“Make America Great Again.” From the day in 2015 when candidate Donald Trump deployed it, and throughout his years as president and his campaign for reelection, his slogan energized and motivated tens of millions. With MAGA hats, shirts, and rally chants, followers identify with Trump and with America. We’re great! We’re strong! We’re proud! We’re #1!
Great is vague and Trump was smart to keep it vague, letting everyone envision our own version of greatness. Again is also vague, an unspecified past. Nostalgia is powerful. Most people can readily recall a time of feeling safe, strong, great. That may have been as a young child; maybe in our teens or twenties, the first time we fell in love.
Nostalgia is most appealing when we’re feeling anxious or depressed. With Covid-19, economic insecurity, climate instability, racial unrest, and a dysfunctional government paralyzed by partisan conflicts, Americans have sound reasons to wish for a future that resembles the past.
Both parties practice nostalgia politics, filtering the past to reinforce current biases, while overlooking, forgetting, or ignoring history. Democrats look back to the first two years of the Obama and Clinton administrations, when their party also controlled Congress; or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society; John F. Kennedy and Camelot; Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal, and winning World War II. Republicans revere the 1980s, Ronald Reagan in the White House; or the 1950s, gays and lesbians in the closet and abortion illegal; or the 1920s, before the Great Depression.
Public trust, social solidarity, and respect for government have declined significantly over the past few decades. Yet we should not blame Donald Trump or Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or any other individual. The problems and failures are collective. Every American is partly responsible.
Nostalgia is not a plan. The past is past, we cannot go back. To resolve our continuing crises and counteract political polarization, we must look ahead and move forward. We must also, somehow, look together and act together.
To encourage us to act together, I offer a new slogan, Make America Greater Always. It’s MAGA+.
Greater invites us to value the past and our nostalgia for it, even as we seek actively to achieve a better future. Always indicates ongoing effort from and for everyone, a project that can engage and excite us for life, our personal lives and the life of our country. Thus, Greater Always can be a legacy for our children and grandchildren, something they can participate in, benefit from, and add to.
Democrats may recoil from the MAGA root, though I hope they’ll pause and think about the -er and Always. These changes can also help Republicans repair the split between their pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions.
Make America Greater Always, MAGA+, evokes a phrase from the preamble to our U.S. Constitution, “to form a more perfect union.” Also, though less directly, “preserve the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Founders’ wisdom can guide our efforts to renew our republic.
Unifying slogans are useful, perhaps essential, especially during crises.
We also need unifying policies. I strongly recommend an idea that Democrats and Republicans supported in the 1960s and early ‘70s that’s now attracting serious renewed interest: universal basic income, UBI. In the ‘60s, a leader on the conservative side was Milton Friedman, Nobel laureate economist. Among liberals, Martin Luther King Jr., “The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” The House of Representatives passed a plan on a 2-to-1 vote, and it was truly bipartisan -- majorities in both parties supported it. But the Senate blocked it.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt endorsed related ideas. I present a comprehensive history, with many quotes, in “Our Future: The Basic Income Plan.”
A leader today is Andrew Yang, with the Freedom Dividend he proposed in his campaign for president. He proudly cites the support he received from people who voted for Trump in 2016, along with many who normally don’t vote.
The real power of this plan, I believe, the reason liberals and conservatives ought to compromise and enact it, is that basic income is more than money. With any amount, version, or variation, every American will have monthly reminders that we are equal, in this way at least. And that we are citizens, with a direct personal stake in achieving the country we desire.
Let’s Make America Greater Always.