“The Rising Waters” is even more salient now than when Carl Hassmann drew it in 1906. Then, as now, American society was in a desperate state, thanks to decades of the rich getting richer and leaving everyone else behind. The Gilded Age had created vast industrial wealth while consigning millions to exploitative working conditions and poverty. Landed security became more elusive as labor-saving machinery displaced rural folk and opportunities to homestead shrank with the “closing” of the American frontier. Cities became clogged with Americans seeking the respectability and comfort that came with new white-collar jobs. Continue reading
The backbone of Republican rhetoric is that Democrats are dangerous. Republicans claim the Democratic party is filled with people who are going to destroy what you depend on and take it away. It is nearer to the truth to say that Democrats want to give more to ordinary Americans. They want to lift up ordinary citizens and commit government to their general well-being. That is what makes Democrats so “dangerous.”
Republicans don’t want you to vote your interests. They assail reasonable, equitable, policy goals as somehow subversive, un-American. Too good to be true.
The Democrats want to give you something. The Republicans want to demonize that aspiration; they have been doing it for years, acting as though, in the richest nation on the planet, there isn’t enough to go around. Republicans want you to believe in scarcity, in the hardship that will follow if the government tries to “lift all boats,” even as the tide has crested to record highs for the nation’s most wealthy. Two days ago, the Federal Reserve released data showing that the wealth of the fifty richest Americans is roughly equal to that of half of the population. That’s right: just fifty people have as much wealth as the poorest 165 million Americans, combined.
Republicans want you to believe that the Democrats’ more generous vision for America is dangerous. They want you to believe that the US can’t afford to a system of universal health care, that it’s too much to hope for coverage that continues when you lose your job. They want you to believe that efforts to ensure that you can see a doctor more easily and cheaply will harm you: that you will be harmed, your freedom destroyed, if American policy so much as ventures that way.
Republicans want you to believe the US can’t afford to have a thriving economy while mitigating climate change. They want you to believe that protecting vital natural resources is going to leave you broke or unemployed. Trump has rolled back every protection he can, adding pollutants to the water you drink and the air you breathe. The truth is that going green will safeguard your community, your health and your property while creating a gravy train of new and socially meaningful jobs.
Trump is a master at demonizing the Democrats, repeating lies about Biden over and over again, such as that Biden wants to defund the police and get rid of fracking. Trump groundlessly claims Biden’s recovery plans will destroy the economy, whereas Moody Analytics says that Biden’s plans are far superior to Trump’s, that they will promote a faster economic recovery while creating an estimated 7 million jobs.
So don’t believe the Republicans. Let yourself believe in a better, fairer, and more vibrant America. Vote for the “dangerous Democrats.” It’s better for America, and it’s better for you.
Image: “The Ring of Thanks”
from this source.
Among the hundreds of historical photographs I’ve looked at this week, this one stands out, jarring my sensibilities, its everydayness so strikingly at odds with ours. Whereas many historical photographs appeal because of their near-resemblance to the life we know, others are fascinating in their strangeness, in their capacity to demand independent consideration.
So it is with this photograph from the National Library of Ireland. It shows a muddy street in the port city of Waterford, where teamsters are conveying several carts of live turkeys up from the wharves. Their destination may be a local poultry store, where the turkeys were likely to be sold to customers live, then kept at home and butchered by those in the kitchen for the holiday meal. The date is December 16, 1907. To have a rich turkey feast was then, as in Dickens’ time sixty years earlier, a singular joy and a sure token of prosperity.
There was a different appearance to a street. The bricks of the gutter are evident, but the rest of the paving is scarcely visible beneath a thick layer of mud and animal waste, which night crews may have periodically combed smooth. The only conveyances in sight are carts and wagons, though elsewhere, we know, automobiles were beginning to appear. Besides teamsters hauling goods away from the harbor, the only other traffic is a pair of ladies in decent hats, driving themselves on their calls and errands.
The real point of interest, though, is along the curb, where we see a barefoot boy standing in the road. He and his friend may be hoping to earn a few coins by helping the teamsters unload the turkeys. Just a few feet away are a well-dressed lady and gentleman, and behind them are a trio of poorer, working-class women known as ‘shawlies.’ Whereas the lady has a proper overcoat or wrapper and a fur hat, the other women go about with their heads and bodies unceremoniously wrapped in shawls for warmth. They carry baskets.
Class was different then, as clothing and shoes and manners marked out very visibly just how different one type of person was from the other. Though the classes rubbed elbows much more intimately than they do today, the gulf between rich and poor was more evident and less was done to ameliorate it, to ease the suffering of the barefoot and hungry.
Image from this source.
Click on the image to enlarge it.
There’s something raw about the history of the 1910s, a period of depression and unrest, when Americans were engaged in an anxious quest for alternatives. It was a period of activism, when anti-capitalist sentiment and true human suffering allowed organized labor, still in its infancy, to make significant strides. At the center of these trends were redoubtable labor leaders like Big Bill Haywood (right), shown here in 1913 with his fellow activist Adolph Lessig.
William Dudley Haywood (1869-1928) was one tough customer, a sometime socialist who helped found the radical labor organization known as the International Workers of the World (IWW), or ‘Wobblies.’ Founded in 1905, the IWW was radical in seeking to organize workers of all types and nationalities, even unskilled workers, in contrast to the other, more exclusive, ‘trade’ unions of the day.
