“Make America Great Again.”
Using those four words and a variety of ill-conceived, wildly discriminatory, and oftentimes nonsensical policies Trump powered through the Republican primaries and the general elections and took control of The White House. However, for all the media coverage Trump has received since stepping onto the political stage there has been little discussion of what those four words actually mean. Despite the fact that they are at the centre of any discussion of politics in the United States we haven’t really stopped to discuss them.
What does “Make America Great Again?” mean to Trump?
How does we measure America’s greatness? How does Trump?
Could Trump have already made America great again?
‘No,’ I hear you cry, ‘of course he hasn’t. This is Trump we’re talking about not a competent politician, let alone President’. I agree. Hear me out. To assess whether Trump has actually made America great again we have to try and understand what he means when he uses those words. In an interview for the New York Times Trump was quoted saying that he believed America’s“golden age” spanned from the 1950s to the end of the 1960s. This era of America politics was dominated by the policies of the Eisenhower administration.
Domestically Eisenhower’s policies were primarily concerned with strengthening the American economy. Sixty years later Trump sold himself as a business man, capable of bringing that entrepreneurial savvy to The White House and use it to fix the American economy.
When it came to foreign policy Eisenhower was of the belief that America was not mandated “to run the world”. The Eisenhower administration was still heavily involved in world affairs, making many moves internationally against the communist “red spread”. But any action was ultimately made with the belief that America, and American values, should come first. Trump’s “America First” approach to foreign policy can be read has a hard-line version of Eisenhower’s policies.
If in Trumps mind, “Making America Great Again” equates to making American like it was in its ‘golden age’, and his measure of success is how American is faring economically, then the concept of American greatness under Trump is not so far fetched.
Since his inauguration Trump has implemented a wide range of economic policies designed to stimulate the American economy. His use of tariffing on international imports were designed to have the same effect as Eisenhower’s middle-class tax relief but seeks to achieve it by increasing tariffs rather than relieving taxes. They created a 2.3% GDP bump in the fourth quarter of 2017, not unlike the results of Eisenhower’s own tax cuts, which created an average GDP growth of 4-5% through the 1950s and 1960s.
The tariffing also links to Trumps wider “America First”policies. Where Eisenhower’s foreign policy was concerned with the threat of communism Trump is more concerned with securing America against rising global powers such as China, which he has branded “expansionist” and “arrogant” in the past. He has behaved in a similarly assertive way with international organisations such as NATO, railroading them against nations that he perceives as American enemies using the threat of American withdrawal to coerce-cooperation.
While many critics claim that Trump’s plan’s lacklong term sustainability, at present Trump is revitalising Americas ‘golden age’ on paper. This measurement does not consider social and class divisions, which have only worsened under Trump, nor does his metric does not consider ongoing political success, which the mid-terms have proven he can’t maintain.
To many, myself included, the values of greatness Trump promotes would make America a borderline despotic nation with backwards morals and a reductive system of handling complex issues.
But Trump is businessman. He’s not using our measure.
The only measure of success he cares about is the one on paper, and on paper, according to Trumps own measurements, right now, it looks like Trump might just be making America great again.