Is there an ideal image of the American dream? According to one White House source, President Donald Trump believes it’s himself.
Based on reporting from Axios, the president “feels he’s the personification of the American dream,” the source revealed. “... That means building things, going back to the era of his dad. He assumes the rest of the country pines for that.”
A source close to President Trump: "He feels he’s the personification of the American dream. ... That means building things, going back to the era of his dad. He assumes the rest of the country pines for that." https://t.co/REuW4pNtMd— Axios (@axios) February 26, 2018
The source was quick to state that the president doesn’t necessarily want to go backward — Trump simply desires “the principles that made us successful in the past.” But is the era of Trump’s father something we really want to hearken back to? For many Americans, it’s not.
When he was running for office, Trump’s base of support often cited his campaign mantra, “Make America Great Again,” but never mentioned when America was great.
Candidate Trump attempted to answer that question in an interview during his 2016 presidential campaign, saying it was around the late-1940s and early-1950s.
“[W]e were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody, we had just won a war, we were pretty much doing what we had to do,” he said.
That era was rife with problems, however. McCarthyism and the Red Scare panicked the nation, and many individuals were wrongly accused of being treasonous, becoming blacklisted as a result of even the smallest voice of dissension.
The time was especially hard for women and people of color. Segregation meant that blacks were still being treated under the premise of “separate but equal” in many aspects of daily life — a legal doctrine that would be challenged in the mid-50s as being unconstitutional according to the U.S. Supreme Court, but which remained in place for years to come under other Jim Crow laws.
Women were also treated much differently during this time than they are today. For one, they didn’t have nearly as much control over their reproductive rights, and birth control was out of reach for millions during this time. Even financial decisions were restricted, as unmarried women were often denied the ability to attain credit due to their single status.
Indeed, the early 1950s was a time when white men held almost all the societal power (better paying jobs, more positions in government, a near-monopolistic hold on CEO positions, and so on). In the middle of the next decade, that power began to erode, albeit very slowly over the next several decades, to allow more influence in society to come from voices of women and minorities (although it’s still not close to being equal even today).
Looking back at that time with longing is a dog-whistle that Trump uses to energize his base. By suggesting a nostalgic sentiment when he thinks America was “great,” Trump is really saying he wants to go back to a time when America was great for whites and men only. Indeed, “the era of his dad” was a time in which Trump and his father were themselves abusers of racial discrimination.
The thought that Trump is the embodiment of the American dream is a terrifying ideal to believe, especially based on the fact that he became “successful” largely due to already being part of a wealthy family.
What is actually meant by “the American dream?” It means different things to different people, of course, but to many, it means being able to better yourself and your family’s lot in life on the basis of hard work and determination; in short, it’s the pursuit happiness for yourself and those you care about. Social barriers like racism and sexism, therefore, hinder the idea of the American dream.
Glorifying or glossing over negative aspects of our nation’s history — in which political dissent was punished, and rights for women and minorities were very few — is hardly an ideal that most Americans would want to go back toward. If anything, the escape from that era’s messes, as well as the gradual growth of rights for others, are more emblematic of the American dream than Trump will ever be.