This weekend, I saw a picture of a bumper sticker on Facebook that said, “Not Democrat. Not Republican. American, and I Want My Country Back.” My first question was “Back from where, or who?” Do they mean they want their country back from a Black president? Do they want their country back from the 21st Century, where women and people of color have at least some measure of political power?
Nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the “good old days” weren’t good for all of us.
What, exactly, are people nostalgic for? How far do people want to go back to get their country?
Twenty years ago, in 1992, the internet was a newborn. We elected a Democratic President, and were on the precipice of an actual government budget surplus. But, Los Angeles was literally on fire with racial conflict, and there were bloody wars happening in Eastern Europe and Central Africa. Hate crimes against LGBT people were on the rise, and the uteri of half the population was a once again a political battleground.
Fifty years ago, in 1962, white people were paying the way for black folks to move North. We had a Democratic President and the Beatles released their first single. The very first Walmart opened in Arkansas. Many institutions of higher learning did not allow black students, and required women to use side entrances to student unions. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, leading us ever closer to nuclear annihilation. Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl is published, opening the door to the sexual revolution as well as a new breed of rape mythology.
Seventy-five years ago, in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic. We had a Democratic President starting his second term who was bringing the Great Depression to its close with programs like Social Security. Arguably the most evil person to ever rule a nation was at the peak of his power in Germany, with racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism as his main political ideologies and our President was pledging US neutrality. Women and people of color had no political power in the United States.
One hundred years ago, in 1912, we elected a Democratic President in a four way race. Republicans were often progressive, but in a Manifest Destiny kind of way. The Titanic sank, and there were lots and lots of new millionaires on the tails of the Industrial Revolution, railroads, and westward expansion of colonial rule in the US. Women of all races weren’t allowed to vote, or own property in their names. Men of color were paid less than white men in the same fields, and were regularly lynched. Children were employed to do dangerous work in mines and garment factories.
Do we have to go even further back? Back to a time when white people owned people of color? Back to a time when rape was a property crime one man committed against another? Back to when indigenous people were only viewed as savages to be eradicated by the most expedient means necessary? Back to a time when heresy was a crime comparable to treason?
As my two year old daughter says, “No want it.”
A political ideology that wants to turn back the clock is bullshit. The successes in those times gone by cannot be separated from the failures and cruelty in any way that would work. Men felt more powerful then because they literally kept more power away from others, namely women and people of color. Mad Men and the Waltons are good TV shows, but I don’t want to live there.
What I hear when people say “I want my country back” is this: I want to go back to the time when being a white man guaranteed me even more than it does now.