In an interview with a panel of Donald Trump supporters, “Face the Nation” showed one woman who admitted she wanted America to be great again. Her definition of that was returning to a time before abortions and “the homosexuals.” She’s not alone.
In recent research released by the nonpartisan group PPRI, Americans are divided about whether life today is better (48 percent) or worse (51 percent) than it was in the 1950s. However, that 1950s support is even larger among Trump voters. The report outlines that seven in ten Trump supporters say that life has changed for the worse since the 1950s. On the other side, seven in ten Clinton supporters think things have changed for the better.
The division is even more pronounced among white and people of color where 56 percent of whites want to return to the 1950s and six in ten black and Hispanic Americans say life is better now. The class divide is stark as well, with 56 percent of white college-educated Americans who think things are better now and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white working-class Americans think things are worse. But no number can eclipse White evangelical Protestants, who want to see things return to the 1950s by 74 percent.
There’s a reason for all of these numbers, however. Since the 1950s, the United States has passed laws that give more freedoms to people of color, women, LGBT people and life for Catholics and Jews is far more accepting now than in the post-WW2 era.
Here’s a refresher of what life was like for some folks back in the so-called “good old days.”
Life for Catholics in the 1950s:
Hillary Clinton’s final remarks at the Al Smith Dinner last week recalled Smith’s bid for president in 1928. Smith was the first major party candidate who was a Catholic and the misinformation spread about him at the time would never be accepted today.
“School boards sent home letters with children saying that if Al Smith was elected president you will not be allowed to have or read a Bible,” Clinton said during her remarks. “Voters were told he would annul Protestant marriages and I saw a story recently that people even claimed The Holland Tunnel was a secret passageway to connect Rome and America.”
It wasn’t until the 1960s when John F. Kennedy was able to make it to the White House as a Catholic, and the campaign against him for his religion was a brutal one. “I am not the Catholic candidate for President,” Kennedy said to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. “I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.” He called it outright bigotry for a quarter of Americans to be considered second class citizens simply because of their faith.
Life for Jews in the 1950s:
One would think that the investment the United States made in WW2 would inspire people to fight back against the anti-Semitism Adolf Hitler advocated. During the war, Jews flocked to the United States and other countries as refugees but it was the last thing some wanted.
The Liberty Lobby was a conservative organization founded in 1955 by Willis Carto who idolized anti-Semitic writers like Francis Parker Yockey who promoted Hitler and his philosophy. They tried to promote themselves as an anti-Communist organization, think The John Birch Society, but a place that was welcoming to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Carto also developed the Institute for Historical Review, which published propaganda claiming the Holocaust never happened.
In 1952, Congress passed The Immigration and Nationality Act, which skewed religious and racial quotas for applicants. President Harry Truman vetoed the bill, saying, “We do not need to be protected against immigrants from these countries–on the contrary we want to stretch out a helping hand, to save those who have managed to flee into Western Europe, to succor those who are brave enough to escape from barbarism, to welcome and restore them against the day when their countries will, as we hope, be free again.”
The Senate successfully voted to override his veto. The bill’s author, Sen. Pat McCarran (D-NV) claimed the United States was the last hope for Western civilization. “If this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.”
As the KKK rose to power to fight Civil Rights, so too did the anti-Semitism the Klan promoted as part of its Protestant purity agenda.
Life for African-Americans in the 1950s:
The 1950s was when the Civil Rights movement really got started. Schools were still segregated, African Americans still used different bathrooms and water fountains and businesses could deny service to any person of color. After the 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, many schools still fought desegregation. Ultimately, President Eisenhower had to send in the National Guard to protect students who had to be admitted to predominantly white schools.
In the summer of 1955 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black Chicago boy accused of whistling at a white woman, was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Mississippi. To this day, Till’s grave site is desecrated with bullet holes from those continuing to shoot at him after his death.
That winter began the bus boycott. The following year, southern congressmen and senators signed a “Southern Manifesto” vowing that they would fight racial integration by any “lawful” means necessary.
Brutal conflicts erupted as racists clung to their “heritage” and desire for “purity” well into the 1960s. Even today, traditionally black communities are still fighting voter suppression with ID laws, access to polling places and the right to vote without intimidation.
Life for homosexuals in the 1950s:
Nevermind same-sex marriage, in most places in the 1950s acting on your homosexual urges was illegal. In 1951, The Supreme Court of California ruled that suspending a bar’s license simply because the bar had homosexuals in it was illegal. For the 15 years that lead up to the case, the San Francisco-based Black Cat Bar was a common target by local authorities because it was a friendly place for LGBT people.
“As a child, I was warned about talking to ‘strange men’, without any real idea what this meant. I was left to find out for myself what it was all about,” wrote Mike Newman of the era.
Both women and men were institutionalized in mental hospitals for being attracted to the same sex. Others who tried to find sexual partners often ended up being entrapped by police, who prosecuted them for soliciting and threw them in prison. While Eisenhower was willing to send in the National Guard to protect African-Americans and vetoed anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish legislation, he signed Executive Order 10450. The order made “sexual perversion” an acceptable ground to investigate and fire any federal employee.
In the mid-50s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy wasn’t just going after Communists, he was attacking homosexuality as well. His March 1954 hearing inquired about the possible security risks having homosexuals in the government could pose.
It wasn’t until the 1969 Stonewall riots that the LGBT community began their uprising for equality.
Life for women in the 1950s:
While some women worked outside the home, most of the jobs available were restricted to things like flight attendants, secretaries, teachers, librarians and the like. A woman’s role was focused on the family and propaganda at the time touted the importance of Americans creating the “nuclear family” to fight back against Communism. Marriage rates were high and it was happening younger and younger.
Being single and pregnant was the height of shame, particularly for white women. Girls who “got in trouble” often dropped out of school and were sent to live “away” with another relative until the child was born and could be given away. Unless, of course, they could get married.
The happy homemaker wasn’t all that happy, either. If women were abused or raped by their husband, she had no recourse. Worse, the problem was hidden behind closed doors and no one talked about it. It wasn’t until the 1970s that domestic violence was declared criminally prosecutable. Unless a woman or child was murdered, men weren’t prosecuted for abuse. It was considered discipline and law enforcement didn’t intervene in such “family matters.” Laws in the state of California even made it illegal to prosecute a man for domestic violence because it was a form of sexual discrimination.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the birth control pill became available and women began the slow climb toward controlling their own bodies and lives.
So when Trump supporters talk about making America great “again” this is the America they envision. But think about it, this time they want to return to, there was a Democrat in the White House passing some of the most progressive policies in history.