Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why do I wish that these were the 1930s?

By Tom Kando

I have been re-reading American history. When I got to the 1920s and 1930s, it occurred to me how many similarities there were between that era and today: The 1920s were an extremely conservative period, which is understandable since it was also a very prosperous time.

Not that everyone benefitted equally from the great economic advances made by the United States at that time. The robber barons were still very much at it. Corruption (the Tea-pot Dome scandal, etc.), business concentration and monopoly continued unabated. All these things were supported by conservative Republican Presidents - Harding, Coolidge, Hoover - and by a reactionary Supreme Court. Unions were losing membership.

All of this was in contrast with the preceding Progressive Era associated with such Presidents as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. By the 1920s, America had returned to all-out materialism. There was no place for idealism any more. President Wilson’s marvelous invention - World Government in the form of the League of Nations - was rejected by the Senate, and the American people couldn’t care less.

BUT: This somehow made sense, because America was doing pretty good. The roaring 20s might not have been fabulous for everyone, but they were pretty good for most.

Then came the 1929 crash. The party was over, as were Wall Street extravagance, irresponsibility and mindless greed. By 1932, in the middle of the great Depression, Americans elected Franklin Roosevelt, and there followed more than a decade of the greatest social and economic activism in this country’s history. It was “Socialism to save Capitalism.”

President Roosevelt’s election reflected Americans’ realization that only collective action could repair the country and create a more just society, an economy for the people, not for the plutocracy. A social-Darwinist dog-eat-dog “free enterprise” system was no longer appealing to the public. There was social awareness. Frank Capra’s movies were popular.

The link between economic distress and social awareness is obvious and logical. All the great egalitarian revolutions were rooted in economic distress - the French, the Russian, even the American. (And I wont go into the bloody mess which most revolutions turn into). So my main question today is:

What on earth has happened in this country of late?

The first decade of the millennium were a repeat of the 1920s - the phony prosperity of the Dot.Com and housing bubbles, Wall Street excesses, Bush’s conservative and corrupt government, etc. 2007 was a repeat of the 1929 crash, and the following years have been a repeat of the 1930s - muddling along in a depressed economy with very high unemployment, fiscal crises at every level of government, deep indebtedness, and the federal government’s Keynesian stimulus efforts.
Shouldn’t we expect America to have experienced a great upsurge of social consciousness, leading to progressive policies, just as in the 1930s?

True, we elected Obama in 2007 (thank God!). But since then, public opinion has been more reactionary than progressive.

This absolutely amazes me! There is now a dominant, vociferous ideology which blames the government for everything, which says that taxes are the source of all evil and that privatization is the solution to all problems. Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor keeps growing.
Just the other day, the Sacramento Bee wrote that in our region, the average CEO’s compensation rose by 11.1% last year - people already making millions! Meanwhile, the average workers’ compensation is down 3% nationwide, not to mention the 12% who have no job at all.

What is going on? Have the millions of little old ladies who live on $20,000 a year and flock to the Tea Party lost their senses? I’ll tell you what’s going on:

The Right-wing ideological machinery has done an incredibly efficient job. It has distracted the people’s attention with pseudo-issues like gay marriage, illegal immigrants, terrorists, gun rights and “culture wars.” This tactic has worked.

In the 1930s, economic conditions were similar to today, and the American people responded wisely, electing progressive politicians who enacted progressive policies. That’s why I wish that these were the 1930s. leave comment here