President-elect Trump has won the Presidency on the promise to ‘Make America Great Again.’ This somewhat vague slogan has drawn several to the unorthodox political candidate. But to others who may not have voted for him, when exactly was America so great in history, and what does President-elect Trump consider about those times that made America so great?
So when was this golden age for America that made us the world power that we are today? “I would say during the 1940s and the late ’40s and 50’s,” Trump stated in a New York Times interview during the campaign. “We were respected by everybody, we had just won a war, we were pretty much doing what we had to do, yeah around that period,” Trump went on to say. So according to our next President, the time that America was great was during the 1940s and 1950s, after WWII. To make America great again, we need to return to that time. But there are some things however that the President-elect might not be taking into account with regards to that period in world history.
The Rise of American Manufacturing
After WWII, there is no questioning Trump’s statements that America was the largest economy and one of if not the most productive manufacturer in the world at the time.
During the war, the United States was in the process of setting up the manufacturing infrastructure that would propel it to the top of the world economy. Factories at the time were producing massive amounts of weapons, tanks, artillery, and several other war materials to keep the American army in Europe well supplied. These products were of course constructed mostly by women laborers who picked up the slack to help provide for the men who were off at war in Europe.
After the war was over, this giant production machine that grew, shifted from making war machines and supplies, to making appliances, home products, and other low-skilled products. With a large workforce of men coming back home from the war, which consequently sent women out of the workforce, America was poised to at the very least be a manufacturing competitor on the world stage.
The Rest of the World in Shambles
After WWII, there was no doubt that America would make its mark. It had the resources, and the foundations in manufacturing to expand considerably. But what President-elect Trump might not understand is there was no competition. The rest of the world was in shambles.
Europe was still recovering from the war and was in rubble from bombings. China was also recovering from Japanese invasions from the war. Japan, of course, just had two atomic bombs dropped on them. Southeast Asia, South Asia, parts of the Middle East, and Africa were still colonized by the European powers who were recovering from the war, and Latin America was still an unstable region. The closest economic competitor we had was the Soviet Union, and they were still recovering from a not so distant revolution, and attempting to move from an agrarian producing nation to an industrialized one.
Put all of these regions together, and there was no competition that America had to face.
Final Thoughts: the Rest of the World Caught up with us
So no wonder American manufacturing was at the top. The rest of the world was in rubble. Over 50 years later, other powers are starting to thrive. China is a rising power in the East, Europe was able to, at the very least, get back on its feet. Africa has been decolonized, and Southeast Asia has created a booming manufacturing sector. Russia might not have a booming economy, but they are still a large arms manufacturer and have some capabilities to make a military footprint in the different parts of the world. We now have some competition.
Trump’s golden age of America is not a fallacy or untrue. However, he characterizes it without looking at history and saying “America was great then, but the rest of the world has finally caught up with us.” ‘Make America Great Again’ may be a catchy phrase, but it does not highlight any historical perspective.