2016

6 July 2016: Time for Americans to look at ourselves

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings. “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” (I, ii, 140-141)

It seems to be easier to fall into despair than to hold hope when considering the current clime in America. I recall Ronald Reagan projecting an optimistic perspective in a time of tremendous crisis by calling it “morning in America.”

Morning. It generally conjures a fresh start, a new chance, hope and optimism. O to be a sunny conservative. Or a sunny liberal.

Michael Moore, in his latest film “Where We Should Invade Next,” takes us on a tour of countries that do stuff better than we do. Stuff, from school lunches, child care, and women’s rights to prison/incarceration systems and corporate justice. Moore does not do it from a righteous “they’re better than we” angle, but through irony: many of the social and justice ideas and processes were American originals.

E.g.: The struggle for women’s equality began in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. The celebration of labor by creating a culture of healthy workers began within the labor strife of the late 19th century.

On both the left and right of late, the boogeyman has become our trade pacts. And to be sure, as former governor Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) quips, “NAFTA and CAFTA have given us the shafta.” But American workers are at fault too. Big time.

Many nostalgically look back on the mid-20th century as a golden era. If one was not white and straight, that period was not very golden. But if one was, economically it was a grand time, that is until it began to crash down around us in the 1970s.

The post-war era. The baby boom. The middle class enjoying unprecedented income growth. Suburbia. Two cars per family. And not just small, fuel-efficient ones, but chrome-laden, gas guzzling veritable yachts on wheels. All that despite living in the shadow of a super power armed with more missiles than we. The USSR. Mutual Assured Destruction. Those were the days.

Then, a movement emerged and found its voice and face in sunny Reagan. Attractive and glib, Reagan was for the most part a steel-teethed, take-no-prisoners honcho. I say “for the most part” because he still had, unlike his progeny on the right today, the good sense and moral ethic to work with his political opponents, the Democratic majority in Congress.

But in conjunction with his visceral disdain for the Soviet Union, what he dubbed the evil empire, Reagan hated labor unions, the irony of which is that he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1947.

Barely six months into his U.S. presidency, Reagan took on PATCO, the professional air traffic controllers, when it declared a strike. On August 5, 1981, he fired them, and thus began the Reagan Revolution.

Unions, which were an indispensable force behind middle-income growth, were portrayed as evil too and the decline of their membership accelerated. From the 1950s heyday when upwards of 35 percent of laborers were unionized, in both the private and public spheres, union membership is less than 10 percent today and most of that is within the public realm.

Concurrently with Reagan excoriating anything union came an entrepreneur who would build his empire on the backs of cheap products with slave labor. Sam Walton.

Compounding them was the rising religious-social right. Today’s Tea Party is its latest incarnation.

Nonetheless, it took, though, gullible dupes gave them power. Reagan Democrats. And now polls showing many falling under Donald Trump’s charm and drinking his Kool-Aid. Trump the cheat, fraud, and huckster.

American workers working against their own self-interests by refraining from unionization, buying slave-labored-produced cheap goods, working for slave-labor level hourly wages, and voting for political charlatans.

And therein lies a primary reason so many are the underlings. One can rail against trade pacts and corporate greed, but it behooves each person to recognize his/her own role in creating the current mess. Yes, Trump might have hawked ties made in China, but it took buyers to complete the deal.

Perhaps then, one needs to only look in the mirror to see a scowling face that was complicit in creating our dilemma.

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