A baseball cap has many uses. It soaks up sweat, it blocks the sun.
If you're Donald Trump, campaigning in Laredo last week, a baseball cap also protects your fragile superstructure of carefully stage-managed hair from the unforgiving Texas wind.
And it expresses your campaign philosophy, "Make America Great Again."
Let's think about that phrase—someone should—because it encapsulates not only how Trump, but also the 15 other Republican presidential candidates he's shredding, view the world.
"Make America Great Again."
What does that mean?
Well, it certainly implies that America isn't great now. It once was. And can be. Again. Our lost greatness regained, by....electing Donald Trump, I suppose.
And once elected, Trump will help us find our missing greatness ... how?
By cracking down on immigration, apparently. That has been the main, practically the only thrust of his campaign, from his announcement, tarring Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists (plus, he grudgingly added, a few non-criminals and non-rapists). The immigrants have stolen our greatness. Destroyed our country, really. People who aren't right wing nutjobs may have difficulty understanding just how thoroughly the GOP thinks Hispanics ruin America.
"We are entered upon the final act of our civilization," writes GOP elder statesman Pat Buchanan, in "State of Emergency," his 2006 call to end all immigration completely. Hispanic immigrants not only steal our jobs and commit crimes, but carry diseases, "diseases that never before afflicted us," Buchanan writes. Like leprosy.
Trump, echoing Buchanan, focused on the physical threat, citing the "the great danger" that he, Donald Trump, faced by just being near the border for a few hours.
We are going to have to endure months of this, and so should grasp the underlying mindset, which I call "Lost Eden." It goes like this:
Once America was Eden. The country was filled with white Protestant pilgrims and they ran the show and everything was fine. Then came The Fall, the arrival of the people who didn't belong and who wrecked everything. First the Irish. Italians. Jews. Slavs. Each in his turn was held up exactly as Mexicans are being held up now, as disease-ridden criminals and slackers. Buchanan manfully tries to explain the difference—"the Italians wanted to be part of our family, millions of Mexicans are determined to retain their language and loyalty to Mexico. They prefer to remain outsiders."
So saith Pat Buchanan. When people talk of making American great again, I ask which year of greatness, specifically, they'd like to recapture. When was the American zenith? A popular choice is 1945; we had defeated the Germans and the Japanese, and thought the world was our oyster.
Only it wasn't. Being top dog, in our estimation, did not prevent Communism from overtaking China and all of Eastern Europe over the next several years.. The following decade at home was a miserable, shameful nadir of loyalty oaths and red baiting. Anyone who misses the 1950s wasn't paying attention.
The truth is always nuanced. The country is always changing, a prospect Buchanan views with horror. "America is being transformed," he moans.
Two facts about Hispanic immigration you won't hear from either Patrick Buchanan or Donald Trump:
1) It's done. There are 54 million Hispanics living in the United States, or 17 percent of the population. By 2060, that will double, to 128 million. One in three Americans will be of Hispanic origin. They aren't going home; they are home. How do you think they'll view the current GOP passion to somehow rip them out of the American story and sent them yelping back to their lands of origin?
2) The Republicans are toast, nationally. They can win white bread Congressional districts, and plenty of big, empty, conservative states like Wyoming to keep them powerful in the Senate. But once you toss out the 17 percent of the electorate who are either Hispanic immigrants or their descendants, you just can't win the White House. The Republicans pause after each defeat, vow to court the Hispanic vote, then return to desperately clawing at the ashes of their imagined past, blubbering in terror and trying to press handfuls of scorched fantasy into something they recognize.
A great country doesn't crawl whimpering toward an imagined past. A great country stands up and walks determinedly into the future. Even a future with brown people in it. That's America's only hope for continued greatness. Where is the leader willing to take us there?