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Opinion We figured out when the MAGA crowd thought America was great

Mississippi state flags are positioned on a vehicle, along with the American flag and a Gadsden flag, during a drive-by "re-open Mississippi" protest past the governor's mansion in Jackson on April 25. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

I have always wondered when the MAGA crowd and its Great Leader thought America was great. We know their appeal to disgruntled white voters is an exercise in phony nostalgia and wish fulfillment. Implicit in their slogan is a desire to go back to a time when whites — white men, to be specific — were numerically, politically, economically and culturally unchallenged. But when was this, exactly? 1950? 1920? We might have to go back to the 19th century.

We got a hint this week when President Trump restated his support for U.S. Army bases to retain names of Confederate traitors and white supremacists. He said in one of his more bizarre interviews that removing the names would “divide” Americans. (We aren’t divided now, I suppose, because “America” to him is his white base.) We wouldn’t want to “bring people apart,” he insisted — as the traitors did when they took up arms against fellow Americans?

In the same interview, he said that no one really knew about Juneteenth (meaning, he and his lily-white staff were ignorant of it) until he brought it up. He also argued that his “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” comment was appropriate. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate blocked an effort to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol. I am getting the sense that Trump and his followers look back favorably on the Confederacy, the memory of which swells them with pride. (Does Trump know that, in addition to being racists and traitors, they were losers?)

If you want some really antiquated thinking, travel back before germ theory caught on in the 19th century. Since then, it has held us in good stead as we have eliminated many deadly diseases. In the current crisis, every health expert tells us that mask-wearing and social isolation save lives since the disease spreads by aerosols (tiny droplets in the air). Blocking that means of transmission can drive the infection rate down. We can test who still has the virus, trace others a person testing positive has come into contact with and then isolate those people. Pretty basic, right?

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Nah, the science-denier in chief says testing is “overrated.” (Don’t people in the White House get tested regularly so they don’t infect him?) Masks are for suckers, or, in Trump’s mind, simply show you disapprove of him. The notion that people would follow medical advice and try to prevent becoming infected or infecting others seems foreign to him.

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, observed in a podcast on Thursday that stay-at-home orders potentially saved millions of lives. Other studies have shown that if 80 percent of us wear masks, the rate of infection would plunge. Trump insists, with no evidence, that masks don’t help: “They put their finger on the mask, and they take them off, and then they start touching their eyes and touching their nose and their mouth. And then they don’t know how they caught it?” (If you take the mask off properly, by the strings around your ears, as small children can manage to do, it’s not an issue.)

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“One of the problems we face in the United States is that unfortunately, there is a combination of an anti-science bias that people are — for reasons that sometimes are, you know, inconceivable and not understandable — they just don’t believe science and they don’t believe authority,” Fauci said. That would include the president, who leads the anti-science brigade, although Fauci didn’t mention him specifically. Fauci continued, "It’s amazing sometimes the denial there is. It’s the same thing that gets people who are anti-vaxxers, who don’t want people to get vaccinated, even though the data clearly indicate the safety of vaccines.” Fauci added. “That’s really a problem.” Yes, it really is.

Trump cares about none of that science stuff. He’s ready to pack thousands into a closed arena in Tulsa. (Would Fauci attend such an event? “Personally, I would not. Of course not," he said.)

It seems the leader of the MAGA crowd would be most at home when the Confederacy was still revered (by racists who promulgated the “Lost Cause” nonsense), when scientists lacked the ability to contradict him and when only certain kinds of voters (his) could manage to cast their ballots. For the rest of us who live in a modern, multiracial, technologically sophisticated 21st-century America, he seems like a poor fit for president.

The White House is considering President Trump holding an address to the nation on race and unity. Columnist Dana Milbank says he's already given it. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Why Trump’s rally in Tulsa will be remembered by history

Dick Olin: What Lithuania can teach us about grappling with Confederate statues

Ty Seidule: What to rename the Army bases that honor Confederate soldiers

Marc A. Thiessen: Trump must reach out to black voters. His Tulsa rally is the place to start.

Jennifer Rubin: The Republican Party is now the Grand Oblivious Party

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