“Take our country back.” It’s a phrase we’ve been hearing since 2008 or so. Just coincidence that it became popular right around the time we elected our first black president, I suppose. It’s still very much in vogue. It was a phrase chanted in Charlottesville earlier this month during the white nationalist rally to preserve a statue of Robert E. Lee. Today I read an article about Corey Stewart, who plans to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine for his Senate seat next year. “I’m in it to take back our country,” he said.
It’s a phrase that confuses me. It’s like an unfinished sentence. Take it back. Take it back to what? Or take it back from whom? Does it refer to time and place or does it refer to possession?
If it refers to time and place, what time and place do people like Mr. Stewart want to take this country back to? A time when only male white folks need apply for the job of president? A time when women and people of color knew their place? A time of war? A time of water cannon cutting the legs out from under those who dare march for equality? A time of Jim Crow and lynchings? A time when only heterosexuals were allowed to choose whom they love and build a life with? Perhaps back to the time before women could vote? Back to a time of slavery? How about back to when people pretty much stayed drunk all the time? Or maybe back to a time of prohibition.
Or does the phrase refer to possession? Has someone stolen our country and people like Mr. Stewart are determined to “take it back” from them? If so, who has stolen it? And who says it’s “our” country, not “theirs”? Have the undocumented Mexicans stolen it by breaking into our country and taking up all the good jobs working in the fields and plucking chickens? Have the Muslims stolen it by insisting that the First Amendment guaranteeing their right to practice the religion of their choice also applies to them? Have those who believe criminals and mentally unstable individuals should not have the right to buy a gun stolen it? Maybe it’s the people who believe every American should have access to quality healthcare at a price they can afford. Is it the blacks who have stolen it? Maybe it’s the women, with their insistence on equal pay for equal work and wanting to be considered on the basis of their abilities, not on the basis of their internal plumbing.
Maybe it’s been stolen by those people who don’t speak English. After all, in “our” country, “we” speak English. Why? Because that’s the language I speak, so therefore it is required that all people speak it, even if I don’t speak it very well.
I’ve never understood why those who use the phrase “take back our country” don’t finish the sentence. Maybe what they really mean is “take back” as in “return.” Maybe they think we’re so far gone that we should just return this land to England — or maybe even return it to the Native Americans from whom we stole it some 400 years ago. Seems to me if anyone should be calling for people to “take back our country,” it would be them.