When Donald Trump insisted he would "make America great again" in every one of his speeches at the start of his presidential campaign, some people rolled their eyes. When he started wearing a hat with the slogan emblazoned on it, many more people rolled their eyes.
Trump, as so has often been the case in this campaign, got the last laugh. "Make America Great Again" became both his calling card and the rallying cry for those drawn to his message. And, whether he realized it or not, those four words perfectly encapsulated the nostalgia mixed with disappointment and anger pulsing through a large-ish chunk of the American electorate.
New polling from the Pew Research Center makes this point vividly. Asked whether life for people like them is better or worse than it was 50 years, three-quarters of Trump backers say it is worse. That's significantly higher than the 46 percent of all voters who say the same and considerably higher than even supporters of Ted Cruz (63 percent worse) and John Kasich (54 percent worse).
There's something of a chicken-and-egg argument going on here. Did Trump create this group or did this group exist before him and simply find its messenger in him? I tend to believe the latter is closer to right. The economic struggles of the mid- to late-2000s and the ongoing wage stagnation in the country. The growing gap between rich and poor. The ramped-up distrust in all institutions. The sense that you are totally on your own. None of these are things that Trump created. But they are what -- whether wittingly or unwittingly -- he spoke to when he started talking about the need to "make America great again."
The slogan contains multitudes. It's a denunciation and an affirmation all at once. Things were once great. They aren't now because of, mostly, political correctness. We -- or, more specifically, Trump -- can make them great again. If you feel as though the 21st-century economy has left you behind, that you can no longer say what you think for fear of being shamed by liberals, that things used to be simpler and, therefore, better, then Trump is speaking directly to you in this campaign.
He not only understands where the country has gone off track but he knows how to get it back on course again. Say what you think, split the world into good guys and bad guys, never apologize, be strong. Make America Great Again.
I've often wondered if Trump understood -- whether consciously or at a more gut level -- any/all of this when he began talking about the need to make America great again. Did he grasp what he would be tapping into when he formulated the phrase? Or did he just sort of like how it sounded and, once it became clear others did to, find ways to make it the defining slogan of his campaign?
As always with Trump, finding the answers to those questions is virtually impossible. Regardless of how it came to exist, "Make America Great Again" is right up there with "Hope and Change" and "Morning in America" when it comes to the great slogans of the modern political era. Donald Trump wins. Again.