Haywood was born in Utah and by age 15 was working in western copper mines. By 1900, he had an invalid wife and two children and had gotten involved in the labor movement, skyrocketing to the top of the Western Federation of Miners, a militant union that in 1903 pitted itself against the Colorado mining industry and the state’s government in a bitter strike lasting nearly three years.
Aligned for a time with the fledgling Socialist Party, Haywood ultimately fell out with that group over strategy. By 1910, his chief interest lay in directly mobilizing masses of people in IWW-led strikes and protests, believing this the surest path to structural change.
Haywood was involved, for instance, in the famous 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, also known as the Bread and Roses strike, whose centennial is now being commemorated. Lawrence’s textile workers included large numbers of women and teens, and many persons of foreign birth. Their protests aroused national sympathy, particularly when children of striking parents were sent to New York City for safekeeping. The strike ended after three months, with workers gaining many concessions to their demands.
Haywood’s star began to set during WWI, when the IWW’s on-going militancy and vision of international solidarity jarred with wartime industrial demands and an accompanying tide of national feeling. In 1917, Haywood and 100 other IWW officials were arrested on charges of wartime sedition, found guilty, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Freed on bail while appealing conviction, Haywood fled to the Soviet Union, where he entered on an ignominious final chapter and died of alcoholism and diabetes a decade later.
His ashes are interred partly in a wall of the Kremlin, while others were sent back to Chicago to be buried in Waldheim Cemetery near the remains of the Haymarket martyrs.
Images: (top to bottom) Adolph Lessig and Big Bill Haywood, from this source;
Haywood and followers in Paterson, NJ (1913), from this source;
and a scene from the Lawrence textile strike (1912), from this source.
The Republican National Convention created a strange impression, painting a peculiar picture of the US economy and its citizens’ woes. Not only the present was distorted, but history, too. I listened carefully to what the speakers and party-sponsored commercials praised, and compared it to the nation and the realities I knew. There was a huge gap between the two.
America is at a cross-roads for many reasons, among them the fact that several enormous historical advantages we’ve enjoyed are waning. The nation that once enjoyed an immense over-supply of land and relative scarcity of labor has matured into a nation where resources are becoming more precious and the population is more and more exposed to underemployment and fierce competition. Global change is reinforcing the trend. Yet rather than acknowledge or adjust to the change, Republicans have decided to dismiss it and argue that a flawed president is to blame. Only bad people stand between us and the restoration of the nation’s former glory.
No credit was allowed to the great federal structure that allowed us to flourish in the first place, nor to the amazing natural inheritance that sustains the US—superior natural resources that should be husbanded rather than squandered or spoiled.
The vast historic role of the state in nation-building went unacknowledged—was belittled, even. Rand Paul jeered at the idea that infrastructure investment creates prosperity, insisting the opposite was somehow the case. Try telling that to the great 19th-century railway magnates, who depended entirely on land grants and laws enacted by Congress to create their lines. Or to the era’s land-speculators, who knew that towns would grow mainly where railroads were placed. Or to the first telegraph companies, whose networks piggybacked on the railroad rights-of-way that federal legislation had so thoughtfully made. Without the federal government, states would have built useless networks of dead-end roads.
Even America’s private enterprises might have remained small had it not been for the protection that early Supreme Court decisions gave them. Without such protection, all corporate entities would have been stymied, including those that built the nation’s first roads, bridges, and schools.
The Republicans committed other disturbing elisions. I listened to the praise for families; I admired the attractiveness of Jenna Ryan and Ann Romney; their picture-perfect children were impressive, too. The world of the 2012 Republicans is a world of stay-at-home mothers who don’t need to worry about limiting their family size or figuring out how to feed an additional mouth. It’s a world where there’s plenty of time for charity, because the fortunate people in it somehow have plenty to spare. And that’s good, because in this Republican world, government help is bad. All we want, Paul Ryan tells us, is to be left alone.
Absent was any acknowledgment of the demographic trends of the last several decades, which have seen the rise of delayed child-bearing, increased family limitation and planning, and the rise of two-career couples working outside the home. The party celebrated its female members—but these women apparently never needed a student loan, never needed protection from workplace bias, never needed family planning or contraception while single. One must suppose this, because the Republicans have been active in opposing, attacking, and weakening the structure of support that has enabled more American women to gain education, control reproduction, contribute more to the family economy, and earn decent livings.
Without such support, how are young women supposed to take care of themselves and their families? Implicit in the worldview paraded at the convention is that marriage in itself provides wives and mothers with adequate financial protection. Yet the number of women living the dream that the beautiful Republican spouses embody is painfully few.
The Republican convention’s treatment of race was perhaps most astonishing. The party sought to promote itself as a “brand” friendly to minorities, despite the fact that it has been working hard in states such as Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to raise voting requirements, restrict early voting, and redraw districts in a way that make it harder for minorities to vote or gain representation.
I was agog at efforts to depict President Obama as a lazy, do-nothing character who did not understand struggle, success, or hard work. It was a “dog-whistle” portrayal of a super-high-achieving guy that played off of deeply engrained racial stereotypes. The topper came when Clint Eastwood re-imagined the president as someone who was anti-social and vulgar, enacting a racist fantasy (perhaps unwittingly) at the close of his imaginary dialogue with the president by encouraging the crowd to chant “Make My Day.” We all know what happens to low-lifes who dare to mess with Dirty Harry.
It was a shameful spectacle spelling a new nadir for the G. O. P.
The Map of Federal Benefits, Our Polity.