There’s No Nostalgia Worse Than Longing for What Never Happened

That obsessive search of a mythical golden age that Donald Trump repeats in his speeches has to do with a characteristic of the conservative personality. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Donald Trump is wrong when he declares that his intention is to Make America Great Again. When has the country ever been in better shape and its society more comfortable? When have its Armed Forces been more feared and more powerful, endowed with an annual budget of 600 billion dollars, an amount greater than that of all its enemies combined? If someone knows, it’s urgent that we do away with the doubt.

In the 1930s came the Great Depression, caused by the Wall Street collapse. In the 1940s came the Second World War, immediately followed by the Cold War and the fall of China into communist hands. In the peaceable 1950s,cradled in the tranquilizing arms of Eisenhower, after Korea and its tens of thousands of dead Americans, came the unrest in the Middle East and the ominous national practices to survive a possible Soviet nuclear attack.

The 1960s brought race riots, Vietnam and government lies. In the 1970s, Nixon imploded, and at the end of the decade, in the Carter era, bank interest rates climbed to 20 percent, the economy suffered from “stagflation” and it seemed that the period of democracy was coming to an end, overrun by Soviet collectivism. A little later, however, Mikhail Gorbachev buried the Soviet Union and communism was relegated to two loony bins without any real importance: Cuba and North Korea. (In China and Vietnam today we find another genre of dictatorship, distanced from Marxist superstitions.)

In the United States, people’s life expectancy has risen, as has happened in almost the whole world, sparked, in large part, by the country’s medical discoveries. Homes are larger and are furnished with all kinds of electrical appliances (even among the poorest social groups); food, including junk food, is so abundant and so cheap that the country’s great problem is not hunger but obesity and a progressive increase in diabetes.

The poor — approximately 15 percent of the population — are poor because a family of four receives “only” about $24,000 a year, plus food stamps. Everyone — the poor, the middle class and the rich — has access to electricity, the Internet, drinking water, clothing, cell phones, transportation, schools, state or private universities that award scholarships to the best students and loans to almost everyone, police protection, reasonably efficient judicial systems and opportunities to work and move ahead.

True, the United States has problems, but they have always existed. It is a free society, complex and plural, with 325 million inhabitants, of whom more than 42 million are Afro-Americans and more than 57 million are Hispanics, whose representatives maintain order with a much discussed and debated punitive strategy where approximately three million are incarcerated.

It is also true that the quality of students decreases while the cost of tuition increases, but the country has the 25 best university and research centers on the planet. Simultaneously, there is no universal health insurance, medicines are expensive and malignant drugs cause deadly damage (never better said). The latter — the drugs — are linked to the fact that in some cities there are areas of extreme violence with very high rates of homicide. However, the United States remains a fundamentally free country and one full of opportunities.

That explains why millions of human beings try to settle in this country. There is no better index of the relative quality of a society than the presence of immigrants. The United States is a magnet because the American Dream is alive. As it was in Venezuela until Chavismo came. As it was in Cuba until Castro crushed the dream that one could prosper through one’s own efforts. As it was in Argentina, until Peronism ruined that great nation with its populist message, intermingled with fascism. The immigration balance of these three countries was very favorable until the ideological stupidity and barbarism destroyed the productive apparatus and pulverized coexistence.

It is true that there are places where life is better in some aspects than in the United States (half of Europe, including Spain, perhaps in Israel or Japan, because quality of life does not depend only on material issues), but perhaps in none of them can immigrants can establish themselves like in the USA, where in the last elections two senators, children of immigrants, aspired to the presidency, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, while the story of newcomers and their descendants who succeed is repeated again and again as a permanent mantra.

In the 15th Century, the Spanish poet Jorge Manrique, moved by the death of his father, Rodrigo, wrote a great poem with a melancholy ill-thought verse: “Any time in the past was better.” Not true. In those societies, such as the United States, where an institutional continuity exists despite the reversals and bad junctures, they manage to prosper in a constant manner, making themselves true progressives, an adjective that countries and parties that progress least often usurp.

Probably that obsessive pursuit of a mythical Golden Age that Trump keeps repeating in his speeches has to do with a characteristic of the conservative personality. Conservatives tend to be pessimists. They invariably see the glass half empty and become frightened when they see an ethnically diverse society, more tolerant in sexual and religious matters, in which the norms of behavior, from strident and rude music to tattoos, are very different from what they learned in a safe childhood of white and Christian homes.

Conservatives associate the profile of society with their own biography. In the past, they were young and handsome. Today, they are old, wrinkled and ugly. The past was better, they believe. That’s not true. It was different. Another poet, a singer named Joaquín Sabina, has expressed it in a very popular song: “There’s no worse nostalgia than longing for what never happened.” This is what is happening to Donald Trump.

Note: Portions of this translation taken from The Latin American Herald.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.