Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The New Deal made us smile. Trickle-down economics is making us hate each other.

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1934-1939) reads, "Lunch and grins during the construction of the Mississippi River Lock at Dubuque, Iowa." This river lock project was funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) and, like thousands of other PWA projects, it brought smiles to workers hungry for jobs during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Though critics sometimes scold the New Deal for not completely eliminating hundreds of years of racism, in just 10 years, the New Deal did open up hundreds of thousands of new opportunities. The African Americans in this photo are in the New Deal's National Youth Administration (NYA). Scholar Harvard Sitkoff writes, "the federal government [during the New Deal] aided blacks to an unprecedented extent, both substantively and symbolically. New Dealers joined with civil rights organizations to fight for equality of treatment for blacks in the relief and recovery programs and largely succeeded in the FSA, NYA, PWA, UHSA, and FWA" (A New Deal for Blacks, 30th Anniversary Edition, 2009, p. 248). Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: This 1939 photograph shows a WPA worker receiving his paycheck in Washington, DC. In his autobiography, Ronald Reagan wrote: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other projects... it gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it." That's probably why this guy is smiling. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1938 photograph reads, "WPA Hot School Lunch Project - School lunches are prepared and distributed by trucks for undernourished children to schools in the Dist. of Columbia. Photo shows children enjoying their hot school lunch." These children seem very happy to have a nice meal. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: This photo is part of a larger series, showing a child receiving therapy, and gaining much greater mobility, at the Morris Memorial Hospital in Milton, West Virginia, ca. 1936-1940. The hospital was a WPA project, and the therapy offered at the hospital brought smiles to children in need. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: These two women are at a camp for unemployed women in Minnesota, operated by the New Deal's Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), 1934. There were FERA camps for unemployed women in various parts of the country, where they could learn new job skills, participate in recreational activities, and network & socialize with each other. Part of the the idea behind these camps was, obviously, to boost the spirits of women struggling through the Great Depression and, judging by the above smiles, must have been somewhat successful. Sadly, the suicide rate among women has increased by about 45% in recent years. This has happened alongside the financial elite's assault on the middle-class, and our culture's rejection of the New Deal. Coincidence? Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Above: Across the country, tens of thousands of American Indians worked in the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The program alleviated poverty & unemployment, improved infrastructure & agricultural land, and produced the smiles you see above on these American Indian CCC enrollees in Michigan. Today, despite extraordinarily high rates of poverty, unemployment, and depression on Indian reservations, we would never consider a new CCC for them. Instead, we have fully embraced the disastrous and solidarity-destroying principles of trickle-down economics and hyper-individualism. Photo courtesy of the Michigan History Center.

Conservative columnist David Brooks, lamenting on the rise of Donald Trump and the anger & fear that is pulling our culture apart at the seams, recently wrote: "solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again - maybe through a national service program, or something else."

Yes, Mr. Brooks, they can happen again. But they won't. As long as Republicans and Neoliberals are running the federal government (and American voters are getting ready to put even more of these people into high political office) bold programs that can bring the nation together will not be pursued because they might possibly reduce the gargantuan profits of wealthy executives, shareholders, and hedge fund managers (i.e., the big campaign donors for Republicans and Neoliberals). And, Lord knows, we can't possibly offend our precious and holy "JOB CREATORS"... no matter how pathetic their actual job-creating skills are.

The New Deal made Americans smile. But the economic philosophies of the past 3-4 decades, i.e., trickle-down economics, austerity, individualism, "greed is good," etc., are dividing us, angering us, and making us believe that more guns & ammunition, and routinely carrying assault rifles when we go shopping or go to the movies, are the solutions to our problems. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said "An armed society is a peaceful society." The fact that we are already the most heavily armed society in the developed world, and the most violent, seems to have not mattered to the maker and bearer of that bumper sticker.

In any event, which would you prefer? Another New Deal, to bring us together for common interests like infrastructure development, national park improvements, and preserving our history? Or, even more hyper-individualism, where we constantly eye each other suspiciously - with contempt in our hearts and our fingers near the trigger?

I vote for another New Deal. But I fear I'm in the minority.

Above: A bas relief, "Promote the General Welfare," in Greenbelt, Maryland, created with New Deal funding. The Founding Fathers recognized that the common good was something worth pursuing, so they put it into the Constitution (in both the preamble and Article I, Section 8). New Deal policymakers gave life to this aspect of the Constitution through a variety of programs & policies. But today, trickle-down economics and hyper-individualism are making a mockery of it. And that, I am convinced, is why we are seeing Americans so angry at one another - and so hungry for more weapons to protect themselves from each other. We are facilitating anger and violence, through economic policies that enrich the already-rich and punish & insult those who are struggling. Photo by Brent McKee.

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