Alabama’s Republican candidate for Senate, Roy Moore, says America needs to be a bit more like it was when it had slaves.
This is not a joke or exaggeration. When a black man at a September rally asked what President Donald Trump means by “make America great again,” Moore acknowledged, the Los Angeles Times reported, that the country had a history of racial tensions. Then he answered the question: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country had a direction.”
Moore later added, “The greatness I see was in our culture, not in all our policies. There were problems. We had slavery; we’ve overcome slavery. We’ve had prejudice; we still have prejudice. But we’ve turned the tide on civil rights. And we’ve done a lot of things to bring this country around, and I think we can still make it better.”
The first part of the quote comes from a Los Angeles Times report published in September, but it was recently resurfaced by a viral tweet from former Obama administration official Eric Columbus. The Times later published the full audio.
There are so many problems with this remark that it’s hard to know where to start.
For one, which families, exactly, were “united” and “strong,” as Moore claims? Black families were regularly torn apart — and tortured — by slave masters at the time. Slaves often couldn’t even marry, because their marriages were legally considered void.
Moore’s comments also lay bare what “make America great again” really means. Progressives have long asked when, exactly, America was so much better than it is today.
When black people were slaves? When the country committed genocide and ethnic cleansing against Native Americans? Was it when the country looked the other way as white supremacists lynched thousands of black people? When women and black people were denied the right to vote? When black people were legally barred from white-only schools and restaurants?
Was it when women were thwarted from having meaningful careers? When same-sex couples couldn’t get married, or even go out into public holding hands without fearing for their safety?
The list could really go on. (And some of these still apply today.)
These were all horrible periods for many Americans. The rhetoric of “make America great again” suggests that those Americans — black, Native American, LGBTQ, women, and so on — just don’t matter, or at least that their plights could be overlooked for whatever benefits the country was supposedly producing — for white men — back then.
Moore essentially said that it’s possible to overlook America’s original sin. The time of slavery was the time of, in his view, great things — at least in America’s culture, even though that culture included slavery — and that’s apparently what the country should aspire to.
I asked Hannah Ford, deputy campaign manager for Moore, if he really thinks that the last time America was great was when it still had slavery. She responded, “To suggest such is recklessly malicious. Judge Moore clearly made his point: America is great when our families are united, as in the husband and wife committed to each other and raising their children to be good citizens.” She did not respond to a follow-up question about why, then, Moore brought up slavery at all.
Moore has a history of racially insensitive remarks. At the very same event reported by the Los Angeles Times, he referred to Native Americans and Asian Americans as “reds and yellows.” Prior to that, he compared the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage to the decision that effectively denied black people citizenship. He has questioned whether former President Barack Obama was born in the US. And he previously argued that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress.