and complained, soon discovered that such behavior was dismissed as trivial and harmless. The phrase “sexual harassment” wasn’t even coined until 1975.
Of course women “homemakers” in the 1950s had it much easier…
And, for any feelings of discontent there was always “Mother’s Little Helper.”
Although there was a slight decline in the divorce rate in the early 1950’s, it was later discovered that during this time, stay-at-home wives and mothers consumed large quantities of alcohol and tranquilizers. The Rolling Stones memorialized this phenomenon in their song “Mother’s Little Helper,” the nickname given the pills that doctors were liberally prescribing.
1950’s Domestic Violence Humor
1950s Domestic Violence Reality
Men, women and children had virtually no legal protection against violence within the family in the 1950’s. Police and courts considered it to be a family or church matter. This attitude began to change in the early 1970’s. The expression “domestic violence” was first used in 1973.
Being LGBTQ in 1954
Virtually all US cities and states had laws criminalizing simply being gay, let alone engaging in homosexual acts. Gay men were imprisoned for consensual sex with other men. In most places, lesbianism was not illegal, but was considered morally unacceptable and had to be hidden.
“Sundown towns” were intended as all-White enclaves which banned Blacks and other minorities from the city limits after sundown. In a 2005 book on the phenomenon, sociologist James W. Loewen estimated that sundown towns numbered in the hundreds. An African American found in town after dark was expelled by local law enforcement or by vigilantes. There were also occasional lynchings. Restrictions were not limited to Blacks. They often applied to Asians, Mexicans and Native Americans.
Yeah, in the 1950’s it was still a thing. As was mandatory segregation, job discrimination, voter suppression and lynchings.
McCarthyism created fear and even hysteria in the U.S. from about 1950 to 1956. Thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or Communist-sympathizers or of being homosexual. It was a period in which some Americans feared that their country was being undermined by Communist infiltration while other Americans feared that their left-wing views might make them the next victims of the witch-hunt.
During the McCarthy era, Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted Senate hearings in which ordinary citizens were required to testify about their political beliefs and memberships and to name names of friends and colleagues. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the House of Representatives conducted similar hearings. The film industry created the Hollywood Blacklist, which banned those suspected of Communist leanings from the industry, ruining many careers. Director of the FBI, J. Edger Hoover, oversaw an aggressive campaign of monitoring the political beliefs and activities of many Americans. Left-leaning academics, union organizers, and people in the entertainment industry were focused on.
McCarthyism hit its peak in early 1954. But by the end of that same year both the US Congress and the American public were beginning to grow uneasy about McCarthy’s alarmist speeches, authoritarian attitudes and erratic behavior. In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Ralph Flanders compared McCarthy to Adolf Hitler, accusing him of spreading “division and confusion” and saying, “Were the Junior Senator from Wisconsin [McCarthy] in the pay of the Communists, he could not have done a better job for them.” In 1957, Senator McCarthy died of alcoholism at the age of 48.
The term “McCarthyism” is now used more generally to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries.
1954 – The year when almost everything Donald Trump wants to make great again was at it’s very Greatest! Well, perhaps not the greatest for anyone who happened to be a woman or LGBTQ or of a minority race or an artist or the wrong kind of foreigner. But, hey, definitely a GREAT year for white males! Which I am, by the way.
So, why am I so unhappy and worried?