I would advise any American born after 1980 to go back in time by watching the old movies from the late 1940s thru the early 1960s, that come on TMC (Turner Movie Classics) television. By watching films from that era, you can get a sense of what most Republicans are thinking about when they talk about making America great again. My formative years (until age 12 or 13, from 1948 thru 1960) were lived in New York City, and I must admit that even I look back on those times with a degree of nostalgia. It was a time when America really worked. When I say it worked, I mean there was a general sense that life was going to continue to gradually improve for all Americans. As such, the attitudes and ideas expressed in those movies seem quaint and naïve when viewed from today’s perspective. Democratic ideals such as freedom of speech, free and fair elections, checks and balances on political power and personal civil liberties were held in the highest regard and sacrosanct to the American way of life. However, the reason for the high regard for democracy and democratic values and principles is because they only applied to white Americans. America in those days consisted of a total population of about 150,000,000, all but about 25,000,000 of which were white.
Underlying the idyllic images of old America at its best depicted in those old movies is a terrible truth that is at the core of the desperation that has left us on the verge of giving up democracy as a way of life. You’ll notice that there were precious few people of color featured in most of those movies. If they appeared at all, it was as porters or maids or manual laborers of all variety, who occasionally provided comic relief in serious drama or comedy. Their roles in movies served to reinforce and validate all of the negative stereotypes of minorities, particularly African Americans, born out of the need to justify America’s original sin – slavery and its ugly offspring, Jim Crow. Also, as you watch those movies, keep in mind that by 1945, America was the only nation in the developed world whose infrastructure had not been completely destroyed by World War II, affording America a virtual monopoly on trade and manufacturing. There was so much abundance that even African Americans could live well enough to have hope for the future, particularly those of us in the industrialized north. I assert that if America had taken full advantage of those golden economy years to atone for the slavery and Jim Crow that systematically kept African Americans out of the mainstream of American life for 400 years, we would not have the problems we have today, that have resulted in a large number of white Americans giving up on democracy – problems such as economic stagnation and chaotic immigration. I say this because the root cause of America’s abandonment of democracy is economic in origin.
Consider the progress that African Americans made in the ten years between 1965 and 1975 when President Johnson’s poverty programs were still in effect. In 1965, the average family income for a black family of four was less that 30% of that of a white family of four. By 1975, that income gap had been closed to the point of black families of four earning 70% of the incomes of white families of four. This is even more remarkable when you consider only three of those ten years had presidential support. The Nixon White House immediately began to dismantle those programs when they took office. Segregationist like Jessie Helms, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and others, continued the onslaught against the assimilation of inner city black people into the mainstream of American life under the Reagan and Bush administrations. Ultimately, the people who paid the greatest price for these policies are middle class white people. Ironically enough, they are the ones who supported the fascist social agendas of Reagan and the first Bush that have rendered American society impotent when it comes to preserving the middle class and minimizing poverty.
Before explaining why this is true, I want to address the politics of fascism and why I think it aptly describes Republican politics in the United States. Fascism is what Noah Harari calls a kind of hereditary driven politics. It was first proposed by a few Darwinists of the early twentieth century. They reasoned that nature selects the most worthy species to dominate any given niche. Since Caucasians ruled the planet, they were clearly the dominant species and as such, they had an obligation to enhance the lives of white Christian people, even if it meant exterminating everyone else. The flaw in this belief system is that the people they classify as subspecies are actually genetically identical to those they called the “master race”. In other words we are one and the same. What I’m saying here is that any government that seeks to place at a disadvantage any group based on race and religion is fascist in its essence. Policies of the 1940s that resulted in not including 80% of African Americans in New Deal benefits such as minimum wage, social security and federal housing loans were fascist policies. Policies to ended pathways and incentives for African Americans to attend college in the 1980s after almost 400 of not allowing them to become educated at all were fascist policies. Polices that allow police to gun down unarmed African Americans with impunity are fascist policies. Policies that promote torture, murder and rape of otherwise innocent Latin Americans are fascist policies.
