By Vickie Wilcher
What do you mean? A question singer songwriter Justin Bieber asks in one of his recent songs that bears the same title. In Mr. Bieber’s song the question is born out of a young man’s confusion regarding the “mixed” signals he’s receiving from his girlfriend. Surely, when Bieber’s contemporaries hear the song, many of them can “relate.” Similarly, when men and women of a certain age hear it, many are likely catapulted back to a time when they weren’t so clear about the messages they were receiving. On an ordinary day one of any age, race, socio-economic status or gender might hear the song, hum along, maybe take a moment to just identify with the lyrics and think no more about it once it was over. But, one might argue at this point in time that these ain’t no ordinary days and “what do you mean” presents a very different level of importance.
This is a time in which contempt, bitterness and the disgruntled have taken center stage. And it is clear that the players might erupt at any moment, causing who knows what manner of disruption or even destruction. So, in the larger scheme of things it might serve us all to take a second look at Mr. Bieber’s question; posing it against the backdrop of our society’s current condition instead of in the context of a confused lover’s angst. If for instance, we seriously asked, “What do you mean Mr. Trump when you say you’re going to make America great again,” we might find in the absence of a real answer from him that we will need to explore the possible answers for ourselves. Such a serious and collective inquiry will likely yield some very important answers, answers that in turn might lead to a real and necessary shift in America’s communal behavior(s)—behavior that might in fact lead to improved conditions that would serve to make America truly “great.” An examination of the following scenario might help to validate this idea.
Let’s assume that by making America great again, Mr. Trump, and his millions of followers, means returning to a time when there were so few immigrants in the United States that political candidates didn’t have to consider them or their issues as their vote count was less than negligible; or before the Voting Rights Act when Black Americans could be kept from voting via poll taxes and literacy tests (the latter being strikingly odd when one considers that for many years a Black Slave might have been beaten to death for even attempting to learn to read). Or perhaps being great again means a return to lynchings and cross-burnings; a time when Kanye West dare not look at Kim Kardashian—lest he suffer the fate of Emmett Till. If these are but a few of the occurrences that some people believe were what made America great, then we’ll need to seriously and wholly examine and respond accordingly to ensure that such a return to “greatness” does not happen.
Many of us, while sitting around the kitchen table, or while chatting with friends and colleagues have superficially or even rhetorically raised the “What do you mean” question regarding Trump’s rhetoric, but we’ve hardly pressed for real answers; and so we’ve likely missed some of the other questions and answers that are born out of that same rhetoric. For example, many of us might be missing the facts that in order for Mr. Trump to have become the republican nominee, millions of people had to vote for him, and that the great America that he references is not that long ago in our history if it is the America noted above.
Ultimately, what this means that if enough of the population agrees that their collective goal is a return to a certain time and condition and there is no shared, open and aggressive counter to that movement, based on shear proximity to and collective desire for the attainment of that goal, it is more than possible. So for those who might oppose the above noted possibility regarding what Mr. Trump might mean it will be important for them to create, state and pursue another goal: the image and reality of another America—perhaps an America more closely aligned with Judeo-Christian concepts so many Americans profess to live by; or perhaps an America in which the United States Constitution serves and protects all of its citizens, no matter their race, religion, socio-economic status, gender, sexual preference and so on.
Upon close and real examination either, or any America is possible. This has been proven time and again, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the civil unrest in Baltimore. It really depends largely on the questions and answers we pursue and what behaviors the ensuing thoughts and discussions lead us to. For instance, if those who are opposed to Trump’s return to a certain time are lulled into to apathy because they didn’t fully examine all of the possible answers to what he might mean; and then summarily dismissed his call to action because of their simple unwillingness to dig just a little deeper, then it is not likely that there will ever be a whole and concerted effort to stop his movement.
This would be tragic, not just because of the harm that so many people will suffer as a result of a return to the overt hate, violence, inequality and hypocrisy that was—and many will argue still is—the America of what seems like just yesterday; but because such a cruel turn in American history could easily be avoided if we would simply ask, earnestly investigate and answer questions like: What do you mean?