An historic reverse. March 23, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Perhaps it is me but I still find the sense of an historic reverse we are all living through hugely disturbing… this from a Slate.com review of Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue’s These United States:
The curtain opens on the Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893. The city’s wealthy elite paid for an extravagant complex complete with enormous neoclassical columns, the world’s first Ferris wheel, and a giant statue of Christopher Columbus riding, oddly, a Roman chariot. All this masked the nation’s jarring inequalities: Jim Crow laws were spreading throughout the South; women had not yet received the right to vote; and millions of new immigrants were living in urban slums. Indeed, economic inequality had become the nation’s defining feature at the turn of the century. In 1900, the wealthiest 10 percent pocketed 41 percent of the nation’s income—a number that would only be surpassed in 2010, when the top 10 percent took home 48 percent of the national income. That number only fell between 1950 and 1970, to 33 percent. Even more shocking was the wealthiest 1 percent, who by 1910 had controlled 18 percent of the nation’s wealth, but 8 percent in 1970. Only in 2010 did the top 1 percent again control 18 percent.
Some interesting aspects uncovered by the book. It notes that progressives were as responsible as business elites in the ‘small empire’ established by the US ‘throughout the Western hemisphere’ between 1898 and 1912. It points up the contradictions in relation to race. And it has some intriguing points about the divisions in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1900s, divisions which have had effects that persist to this day.
But the near contemporary is part of the text:
Of course, Gilmore and Sugrue make clear that Reagan, above all, enshrined the idea of trickle-down economics and market-based solutions. But they are at pains to show how much Clinton and Obama shifted the Democratic Party rightward. Indeed, These United States becomes most riveting, and will likely arouse most debate, over its judgment of Democrats in the Age of Reagan, which many historians contend is the era we still live in. For all Clinton’s professed empathy for the black community, the authors highlight how his gutting of welfare played to the public’s false, racist image of lazy black “welfare queens.” Clinton gets plenty of blame for abetting the Great Recession too. The 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act—a critical piece of New Deal legislation that prevented banks from making risky investments with depositors’ money—unleashed a speculative torrent.
The authors are only the slightest bit sympathetic to Obama. They concede that he operated under conditions not of his own making. But he “was not a transformational president.”
He caved to Wall Street in bailing out the banks without demanding any meaningful reform; the Affordable Care Act may have insured millions, but countless others have been forced to pay more because its biggest beneficiaries were insurance and drug companies. And his foreign policy effectively continued to do by stealth what George W. Bush barely kept secret at all: drone strikes, secret wiretaps. Other fundamental problems that began at the start of the 20th century have re-emerged under Obama: racial segregation abetted by a criminal justice system that is the New Jim Crow; anti-immigration nativism, which has hardly been helped by an immigration policy whose only achievement is a record number of deportations. Meanwhile, as of 2012, a woman still made 81 cents for every dollar a man earned.
Thought provoking point here too:
More importantly, Gilmore and Sugrue never succumb to defeatism. They highlight the many profound changes over the past century, from women winning the right to vote to the election of a black president. In doing so, they forcefully resist the notion that a narrative centered on the idea that we’ve returned to where we started means that we have achieved nothing in between.
Looks like a most interesting book.