“Make America Great Again” conjures up for many Trump supporters a sense of nostalgia for far simpler times—the Norman Rockwell illustrations of the 1940s and the “Ozzie and Harriet” show of the 1950s. We had just won World War II back then, and we were the undisputed super power.

It was a time for white middle America, when people married for life, Grandma lived downstairs in her own room, and the kids married their childhood sweethearts and lived in town just down the road a bit. Women stayed home, raised the kids and made sure dinner was on the table when the man came home. 

Virtually every product was made domestically, murder was a rarity, there were no protests and nobody ever heard of climate change. There was a lot of open space and room to breathe.

Conservative talk show hosts frequently repeat this theme of a better yesteryear. Dennis Prager wrote that if he were principal of a high school, he would enforce a dress code, and tell his students, “This is an American public school, and American public schools were created to make better Americans. If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere. We will end all ethnicity, race and non-American nationality-based celebrations.” In other words, Dennis wants to turn the clock back to the 1950s when he grew up as a kid in Brooklyn.

There is another way of looking at these bygone days that, upon closer scrutiny, were not so idyllic for everybody. I attended a lily white elementary school in New Jersey even though African Americans lived in the same town. When I attended a boarding school in Pennsylvania, the barbers in town refused to cut the hair of my dear friend and teacher, the only Black member of the faculty. Nat King Cole’s show was cancelled when he kissed a white guest on the cheek. Throughout the country, African Americans were denied the right to vote, job opportunity and equal access to housing. (The Trump Organization was cited and fined by the Federal Government for violating the fair housing rules.)

Gays were also treated as second class citizens. They either stayed in the closet or were denied housing, jobs and basic dignity.

And women either stayed at home, or those who worked outside the home were mostly nurses, secretaries or teachers. When I attended Harvard, women were not allowed in one of its major libraries, and the Harvard Club in New York City had a separate entrance for women.  

Any expression of sex was verboten in a terribly repressed society. A pregnant Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnez, were forced to sleep in separate beds during the tapings of the show, as if the future Desi Jr. was somehow miraculously conceived.

Millions of abortions were performed—all illegally and often unsafely. Young girls were shipped off to homes for unwed mothers and carried their pregnancies to term without ever seeing their children.

And so, yes, many of us have protested for equal rights for people of color, gender equality and the rights of women.

Much has changed in the past 70 years. Our population has more than doubled, as has the world’s. The demand for basic goods has grown accordingly and our environment has suffered as a consequence.

With the exponential advances in communication and transportation, international trade is the new reality. The ma and pa stores have long been replaced by international companies, and our children frequently move away from home to seek employment.

The genie is out of the bottle. We have as much chance of returning to those distant times as I have to going back in time 70 years, and I would hate to be seven again, because that is when I had polio and spent five months in a hospital. Everything wasn’t better back then.

Burt Ross

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