That said, lets consider how these fascist policies have adversely effected middle class white Americans. You often hear some middle class white men talk about how hard they work when in fact compared to most people in the world they hardly work at all. I define hard work as putting in long hours (far beyond an eight hour day) for very little pay and with little or no benefits. Traditionally, if you lived in America with little more than a high school education, you got the opportunity to work hard, and that alone was enough to earn you a middle class living, whether you are black, white or in between. The average middle class white American for most of the past 50 years has not had to work hard by my definition. It feels like hard work to them because 300 years of African slaves comprising as much as 80% of the American hard labor force, creating virtually no labor cost to land owners and mega corporations, resulted in a kind of fantasy economy which by 1945 pretty much assured white males a successful middle class life as long as they just showed up for work. Hard work to many white Americans since 1945 meant that they showed up for work everyday, without regard to the true value of their work. As a result, for most of the first 30 of the past 50 years, white American males to a large degree have depended on a kind of middle class welfare, almost exclusively afforded to white men, in which, for example, they moved paper around of 8 hours a day and collected paychecks for anywhere from 5 to 20 times the value their service was actually worth. Industry and government knew that market pressure wouldn’t allow them to keep that up forever, so when the crash came, they evoked passions of America’s fascist traditions, claiming the reason for the failure of “hard working” white men to be the results of women, immigrants and people of color somehow mysteriously undermining their value in the work place. The Republican powers that be touted that lie as proof that government and society in general were giving unfair advantages to minorities at their expense. That narrative was effectively reinforced by American movie heroes like Clint Eastwood (I love Clint Eastwood by the way. I can’t help it.) They convinced them that they had a right to blame the white man’s failure on women and people of color. Republicans have been pushing that narrative since 1979. In so doing, they have convinced the average white American to give up all the safeguards to protect individual workers from abuse, to give up almost all the safety nets for American workers to survive hard times without financial ruin and to dismantle all the institutions created to protect middle class values and the middle class way of life. They did so by associating all those things with governmental efforts to improve the lives of women and minorities of color, black people in particular. The fact is all those programs have always primarily benefited white people, the very people tearing them down. Consequently, the middle class has for the most part, no agencies in place to guard against worker exploitation, no safe guards in place to protect the food and water supply, no protection for the average American against financial ruin due to catastrophic illness and no effective leadership and infrastructure to effectively weather the storm of a pandemic. The American middle class used to function as the largest special interest lobby in Washington – a single entity, fiercely protecting its turf and daring any politician or president to threaten middle class prosperity. Today, enough white Americans have gone all in on the fascist dogma that says America belongs only to white Americans to make it possible to fracture the electorate so that as few as 30% of the electorate can set the nations social agenda (they have no leverage on the economic agenda). Their strangle hold on the Republican Party therefore has been pushing us into supporting a fascist dictatorship over a free democracy.
In the past I have said that the 30% of the white electorate that support Trump no matter what he does is beyond redemption. I was wrong. This pandemic has taught me that we must not give up on anyone, no matter how hopeless things seem. I would like to think that somehow, America will come to its senses, even if at the eleventh hour, and even Trump’s hardcore supporters will decide not to give up on democracy. It’s been said that democracy is the worst kind of government on earth, except for all the other forms. I hope they come to understand that fascism is just a modern form of feudalism, except without the concept of royal blood. Eventually, even if it succeeds in exterminating all of the other people in the world, eventually it will end in feuds between landowners the corporate elite that will engulf all who survive the purge until there is no one left.
I’d like to end by telling you a true story about myself that I hope helps you better understand why the history on which many of us are basing our decision to end democracy is fraudulent and serves no purpose but to divide us as Americans, to the benefit of those who would exploit and enslave us. Imagine me in one of those old TMC movies as a ten year-old portraying a lowly shoeshine boy, someone you hardly notice in the movie, who just serves as a prop to show how wonderful the white hero is, maybe Gary Cooper or Kirk Douglas or John Wayne. Mind you, I was never actually in the movies, but if I had been in such a movie, you like the people of my time, would see me as being happy and content with my role in the movie and would assume I was equally content with my real life. However you would find my real life story quite surprising. In real life, growing up in New York, I was always the smartest kid in my class, usually the only black male in my class of mostly white Jewish, Italian and Irish students, the last thing you would expect from the broken English I would have been expected to speak in my shoeshine boy movie role, much like the many classically trained, well educated black actors of the time who could only play porters and maids in the movies back when America was great. Having always lived in integrated neighborhoods in the yellow zone, that were transitioning from white to black, I didn’t understand what it really meant to be black in white America. I thought I was just like all my classmates, no better or worst. I remember in the fifth grade, we were first being introduced to serious American history and the subject of the Civil War. I remember the discussion concerning trade between the Southern States and France. In the course of that discussion the African slaves were discussed as legitimate commodities, like so much tea and tobacco. I’ll never forget how embarrassed and ashamed that made me feel. Coincidentally we were just being introduced to long division in math. Up until then I was always pretty good in math, but somehow, I developed a mental block for long division. I could divide a single digit integer into any number, no matter how large or small. But it was simply impossible for me to divide any number larger that ten into any other number. Apparently, I was so humiliated by the history lesson that on some level I concluded that I was inferior and could not measure up to my white friends. The lesson affected my white friends as well and they began to display a more condescending attitude towards me, as though they suddenly found me less worthy of respect than they previously did. I could not do long division, and consequently, could not advance in mathematics of any kind until I reached the eight grade. I won’t get into the hardship and humiliation I endured between the fifth grade and the eight grade, but I just wanted to briefly illustrate the damage that the humiliation of second class citizenship can bring upon an impressionable young boy, even one smart enough to eventually become a dentist.
So in the future when you look at those old TMC movies, think about what was behind those idyllic scenes of old, great America. Try to imagine the enormous suffering and tragedy endured by everyone who was not white in those days to maintain the illusion of economic utopia for white men. Fascism is a cruel form of government that destroys everyone who lives under it eventually. We already have blood on our hands for what we are doing to asylum seekers attempting to cross the Mexican border. Our government is orchestrating the systematic condemnation of Central American asylum seekers to be murdered and raped, ironically they very thing our president accuses them of doing. I heard one story were an asylum seeker asked the agent who sent her back across the border for a supply of condoms so she could ask her rapist to put them on when (not if) they raped her so she wouldn’t get pregnant. That there is no public outcry about our government being complicit in that kind of callus immorality and brutality tells me that America is well on its way to becoming a fascist dictatorship. Everything we are doing appears to be taken from the pages of Adolf Hitler’s playbook. Is that what we really want?