During the heyday of the Tea Party, one of their favorite slogans was that they wanted to “take our country back.” While that was probably meant as a kind of territorial claim against the usurper president they thought had taken their country from them, it was also understood by a lot of people to be directional. In other words, they wanted to take our country BACK.
That is why this picture from the 2012 election became so powerful. A young black boy shouting that he wasn’t going back to the kind of country the tea partiers idealized was the perfect accompaniment to President Obama’s simple slogan for that campaign…FORWARD.
Four years later we have Donald Trump talking about wanting to make America great AGAIN. That begs the question: at what point in our history does Trump assume that we were great? It is obviously some time in our past.
All of that is by way of introduction to some fascinating polling done by the Public Religion Research Institute, which they appropriately titled, “The Divide Over America’s Future: 1950 or 2050?” The entire report is full of fascinating data. But these are the numbers that inspired the title:
Americans are divided about whether American culture and way of life have changed for worse (51%) or better (48%) since the 1950s.
About seven in ten likely voters supporting Donald Trump (72%) say American society and way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s, while seven in ten likely voters supporting Hillary Clinton (70%) say things have changed for the better.
A majority (56%) of white Americans say American society has changed for the worse since the 1950s, while roughly six in ten black (62%) and Hispanic (57%) Americans say American society has changed for the better.
Class differences among whites are pronounced. A majority (56%) of white college-educated Americans say American society is generally better now than it was in the 1950s, while nearly two-thirds (65%) of white working-class Americans say things are now worse.
No group has a dimmer view of American cultural change than white evangelical Protestants: nearly three-quarters (74%) say American culture has changed for the worse since the 1950s.
That the 1950’s were the “good old days” for America is something only white heterosexual men can embrace. It’s true that they can tie that to a time period when the American economy dominated the globe following WWII and prior to the time that technology and globalization created competition for jobs. But to do so means being completely blind to what it meant to be a woman or a person of color or LGBT at that point in our history.
One can understand that the changes that have swept our country and the globe over the last 50 years have been difficult for some white heterosexual men to absorb. But to pine for the days when black people were beaten and killed to keep them from voting, when women died regularly as a result of back alley abortions and when being gay meant having to living a lie, is to pine for the suffering of other human beings. I find that unconscionable. Either we find a way to go forward together or we don’t go at all. The one thing I’m sure of is that we won’t turn back.