Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Kendra Parke, a student in Professor Koslosky’s Journalism Workshop class. You can find this article, along with other election coverage at HuskiesVote2016.wordpress.com.
We may forever remember “Make America Great Again” as Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, but Trump was not the first person to use this phrase.
According to NBCNews.com, the former Republican President Ronald Reagan was actually the first presidential nominee to use the phrase. In fact, Reagan had adopted “Let’s Make America Great Again, as a slogan for his 1980 campaign against sitting President Jimmy Carter.
Reagan also even used the slogan on campaign merchandise, just as Trump is currently doing, NBCNews noted.
Democrats use it too.
Former President Bill Clinton has been quoted using the phrase as well, according to NBCNews. Clinton also used the phrase in 2008 in support of wife Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to a Washington Times article titled, “Bill Clinton vowed to ‘make America great again’ in 1992, now says slogan is racist.”
So why the recurring use?
The Washington Times suggests it’s a case of how “the ultimate American narcissist, in promoting his own rise, has also openly promoted a version of decline and fall to striking numbers of Americans.”
Yet Trump’s use of the phrase has drawn far more controversy than his predecessors’. In fact, Bill Clinton called it a “Racists dog whistle to white southerners.”
“What it means is, ‘It’ll give you an economy you had 50 years ago, and I’ll move you back up on the social totem pole and other people down,” Clinton was quoted as saying about Trump’s use of the phrase.
The Nation, a left-leaning magazine and website makes a clear distinction about Trump’s tone that separates him from the others: “He is the first American leader or potential leader of recent times not to feel the need or obligation to insist that the United States, the “sole” superpower of Planet Earth, is an “exceptional” nation, an “indispensable” country, or even in an unqualified sense a ‘great’ one.” The Nation calls attention to Trump’s assertions that America is a “punching bag for China and Mexico.”
Also mentioned in this previous article is the fact that during the times of the “1950s and early 1960s, the post-World War II and pre-Vietnam ‘golden’ years of American power” there wasn’t a need for a president to discuss whether or not the greatness of America was prominent or slipping away. The implication here seems to be that Trump wants to take the American society back to these times.
With polls showing Hillary Clinton moving out to a commanding lead, we may never learn for sure what Trump’s “great America” would look like. But it’s probably a safe bet that he won’t be the last candidate to try to ride the concept to a nomination or victory.