A woman’s choice to wear a hat to her job at Home Depot has sparked national controversy by offending an entire portion of society who thinks America was once great. The text on her hat which is responsible for heads exploding and death threats from across the country simply said, “America was never great.”
Hijacking Ronald Reagan’s famous phrase from the 1980’s during his bid for the Presidency, Donald Trump has since adopted this ill-conceived quote for his own campaign. Trump even went so far as to trademark the phrase back in 2014 — as his presidential aspirations likely began far before then.
So why is this phrase so controversial? Well, it has a lot to do with American exceptionalism and the ridiculously skewed version of history that has been shoved down the collective throats of Americans for the last century.
On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared the sovereignty of ‘the United States of America’ in the Declaration of Independence. This revered document set a nation on a path to freedom and prosperity after they broke free from the chains of the oppressive state of England.
Not long after the founding fathers declared their independence, however, did they begin to stray from this path. In fact, it happened during the second presidency, when John Admas passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. The acts essentially banned immigration, removed the freedom of the press, and jailed lawmakers for speaking out against government corruption.
Surely, this can’t be the time that Donald Trump and his ilk are referring to when they say ‘make America great again.’
It is important to note that during the beginning of this great nation, slavery was a very real and brutally accepted part of society. The man celebrated for ending this slavery, Abraham Lincoln, was also a very real and brutal tyrant.
In spite of what Americans were taught in their history books, the abolishment of slavery had very little to do with Lincoln and more to do with people tired of being slaves. However, it is easier to promote exceptionalism if we can claim that our almighty and loving government was responsible for freeing the slaves.
Luckily, for those who want a more accurate version of history, there are many revisionist scholars who have dared to tell the truth about America. Jeff Riggenbach is one of those.
Not only did John Admas embark down a horrid path with the sedition acts, but there’s Andrew Jackson’s genocidal treatment of the American Indians. There is also Abraham Lincoln’s military conscription (to say nothing of his suspension of habeas corpus and his imprisonment of newspaper editors who dared to disagree with his prosecution of the Civil War). Not to mention, William McKinley’s brutal suppression of the independence movement in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. And, more recent, there was Franklin Roosevelt’s order to round up American citizens of Japanese ancestry and imprison them in concentration camps.
Are these the points in history to which Trump is referring when he says, “let’s ‘make America great again’?”
Perhaps Trump and his followers are referring to the times when black people were forced to use separate bathrooms, ride in the back of the bus, and abide by any of the other racist and tyrannical Jim Crow laws forced onto this great nation.
Was America great when police departments were made up of members of the KKK and privileged white men burned crosses to celebrate their skin color and racial superiority?
Speaking of racial superiority, does Trump think that the eugenics movement of the early 1900’s somehow made America great?
Eugenics laws resulted in the forced sterilization of over 64,000 people in the United States. At first, sterilization efforts focused on those with disabilities but later grew to include people whose only “crime” was poverty. These sterilization programs even found legal support in the great Supreme Court (Buck v. Bell 1927).
According to Edwin Black’s historical account of the Eugenics movement, California’s program was so robust that the Nazi’s turned to California for advice in perfecting their own efforts. Hitler proudly admitted to following the laws of several American states that allowed for the prevention of reproduction of the “unfit.”
Or, what about in the 1960’s when young men of all skin colors were kidnapped from their families and thrust into slavery under the name of the draft, and forced to fight an illegal and immoral war in Vietnam? This must be the greatness to which Trump refers.
What about the United States launching the war on drugs? In the last five decades, millions of people have been incarcerated for possessing arbitrary substances deemed illegal by the state. Tens of thousands more have been killed in this immoral fight, and the United States has become home to the largest prison population on the planet because of it. Is that great?
Sure, there have been some great moments in American history, but there was never some random moment in time to which we can say ‘America was great,’ so let’s return to that. In fact, most of the moments in which America was great, are times when people resisted the government and ended things like prohibition, slavery, segregation, and war.
Krystal Lake, 22, of St. George, New York is the brave woman who called Trump’s bluff and decided to wear a hat to work one day that read, “AMERICA WAS NEVER GREAT.”
“The point of the hat was to say America needs changing and improvement,” Lake told the Advance. “I don’t think it’s a positive message to say, “Let’s look to the past.'”
After an image of Lake wearing the hat got posted on social media, people began sharing it, then came the anger.
“Everyone kept asking me if I was on Facebook or Twitter, which I hadn’t been,” she said, “and then I saw how many people were sharing [the picture] and that it was going viral.
“I was honestly shocked — I didn’t expect any of this to happen.”
When Home Depot heard about the hat, they released a statement quickly noting that they do not allow such messages on clothing.
“We appreciate and understand the concerns of our loyal customers,” Home Depot spokesman Stephan Holmes said. “In terms of the message, our associates are not permitted to wear items that reflect political statements.
“Unfortunately, no one on our management team saw her wearing the hat — otherwise, they would have had her remove it immediately.”
However, Lake pointed out that many of her coworkers were able to wear their ‘Trump” propaganda, and no one told them anything.
“I feel it offended a lot of people because a lot of Trump supporters live in Staten Island,” she said. “Trump is very rash and in your face, but when someone else has a message against him, his supporters can’t take the criticisms.”
Lake says she has received dozens of death threats from people on her social media — apparently from the folks who want to see the return of the great America explained above.
In the interview with the Advance, Lake explained the sentiment behind her decision to wear the hat, and it’s a message we should all take to heart.
“I know there are a lot of opportunities here,” Lake said. “I just wish we would worry about making America better — not ‘great again.'”