Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters want a return to the 1950s. Trump supporters say so explicitly at times. They want a return to cultural norms, two parent households, stay at home moms, and everyone in church. They don’t want men in their daughters’ bathrooms and they don’t want the glorification of sexuality across the media. They want the 50’s.
Democrats, though they will not admit to wanting the 50’s, want the 50’s as well. Trump supporters want it for social reasons and the Democrats want it for economic reasons. The Democrats’ dream is to have every American a member of a union working for a Fortune 500 company that funds the welfare state.
Both sides want the past because they are fearful of a future they cannot anticipate. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in the 15th of his Screwtape Letters.
To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too—just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is not straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth—ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other—dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.
The past makes both sides resentful of the present because the past they cling on to is an idolized, idealized past. It is not the real past. It is the one they conjured up to reassure themselves that the past was better than the present. They want that past in the present because they fear the stepping off point into an unknown future and are hell bent on shaping that future.
What Trump supporters cannot appreciate is that black voters hear this rhetoric about going back and they remember Jim Crow and segregation. The idealized past for Trump voters is one of servitude and second class citizenship for many Americans.
What Clinton supporters cannot appreciate is that we abandoned their preferred economic models because they were inefficient and served to stifle innovation — innovations that will be key for a productive future.
Both sides want what not only never really existed, but what they cannot have. And the result is that they’re all angry, bitter, and resentful. Neither side wants to appreciate the present and both Presidential candidates are arguing for the past as future. Clinton wants to bring back the Clinton glory days and Trump wants to make America great again, an echo to a past he claims existed.
We have reached this point because of a failure of leadership on all sides. The Washington establishment of both parties is more committed to managing national decline while profiting from it than committed to stopping that decline from happening.