Republican campaign slogans: George Bush’s Thousand Points of Light and President Trump’s Make American Great Again

Two phrases from two Republican leaders represent philosophical differences in their views.

Let’s take a look.

President Bush
“A Thousand Points of Light” 1988 campaign slogan

What’s the message?

In Bush’s 1988 speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination he praised America’s volunteer organizations describing them as “a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”

What does it mean?

Throughout his presidency, Bush was asked to clarify the slogan. Recently, President Trump asked this question at a campaign rally as he mocked the slogan.

“Thousand Points of Light. What the hell was that by the way?” Trump said. “Make America great again, we understand. Putting America first, we understand. Thousand Points of Light, I never quite got that one.”

Presidential historian and biographer Jon Meacham responded to Trump’s jab.

“Well, Mr. President, since you ask: it was an image of a nation illuminated by our better angels, offered by a man who gave his life to the service of that nation.” 

Where did it come from?

Peggy Noonan was President Bush’s speechwriter at the time the slogan was crafted, and although there are some claims that the phrase was plagiarized, these claims have not been substantiated and therefore I’m sticking with it-came-from-Noonan’s-more-than-capable brain theory.

Peggy Noonan has written that the “thousand points of light” is Bush’s expression of “his personal sense of conservatism.” It was a declaration that–while the government may be limited in its ability to respond to all the needs of society–volunteerism, and the giving spirit of Americans, was not.

In Bush’s own words: “to reject the hand of big government in favor of a thousand points of light, joining hands and linking hearts.”

How successful was it?

The phrase was part of a campaign for an incumbent vice-president to get elected to the office of president after having served for two-terms. Six other modern vice presidents tried to accomplish this; none other than George Bush succeeded. The phrase also became the name of a private, non-profit organization launched by Bush.

The Points of Light Foundation is a national effort to promote private, non-governmental solutions to social issues.

President Trump
“Make America Great Again”

What’s the message?

For supporters of President Trump, it signifies hope and optimism with regard to jobs, law and order, and trade. It also comments on the negative effects of immigration and globalization. The slogan conveys a sense of turning-back-the-clocks to better times.

Note: Those who oppose the slogan may believe that turning-back-the-clocks refers to undoing recent policies on inclusion, racism and other progressive initiatives.

Where did it come from?

It was used by both President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton. Although both Reagan and Trump are Republicans, their messages regarding immigration are starkly different.

For example, President Reagan used the phrase “make America great” in a speech given at the Statue of Liberty regarding immigration. Portions of the speech were then patched together to create a campaign ad. The transcript is courtesy of Politifact.

Through our international broadcasting stations — the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and the others — let us send, loud and clear, the message that this generation of Americans intends to keep that lamp shining; that this dream, that this dream the last best hope of man on earth, this nation under God, shall not perish from the earth.

We will instead carry on the building of an American economy that once again holds forth real opportunity for all, we shall continue to be a symbol of freedom and guardian of the eternal values that so inspired those who came to this port of entry.

Let us pledge to each other, with this Great Lady looking on, that we can, and so help us God, we will make America great again.”

This is a very different message from wall-building-hopeful President Trump.

Trump’s position on immigration was a central issue of his campaign in which he repeatedly characterized immigrants as criminals. Since then, he has continued the crime rhetoric while working toward limiting legal immigration and asylum. He went to court several times to impose a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

President Trump also attempted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). He imposed a “zero tolerance” policy for the arrest of all illegal immigrants at the border, which resulted in separating children from their families.

President Trump also announced his intention to end birth-right citizenship, which is written in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, and states that those born on U.S. soil, regardless of parents’ citizenship, is automatically an American citizen, as long as the parents are not foreign diplomats.

How successful was the message?

It probably helped to get Trump elected. He trademarked the slogan as well as a follow-up slogan for the 2020 campaign (“”Keep America Great!)

“The line of ‘Make America Great Again,’ the phrase, that was mine, I came up with it about a year ago, and I kept using it, and everybody’s now using it, they are all loving it,” Trump reportedly said in March of 2015.

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