By Peter M. Livingston —
I was born in the middle of the Depression (1934) and though I did not experience it directly I was surrounded by its aura as I grew up in a suburban community in Milwaukee. My mother was a teacher and my father, an immigrant held various jobs or no job during its depths. It was my mother’s steady income that kept the family afloat in those days.
Even as a child, I distinctly remember Roosevelt’s fireside chats and the confidence he exuded during the dark days of WWII.
Later in college I absorbed the political history of the 1930’s—the alphabet agencies, the rise of labor unions, the incompetent Herbert Hoover, and the isolationist and fascist movements in this country. As a Norman Thomas Socialist, I was made aware of the poverty in Appalachia, but remained blissfully ignorant of the racist disaster befalling black people in the south driven by Southern Democrats’ white supremacy policies — similar to the same strain in the MAGA group today.
World War II came along and afterward there was an explosion of the middle class resulting from the transition from a war economy to a civilian one. It had the effect of lulling us into complacency by disregarding the deep trenches cratering our society.
Those divisions are exposed today.
All by way of preamble: I listened to Joe Biden’s speech today and began to reflect on what I heard and what it bodes for the future.
Joe is a genuinely nice guy and worthy of support.
But… and this is a big factor…he represents the age in which I grew up and while there are similar themes — then and now — they are not the driving force any longer. It is said that ‘history does not “repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” And this is true in this case. However, to remedy the problems of the past opens up to wounding in the present.
- Big Labor. John L. Lewis cannot be recreated. The CIO [Congress of Industrial Organizations] is gone. In its place should be a myriad of smaller unions, like the AFL [American Federation of Labor] sponsored, centered on various trade skills, such as the IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers]. There is a vast area that could be organized — healthcare workers, farm laborers and so on.
- The phrase ‘working class’ is so 1930’s. There must be a better term that does not have the nostalgic embrace of ‘class warfare.’ Yes, there are classes and certainly people working for a living, either employed in the workplace or as an individual entrepreneur can be grouped into the ‘working class.’ But the difficulty here is distinguishing between images of what those words meant in the days of heavy industry mining and steel making and what they mean today. Consider the sweatshop aspect of working in an Amazon warehouse, for example. It certainly is every bit as egregious as working in a Ford Model-T factory. And yes, there is a plutocrat class, just as there was in the 1920’s operating with the same philosophy of greed popularized by Ayn Rand.
- Lastly, I am sad to say that Joe Biden is a blast from the past. With all the good intentions in the world, he cannot overcome the embedded libertarian, freedom in all things (if you are hurt by this then screw you) because he does not represent fresh hope shown by a fresh face.
So, what is to be done?
There are many possibilities: none articulated by Democrats — local or national. Let me list a few and in so doing reveal my own prejudices.
- Investigate and promote in public settings new, younger leaders who are charismatic and intelligent. The list might include Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Gavin Newsom. Put these forth as Presidential contenders. If there are women with the same appeal, add them to the list as well. The point here is that youth must prevail because looking backward leads to a disaster. Moreover, a younger presidential candidate is aware of the perils ahead. Young people are demanding that their voices be heard in ideas to remedy the coming climate disaster (for example). This strategy also will help pitch the race between Democrats and the MAGA crowd as the future versus the corrupt past. This same idea must also be applied to state leadership: governors, senators, representatives, et al. Again to repeat: this is one way to defeat the old and corrupt MAGA.
- Re-institute the ‘Fireside’ chats that President Roosevelt used so successfully. He was a charismatic leader and these ‘chats’ did much to change the mood in this country during the dark times of WWII. Reconnect the leadership of the Democrats with people—not ‘common people’ that’s so 1930’s. Right now, we feel adrift—detached from the leadership.
- Learn to live with the internet. Develop more successful strategies to derail the misinformed and dangerous information on it. Learn to live with fewer newspapers, but more Fox-news type channels.
- Learn to play hard-ball with the most intransigent MAGA group. Be effective in countering B. S. propaganda.
- Face into the problems of the day, the year and the century. Yes, inflation and gas prices are way too high. Yes, global warming will cause trillions of dollars in sea level rise and mega-heat deaths. Yet of these two, the first is survivable but the second may not be. Shape priorities to hit the potentially fatal ones first. Incidentally, if the war in the Ukraine results in far less fossil carbon mining, it will aid survival in the future.
- The Democrats must always support international order ruled by law, and therefore foster democracy in every country in the world. Right now these democracies are retreating to the fascist model favored by Trump and the MAGA people. That trend must be countered by showing that stability – sought by all — is reached in rule-based society.
In this essay. I have laid out some of my own prejudices and though they may not be important in detail, they are not wrong in the overall thrust. We cannot govern from the past and Youth must be served — for they shall truly inherit what we leave behind.
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