Britannica Encyclopaedia. MAGA movement

MAGA movement, nativist political movement that emerged in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign of its putative leader, Donald Trump. Its name is derived from Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” which became a rallying cry for many Trump supporters during his candidacy, presidency (2017–21), and beyond.

The MAGA movement (often referred to simply as MAGA, or Make America Great Again), was founded on the belief that the United States was once a “great” country but has lost this status owing to foreign influence, both within its borders (via immigration and multiculturalism) and without (via globalization, or the increased integration of multiple national economies). MAGA members think that this fall from grace can be reversed through “America first” policies that would provide a greater degree of economic protectionism, greatly reduce immigration, particularly from developing countries, and encourage or enforce what MAGA members consider to be traditional American values. Some MAGA-supported policies, such as Trump’s call in 2015 for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” would involve egregious racial or religious discrimination. (Some of the policies eventually adopted by the Trump administration did entail such discriminatory treatment of nonwhite immigrants; see below.)

In addition to its political stances, the MAGA movement is known for its particularly combative character, which exemplifies the extreme partisanship of contemporary American politics. In keeping with that stance, controversial rhetoric has flourished within the movement, including messages that critics see as homophobicsexist, or racist or as inciting violence.

The MAGA movement is also known for having an antagonistic relationship with mainstream news media, which are thought by a majority in the movement to be biased against MAGA views, at best, and to be lying on behalf of the movement’s enemies, at worst. This belief has resulted in a vulnerability among MAGA members to false news stories and particularly far-fetched conspiracy theories circulated by MAGA-supporting media outlets and repeated by MAGA leaders. Examples include charges that Democratic former president Barack Obama is not a native-born U.S. citizen (“birtherism”), that Democrats’ immigration policies aim to replace white Americans with nonwhite immigrants (see replacement theory), that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump by Democrats through massive voter fraud, and that the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, in which a mob of Trump supporters attempted to halt Congress’s certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, was actually staged by left-wing forces.

A variant of the phrase “Make America Great Again” was first popularized by Republican Pres. Ronald Reagan, who used “Let’s Make America Great Again” as one of several slogans for his 1980 presidential campaign. Trump reportedly coined the phrase “Make America Great Again” in November 2012, just after Mitt Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, lost the 2012 presidential election to Obama. Trump filed an application to trademark the slogan for the purpose of “promoting public awareness of political issues and fundraising in the field of politics.” He announced his campaign’s slogan on the same day that he declared his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination—June 16, 2015. This date can be seen as the beginning of the MAGA movement.

Trump’s campaign quickly attracted strong support among conservative white working-class voters. Trump’s background as a businessman recommended itself to these Americans as a sign that he understood economics, and his lack of previous government service suggested that he was unstained by the corruption that they associated with Washington, D.C. They also appreciated his populist message, in which he contended that the federal government was controlled by Democratic “elites.” (MAGA members did not consider it at all contradictory that Trump, a billionaire, was himself a member of the country’s wealthy elite; in their view, Trump’s wealth simply meant that, when it came to elites, he knew what he was talking about.) Finally, and perhaps above all, they admired Trump’s personal style, which was notoriously belligerent and confrontational. Trump’s habit of bullying his opponents with personal insults and name-calling, as well as his regular boasting, encouraged MAGA members to think of him as an ordinary person or “regular guy” rather than as a conventional politician.

Many election experts and political commentators failed to take the MAGA phenomenon seriously. Trump’s nomination as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate in 2016 was seen as a boon to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election; even Clinton herself felt comfortable enough during the race to publicly dismiss Trump’s most ardent supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” But the MAGA movement’s enthusiasm, combined with Clinton’s unpopularity among segments of independent voters in some states, resulted in Trump’s electoral victory, astonishing not only much of the country but the world.

In the aftermath of the election, there was a rush to understand and respond to the new political power that the MAGA movement represented. The media ran numerous articles and television reports analyzing the development and makeup of the movement. Within the Republican Party, Trump became a kingmaker, his endorsement all but necessary to anyone who wished to win a Republican primary election for a major office.

For the next four years, Trump used executive orders to make good on some of his promises to MAGA voters. One week into his term the new president signed an order that banned immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. (After a district court enjoined enforcement of the ban, partly on the grounds that it violated anti-discrimination provisions and other aspects of U.S. immigration law, Trump issued a second order, which was also enjoined. A third version of the ban, which also applied to immigrants from North Korea and Venezuelan government officials, was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018.) Also in January 2017 Trump signed an executive order directing “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border” with Mexico. And in 2018 Trump began leveling tariffs on imports from Mexico, Canada, the European Union, and China. Simultaneously, he increased his popularity among Republicans in general by attempting to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), supporting a massive tax cut that primarily benefited corporations and the wealthy, and nominating three ultraconservative Supreme Court justices. Consequently, Trump’s movement was as strong as ever when he campaigned for reelection in 2020.

However, by the end of his first term, Trump had become deeply unpopular with independent voters, resulting in his loss to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. In an unprecedented move among modern presidential candidates, Trump refused to concede the race, claiming that the election had been “rigged” by Democrats. Motivated by this lie, a MAGA-aligned crowd stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Whatever embarrassment the attack caused the movement, however, was short-lived. Quite the contrary, in fact: within a year most members of the MAGA movement were claiming that antifascist (“Antifa”) activists had secretly instigated the assault, and by 2023 Trump himself was publicly celebrating the attack at rallies of his supporters.

The MAGA movement remains a powerful force in American politics. In late 2022 an estimated 4 in 10 Republicans identified themselves as “MAGA Republicans.” Shortly after the midterm elections of 2022, Trump declared his candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. In view of the strength of the MAGA movement, other candidates for the Republican nomination have been forced to adopt strategies that limit direct or serious criticisms of Trump and emphasize their acceptance of at least some of the extremist views of MAGA members.

Adam Volle

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