In the Age of Trumpian Reaction, is MLK’s Legacy to the 99% being Reversed?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reaction has two main meanings in English. One is to respond to some new situation (not specifying the nature of the reaction). The other is to resist some innovation. In this second sense, a reactionary is one who wants to go back to a previously existing condition of society. A reactionary is worse than a conservative. A conservative resists progressive change that benefits large numbers of people but does not help the rich. A reactionary wants to undo a progressive change already long since effected, taking achievements away from the people for the sake of the 1%.

We live in a reactionary age. Trump crony Newt Gingrich wants to undo the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt entirely, getting rid of social security and condemning large numbers of elderly Americans to penury. (In the 1930s the elderly were the poorest segment of society; that is no longer true today, and people can hope to retire and live with dignity, because of social security). We live in a moment where 8 billionaires are as rich as the poorer half of humankind and when the top 1% takes home 20% of the US national income (up from 10% only a few decades ago). Ironically, it is in this moment, when workers and the middle classes are prostrate and the lion’s share of resources is going to 1.2 million households out of 124 million American households– it is at this very moment that reactionaries are demanding that ordinary people surrender their pensions and social security and health care for the sake of a further fat tax cut for the super-rich. The average wage of the average worker has been flat since 1970 in the US, as any increases in productivity or real economic growth appears to have been taken right to the top and the 1% by the Republican tax-cut conveyor belt. A loss of entitlements would actually reduce their incomes substantially, sending them back to the 1950s.

I saw the Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Stephens on Farid Zakaria’s GPS recently, opining that he goes around the country talking to small business owners, and they are complaining about excessive regulation and the injustices of the 2002 Sarbanes Oxley Act. Let me just say that I believe Mr. Stephens was using “small business” as a more sympathetic stand-in for his actual client, mega corporations. Sarbanes-Oxley made it illegal to destroy records to forestall a Federal investigation, in the wake of Enron and other scandals that robbed large number of employees of their pensions. Very inconvenient. Dodd-Frank is also no doubt very inconvenient for “small business.” Any let or hindrance on the super-rich whom Stephens and his like serve is of course a brake on economic progress. Except that Enron and the 2008 crash, which occurred in the absence of regulation were not in fact good for the economy or for workers and the middle class. Stephens may well get his way, and these regulatory reforms may well be deep-sixed in the Age of Trump. Many among the rich dream of getting back to the halcyon unregulated 1920s, managing to forget the plunge their predecessors took off the Empire State building in 1929. The very definition of reaction is a nostalgia for an age whose time has passed.

Reaction menaces us in the realm of civil rights as well as in that of the economy, where we have become a hereditary plutocracy. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It made it illegal for state officials to give literacy (or even Latin) tests only to African Americans as a prerequisite to register to vote. It ended racial discrimination in establishments that offered what was defined as a public accommodation. That is, white southerners like George Wallace insisted that a restaurant is a private business and so the owner should be welcome to discriminate in which customers he or she would serve. The Voting Rights Act begged to differ. If you’re serving the public, it said, you are in some ways a public institution and you may not operate in a racist manner. Some members of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party still hold the George Wallace position on restaurants, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

In this age of reaction, the achievements of the Voting Rights Act have been deeply eroded when they haven’t been entirely reversed. After three decades in which desegregated schools operated perfectly well throughout the country and came to be supported by many progressive southern Whites, from about 1990 the Federal courts began ceasing to require desegregation. The result? Apartheid schooling in the United States is again a reality. Given the high rates of racial segregation in neighborhoods, this reality, partly economic, has come to be reflected in the schools. We’ve seen large-scale resegregation. Call it Jim Crow by other means.

h/t American Studies

Ironically, all students benefit from being in racially mixed schools, including the white students. There are cognitive benefits; i.e. you learn to think more clearly in a more hybrid social situation.

Not only have the schools been resegregated but once the Roberts court removed oversight from the Deep South states, they immediately ran and put back in the Latin tests for African-Americans. This time though they cleverly did it more subtly by requiring identification papers in order to vote. If challenged, the white racists who passed these laws will say it is to prevent voter fraud. But there isn’t any voter fraud to speak of, at least from these quarters. Maybe the law should have been restricted to the Russian embassy. That supposed Libertarians who squawk at the idea of national identity cards should have suddenly decided we need identity cards to vote can only be explained by bigotry. John Roberts was snarky in asking whether court oversight was really any longer needed for the former Jim Crow states, asking if people in the New York-Boston corridor really were less racist nowadays. I don’t know, John. Why don’t you tell me? Here’s a map to help you decide. Notice where the white spaces are.

h/t Sun Herald

So we are back to de facto restrictions on the voting rights of African-Americans, which may have affected the election outcome in 2016. And we’re back to all-Black schools. The Republican Party is still dedicated to equality in one area, though. They’d love to make us all wage slaves with no unions, no rights ( even to have a break), no minimum income, no health care and no social security. Indeed, there is a sense in which the 99% are all Black in the Age of Trump, whether they know it yet or not.

