As Trump passes the 100 day mark there are many efforts to explain why the Trump voters mostly remain steadfastly behind him. One prominent explanation is the appeal of the Trump nationalist message. Trump voters reliably cheer the loudest when the applause line is about terrorism, illegal immigration or the Wall. It seems whatever his flipflopping, backtracking, incoherence and ignorance Trump will continue to be able to vent against Muslims and against countries who he says are making money off us because of weak Obama policies. What guides him continues to be the art of the deal where the only reality is winning in a one on one, zero sum conflict. You aren’t really winning if you are a part of a regional organization, say, that is making all of its members better off. When he goes along with his few sensible advisors who tell him the he can’t get rid of NATO or NAFTA, as he said he would, he can make some obfuscating noise and no one seems to notice.
“Make America Great Again” is a good battle cry for nationalism as an underlying philosophy for these Trump followers. If we take nationalism as the core energizer then the next question is “what America is great”? Is it the “very beautiful” Wall that keeps everything inside it safe? What is inside it? Is great America only military might? Are only soldiers and coal miners (for show) and billionaire CEOs (for real) the American occupations to be admired in Great America. Is the ability to punch country x in the nose what makes America Great?
The Truly Great America
The Real Great America has been out before us on the streets these last weeks, Americans demonstrating for the the health of their children and of the Earth, for improving the lives of Americans and of the world through science and innovation. Demonstrators were saying that women count and that when women benefit, all benefit. These are not win/lose benefits; all of us in the great American community benefit.
We should work for a great America that leads by example and achieves international respect and admiration. We must not shut down government entities whose goal is to help Americans realize their dreams. The American Dream includes public goods: the best national park system, the best public school system, the best health care, the best public transportation, the best public information, the safest air, the cleanest water, and much more. Americans together can feel proud of these programs and goals. Instead, on the Trump side, they appear to despise them. Democrats should speak out for another America and strengthen programs that will realize this American dream. We can lead a new world. We can, for example, say we are doing well developing solar energy. We can say we are building on the noteworthy low overheads of Medicare and Medicaid to improve a medical care system that is the “greatest”.
Republicans should want to join Democrats in pushing this expanded American vision. It is an achievable reality. Can the incoming Trump victors (Republicans) really put as their first priority squashing the homeless, the helpless, the sick, the refugee, the native American trying to preserve his heritage? The answer is: yes, they can. For many Republicans, the American Dream is only private goods, house, car, vacations, and opportunity for my kids. It is not public goods – clean air and water or affordable access to good health care and education.
What is the content of the Great America inside the great Wall. Republican and Democrats should be able to work together but they do not agree on what makes a great America. Trump supporters do not believe that the “Great America” within the Wall is a community. A community cannot contain people who disagree with them, for example, on abortion rights. “Nationalism” includes the belief that America is a Christian nation. This Christian voice includes strong beliefs against secular government acting in the area of social welfare, as well as beliefs in religious authoritarianism. This is one reason why arguments about efficiency and cost effectiveness on medical care and other public goods are not effective. It is all the more reason to push the positive vision of what makes (or should make ) American great. We must tell a different story.
Who Benefits in the Trump Great America
Republicans live in the America they say they want to be great. However according to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC):
Trump’s budget proposal slashes funding for Meals on Wheels, the National Endowment for the Arts, school lunches, and Pell Grants. But since he took office, weekly trips to his Mar-a-Lago Resort cost taxpayers over $25 Million.
$25 Million could also:
- Serve 9,000 seniors and veterans Meals on Wheels
- Cover 4,000 Medicaid patients for a year
- Fund 7,000 Pell Grants for low-income college students
- Feed 61,000 students school lunch
It is almost impossible to think of why those being hurt by Trump funding cuts would still support the man and his program. They are seeing that program being executed right in the immediate present. As journalists travel to areas of the country that voted for Trump, they hear poignant stories. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, opinion writer Nicolas Kristof interviewed Rhonda McCraken (NYT, 4 /1/17). She is an ardent Trump supporter but also an ardent supporter of Tulsa Domestic Intervention Services which helped her flee an abusive husband. She cannot understand why Trump cut funds that sustain the organization. Another Trump voter in Tulsa asked Kristof “why is building a Wall more important than educating people.” He received training at a program which Trump also proposes to eliminate, Tulsa Work Advance. This organization trains the unemployed. A struggling elderly women liked Trump’s actions against illegal immigrants but can’t understand why he wants to defund her “lifeline,” the Labor Department’s Senior Community Service Employment Program.
In Kinsman, Ohio, Tammy Pavlic voted for Trump but relies on the help of a program funded by Congress, the HOME Investment Partnership Program, to be able to make repairs to her family house. Her modest income would not have allowed her to make the repairs. The county gets about $450,00 to fix homes and finance affordable housing. Trump is moving to eliminate the program (NYT, 4/3/17). Another county resident, who lives in a women’s supportive housing complex with her four year old daughter, relies on disability insurance and food stamps and tells the New York Times these programs give her a sense of direction about what to do to improve her life.
Voters interviewed say they voted for Trump because they don’t like big government intervention. Democrats should record interviews with those who work for the organizations that make life better for the communities in a Tulsa or a Kinsman. These public servants are what the name implies, i.e. they serve and, in serving, play an important part in making America great.
Trump isn’t attacking Big Government when he defunds these local organizations. He is attacking small grass roots programs. Big government is the funder but small organizations and local governments are responding to the needs of communities. Building healthy communities makes a great America.
Isn’t there anything better the US government can do with its billions than build a hideous Wall across 2,000 miles of beautiful America to solve a problem we don’t have. In the process we are making enemies of our neighbors and persuading a large number of our citizens that persons of color are hated by Americans. Making enemies, raising suspicions, destroying the moral and ethical underpinnings of our leadership cannot help Americans. It is a criminal to waste this money. Spending money on the health of Americans is good for Americans security; spending money on children and their parents and teachers and caretakers if good for the security of America.
However admirable the qualities of specific individuals, If we enclose and cut off America in order to make it “Great” what will be inside that wall will not be great and beautiful but insecure, prejudiced, violent, and rooted in the past.
—Elizabeth Spiro Clark