A Literary Analysis on “Make America Great Again!” by Stella Pfahler

“Make America Great Again!TM” is an newer rendering of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again,” and was Donald Trump’s successful campaign slogan in 2016. Trump patented the phrase, so it technically bears a trademark. It has appeared on campaign posters, shirts, buttons, and most notably the iconic red trucker cap. The phrase has been repurposed for the sake of parody and satire, such as on political commentator John Oliver’s television show (“Make Donald Drumpf Again”). Activist movements and individuals have coined the phrases “Make America Think Again,” “Make America Gay Again,” and “America Was Never Great.” Donald Trump created a distinguished popular culture phenomenon by using hubris, nostalgia, and populist diction to raise the collective spirit of millions.

First and foremost, Trump uses hubris to create an impression of American dominance the world economy and political scene. The definition of hubris is “excessive pride or self-confidence.” Trump’s slogan contrasts that of Former President Obama’s campaign slogans “Hope,” “Yes We Can,” and “Change We Can Believe In” as well as Former President George W. Bush’s “Yes, America Can,” and “Moving America Forward.” Trump’s slogan is distinctive in that it lacks the ideas of change and forward movement, concepts that are central to most normal campaigns. Rather than suggest positive, modernist change, Trump is suggesting that America’s greatness lies in what it used to be, and that is what made him such a distinctive candidate. This idea of America having been “great” in the past reflects a certain amount of hubris on Trump’s part. Trump has pride in what his country used to be. He holds confidence in the perfection of Reagan’s trickle-down America and also believes that he is the only candidate that can achieve that sort of utopia. All candidates, regardless of ideology, have to hold themselves in some sort of high esteem in order to consider themselves worthy of office. Most, however, try to communicate a certain amount of humility in order to identify with the general public. Barack Obama, for instance, in using the slogan “Change,” bluntly admitted that America was flawed and had room to grow in many areas. He suggested himself as the best candidate to achieve that sort of growth but never acted like America had ever been perfect. George W. Bush was less humble in his use of “Moving America Forward” but still acknowledged that America could improve in a few respects. Trump, on the other hand, uses hubris by blatantly not admitting America’s problems, both past and present, instead promising to return the country to its former utopian state. The phrase also demonstrates Trump’s idealist notion that America should be the utmost dominant world power and deserves to be the ultimate decider of geopolitics, trade deals, and social change (or lack thereof).

Another vital device that Trump utilizes is populist diction. Each word in the phrase “Make America Great Again” appeals to those who feel as though America used to be great, has somehow wronged them in its lack of “greatness,” and is the only country that can and deserves to be so. The word “make” communicates assertiveness and duty. The message of the phrase is not up for debate- “make” demonstrates that Trump’s supporters are ready to change their America by any means necessary. It is a call to action, an obvious assertion that something has to be done, and now. That call to action points towards the most obvious course of action, which is electing Trump. The next two words “Great Again” especially attract working class whites who believe that their “greatness” has been stolen by immigrants and refugees. The idea of America having to be “great” entices patriots who believe in “America first” values-people who don’t believe in a global, symbiotic economy, but rather in one that involves America mostly exporting and not importing, an economy in which America reaps most of the benefits.

Lastly, Donald Trump utilizes a tone of nostalgia. He has been cited to point to the “late ’40s and ’50s,” during which “we 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,” as America’s golden age. Trump, in saying “Make America Great Again!” is both admitting that America is currently in decline and proposing that he is the only candidate who can turn things around. Trump has raised controversy in believing that the ‘40s and ‘50s were a great time-while the economy was thriving, women and people of color were still being denied their basic human needs and rights as citizens. Trump champions the working white man. He plays on working class people’s ever-present insecurities and appeals to their sense of nostalgia. Most Trump supporters are working class whites who wonder why they work so hard and never achieve the American Dream promised to them. They wish to return to the Golden Age of their parents’ and grandparents’ lives, a time when the laboring white person was applauded for just being such; when people of color and working women hadn’t yet infiltrated their predetermined social strata. Trump plays on these insecurities, these “us versus them” ideals, by using the word “again” to connote an American golden age of white male supremacy.

Donald Trump used populist diction, a nostalgic tone, and aggressive hubris to create a popular culture phenomenon while simultaneously raising the collective spirit of millions. He uses diction and nostalgia to demonstrate that America must return to its former greatness, and that he is the only candidate who can achieve that. He also uses hubris to convince supporters that America is the only nation capable and worthy of becoming an almighty, reigning world power. His campaign threw out the rulebook of traditional politics and transformed the trade into a firebrand race to victory by way of “alternative facts;” ugly, uncivilized debate, and unfounded policymaking. Most impactful of all, perhaps, Donald Trump’s campaign successfully divided a country of 318.9 million people that had formerly prided itself on being “united.”

Stella Pfahler, class of 2019

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