That is why we need the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., today more than ever. Here is his last speech, on the dignity of labor:

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Speech to Memphis Sanitation Workers

9 Responses

  1. Reactionaries have been attacking the New Deal since the ink on FDR’s signature dried. And they have continued to attack any programs that would complement the New Deal.

    • Agreed.

      The implementation of the New Deal and five consecutive victories in presidential elections from 1932 through 1948 represented an unprecedented mandate from the American electorate to transform the U.S. into a socialist state with a strong centralized economy and national defense.

      This was only done by enacting controversial Acts of Congress that attempted to regulate every facet of American life via the jurisdiction of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution – which the Supreme Court upheld the unprecedented expansion of. This began with the Agricultural Adjustment Act under FDR and continued even through the JFK and LBJ years with the passage of civil rights legislation which the U.S. Supreme Court in the Oliver’s Barbecue case was held to be constitutional since, they observed, that discriminatory practices against blacks in restaurants on routes of interstate travel sufficiently implicate interstate commerce concerns and give Congress power to act to legislate to protect that stream of commerce.

      The Republican leadership has referred to this as the reach of Big Brother politics via FDR and has tried to roll back such interference with the lives of Americans.

      Today, rank-and-file Republican leaders are looking to Donald Trump to complete the work of Ronald Reagan (“government is the problem”) and Newt Gingrich (“Contract with America”) in eradicating the noxious effects of the New Deal, Great Society and Obamacare – which have confounded the white lower middle class and lowered their standard of living and also via Democratic Party globalism in the international trade arena (NAFTA).

      Under Pres. Reagan in the 1980s, the Big Three automakers in Detroit enjoyed record profits and auto executives Roger B. Smith and Lee Iacocca became household names with Iacocca being touted as a possible presidential candidate. The UAW and Teamsters endorsed Bill Clinton for president in 1992 and 1996 and his NAFTA devastated the auto industry and union jobs that relied on it.

      Ron Paul’s voluminous writings attack the constitutionality of the New Deal and he opines – very convincingly – that it contradicts the intent of our Founding Fathers that the federal government was to be very limited in its powers over the states – relegating it to such matters as declaring war and coining money.

      Trump was perceived by the electorate to have the courage to attack New Deal ideology – and his own party elite – with crass public condemnation – and they rewarded him with the opportunity to “drain the swamp” and “make America great again”.

      He is a true populist in the mold of Huey Long and Robert LaFollette.

      God bless America and Mr. Trump.

      • The New Deal CREATED the White middle class. The Republican monopoly on power in the 1920s continued the laissez-faire boom-bust cycles that were getting worse over the previous half-century. The 1929 crisis was the proof that it didn’t work, and the GOP-backed Smoot-Hawley tariff act of 1930 spread that crisis worldwide – which led to the triumph of fascism in Germany and Japan. American laissez-faire ideology caused World War 2. The New Dealers had to fix the economic collapse, the trade mess, and the war. You’ve skipped over the only true economic golden age ordinary Americans ever experienced, which ended with the capitalist coronation of Reagan in 1980. That was the year average wages in America stopped growing. They had grown for decades before that. They haven’t grown since. The Democrats became part of the problem BECAUSE Bill Clinton undermined the New Deal and signed right-wing bills from Gingrich’s Congress to survive the only way one can under capitalism – taking donations from the billionaires (or being one).

        You’ve created a history just as false as the Republican narrative that the Democrats are still the party of Jim Crow despite the parties swapping the Southern racist constituency that Jim Crow served.

  2. The problem is, the Republicans are hearkening back to a very successful system of oppression. It’s not that they want to make us all wage slaves. It’s that their supporters want to make non-Whites into slaves again, and Whites into overseers. Overseers had crappy lives by any absolute standard. But I’m sure they learned to appreciate the sadism that they were given special license to commit against those of lower caste.

    So what’s to stop people from making a rational decision that it is easier to return to that and live with a guaranteed caste status, than to keep trying to learn new job skills – which every rational observer admits is the fate of technological societies – in order to avoid losing ground in a competitive economy?

    And the word “reactionary” hardly exists in American English or discourse because that was defined by European monarchist and feudalist nostalgia and we’re in denial that we ever had anything like that here. Americans don’t know the meaning of that word. They can figure out a term like “regressive,” so we should go with that instead.

  3. “The Voting Rights Act of 1965……ended racial discrimination in establishments that was offered what was defined public accommodation……….”

    This is incorrect.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed invidious discrimination in racial contexts in places of public accommodations.

    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 – as its name suggests – barred discriminatory practices in elections – including literacy tests directed at blacks – but did in no way encompass “public accommodations” discrimination.

    • And Lyndon Johnson was the only man who could have gotten those bills passed. You Republicans’ beloved Barry Goldwater opposed them and won a KKK endorsement.

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