Saturday, July 25, 2020

You Must Remember This

By Emma Goldman
Culture and Society Editor

With the death toll closing in on 150,000 and the number of COVID-19 cases now exceeding 4,000,000, we like most others in the media are desperate for good news.  This desire to provide our scared and suffering readers with what the tabloids used to call a “brite box” has led to cheery stories like this one:

Note the ratio.

A few captious critics, probably the same ones who aroused Emily Yoffe's ire by doubting the propriety of teaching a novel glorifying pedophilia to college students grappling with harassment and violence against women, have questioned whether an elderly woman forced to swab the toilets of rich tourists to earn a crust of bread is really such a good news story.  To appease these cancel-culture vultures, we're going to let this one drop, like the guests she has to clean up after.

But we do have some reason for optimism, and here it is.  The coronavirus epidemic could have the same effect that the Great Depression had on American thought and politics: exposing the emptiness of the Republican-libertarian vision of America as government of, by, and for the rich.  This epidemic, like the economic calamity of the 1930's, demonstrates in a way that no witty column ever could the importance of national action to protect the innocent from the ill effects of a catastrophe they did not bring about.

Hoover admitted there were
hotspots of hunger
The reaction of the pro-plutocrat Republicans like Herber Hoover to the Depression was hardly distinguishable from that of the stone-hearted Republican grifters in thrall to President U Bum.  Tell us about it,  Piers Brendon:

Even Hoover's pachydermal self-confidence must have been shaken by the speed with which . . . the blossoms in the American garden withered.

If so, the President did not show it.  He saw it as his duty to put a brave face on the Crash, so brave, in fact that he had hardly ceased to deny its seriousness before he started to declare that the worst was over. . . . 

In an effort to stimulate growth, Hoover also cut taxes.  But this was dubbed 'rich relief' since it affected only high earners, the focus of [Treasury Secretary] Andrew Mellon's most anxious solicitude.   For the less well-off, Mellon believed that the Slump was not altogether a bad thing: it would 'purge the rottenness out of the system' and encourage moral virtues like thrift and hard work as well as ensuring the survival of the fittest.

(P. Brendon, The Dark Valley at 79-80.)

Sound familiar?

Oh and then Hoover sicced Federal troops on peaceful unarmed protesters, mostly veterans, camped out in Anacostia.

How did it turn out for the Republicans? On Election Day 1932 with a third of workers unemployed, 22.8 million votes were cast for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 15.75 million for Hoover.

More than that, for as long as the Great Depression was a living memory, white working class voters remembered which party cared enough to enlist the government in the fight against human want and misery and which party liked to prattle on about business confidence and moral hazard.

In 1965, when we were on a NYC bus headed to the World's Fair, we asked the bus driver if he planned to vote for Republican John Lindsay.  He said he remembered what the Republicans did when his family was struggling to put food on the table during the Depression and no he wasn't voting for any Republican.

Perhaps the persistence of the memory of the Depression and the political response to it might explain why Michael Dukakis, not remembered for running an especially successfully race against George H.W. Bush in 1988, nonetheless carried West Virginia, now a cesspool of white racist resentment,  by almost 5%.  He also won Wisconsin.

Let's see, if you were a 65-year-old retired coal miner in 1988, you were born in 1923 and the Depression was a part of your childhood and teenage years.  You remembered.

If you were a 65-year-old retired coal miner in 2016, you were born in 1951.  You didn't experience the Depression and you were easy pickings for a campaign premised on white anger.

Hoover stressed law and order
in the streets. 
Can the same be happening now?  We see a collapse of Republican support for pro-plutocrat anti-government nonsense because the level of human suffering has reached, and exceeded, the level at which people will refuse to credit their lying eyes.  We see the results of Republican contempt for government action in a time of crisis: the inconsistent state standards, the refusal to extend unemployment aid, the lack of a national testing-and-tracing strategy, the inability of the economy to recover, even the failure to plan to return students to school without endangering the lives of millions.

So here's the reason for optimism: if the experience of the Great Pandemic is seared into our memory the same way that the Great Depression was for the generation that came of age in 1930's, Republicans could be consigned to the political wilderness for the next thirty years.

Will it happen?  Given the short-attention-span-theater quality of today's politics, and the rise of Republican disinformation volcanoes like Schlox Noise and Facebook, it's not clear how long we can keep the current calamity in mind.

That's our job.   Every time a Republican prattles on about fiscal responsibility, tax cuts for the rich, rolling back regulations to protect health and safety, or the evils of giving government money to those in need, ask them where they were when America was prostrated by an avoidable epidemic and the shambolic Trumpublican response.  If the answer is they were posing with a can of beans, well, that's all you need to know.

How great would it be if in 2040, bus drivers would refuse to vote for Kayley McEnaney for President because they remembered what the Republicans did as millions suffered, sickened, and died back in 2020? 

Talk about “Happy Days are Here Again.”

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