A Quick Civics Lesson for the 2020 Election

Some pundits still describe Trump’s base as sad, left behind relics, yearning for the America of the 1950s, a golden age when White people ruled the Earth.

So, let’s do a quick recap of the social and economic policies of the United States in the middle of the 20th Century.

In 1950 Harry S. Truman was President. He proposed an expansion of the New Deal. He called it the Fair Deal.

Truman’s Fair Deal recommended universal health care, a fair minimum wage, and guaranteed equal rights for all Americans.

“Every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal.”

Harry Truman, January 5, 1949 

 


In the 1950s, Males, 18 and above, were required to serve in the military or to serve in their communities.

Black and White AP photograph of Elvis Presley being sworn into the army
Elvis Sworn into the Army, 1958
By Associated Press – Public Domain

People paid a progressive tax based on income.

Art by Rob Goldstein
Universal World Reference Encyclopedia: Social Security

In 1953 the voters overwhelmingly favored Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Modern Republicanism.” As President, Eisenhower supported New Deal and Fair Deal programs, expanded Social Security, and prioritized a balanced budget over tax cuts.

Eisenhower entered the presidential race as a Republican to block the isolationist policies of Senator Robert A. Taftwho opposed the creation of NATO. Dwight D. Eisenhower

The 1950s saw White resistance in the South to civil rights and the
rise of the Black Civil Rights Movement.

In 1956, a group of Southern senators and congressmen signed a “Southern Manifesto,” vowing to resist to racial integration by all “lawful means.”  At the same time, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights led a successful drive for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and continued to press for stronger legislation. NAACP Youth Council chapters staged sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters, sparking a movement against segregation in public accommodations throughout the South in 1960. Nonviolent direct action increased during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, beginning with the 1961 Freedom Rides. The Library of Congress

In 1957, President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school desegregation. He wrote: “There must be no second class citizens in this country.”

There were plenty of far-right conspiracy theorists in the 1950’s.

Members of the John Birch Society believed a dark cabal of internationalists, greedy (Jewish) bankers, and corrupt politicians controlled the U.S. and Soviet governments. The founder of The John Birch Society, Robert Welch, promoted a theory that President Eisenhower was a tool of the Communists, and guilty of treason. He claimed that Communists created the Civil Rights Movement and that negrophile traitors inside the government would betray U.S. sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist. New World Order; John Birch Society.

It’s funny how that turned out.

So, if we’re returning to the 1950s, let’s get it right.

This film by Encyclopaedia Britannica is a 1947 civics lesson.

Educational films like ‘Despotism’ were shown in almost every High School in the U.S. between 1947 and 1970.

Is it propaganda? A cynic might say yes, and offer the history of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union as proof.

But in the 1950s, the United States was still reeling from the racist horrors of Nazi Germany.

I like to think this film was also designed to teach children that the way to avoid the horrors of fascism was by using the economy to build a strong and healthy democracy.

 

As communities go, so goes the Nation.

screenshot from Despotism by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films which shows a scale between democracy and despotism

 

Where does your community stand?

Based on this civics lesson, where do you think the United States stands in 2020 on the scale between Democracy and Despotism?

Rob Goldstein(c) First posted 2016-Revised and updated 2020

Sources Wikipedia, the Library of Congress, and the Internet Archives

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Rosa Parks and the Power of No

In 1900, Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating bus passengers by race

Conductors had the power to assign seats to carry out that purpose; however, no passengers were required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and there were no other seats available.

Over time Montgomery bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move or stand for whites.

Blacks had the ‘right’ to stay seated, but they had no support from law enforcement for exercising that right.

A right that isn’t enforced by law is useless.

In the South, when Blacks asserted any of their God-given rights under Federal law, the result was an arrest, a beating, or a murder.

When he (the driver) saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.” Rosa Parks

I live in San Francisco and use my legs for transportation.

My favorite walk is the five miles to Precita Park which takes me from the Fillmore District, through the Castro and into the Mission District.

Along the way, I see what we San Francisco old-timers call Reagan’s Children; ragged bundles of suffering, huddled on corners, under sheets, shoving carts, or motionless under the glaring sun.

Reagan's Children
Rand’s Children

President Reagan had a grand utopian vision of a shining city upon a hill, but he didn’t want to fund it.

Reagan's Shining City on A Hill
A shining city upon a Hill found at GIPHY

One would expect the citizens of a shining city to know how wrong it is to let the elderly and the disabled die on their streets.

One would expect these citizens to pay any expense to bring back the light.

I am no fan of Ronald Reagan, but he left office decades ago.

The United States can’t be the light of the world if we live in darkness at home.

Our leaders prance around the globe to promote the values of democracy.

But if we’re too cheap to feed our own children; if we allow a class of billionaires to incarcerate the poor for profit, if we allow racism to create an underclass trapped in a generations-long cycle of poverty, we look like hypocrites and hypocrisy breeds cynicism.

I think this is one of the many reasons we have a president like Trump: a cynical ideologue who uses the power of the federal government to enrich himself and his cronies. Trump expects us to accept his corrupt and empty vision of America and laud him as a great president when he lies.

We have a history of doing that.

Back in the before times, (Before COVID19) I boarded a crowded bus and took a seat next to a young mother who sat her daughter on her lap.

The child was about six.

She gazed out of the window and asked her mother about a man sleeping barefoot on the sidewalk.

“Mommy? Why is that man sleeping there?”

“He doesn’t have a home.”

“Why doesn’t he have a home?”

“I guess — because he decided he didn’t want one?”

“Why would he do that?”

A homeless man asleep on concrete

I smiled as I remembered a similar conversation with my grandmother when I was six.

We were walking through a park in Kew Gardens, New York.  I saw a man of about 50, in filthy clothes, stretched out on a bench.

“Grandma, why is he so dirty?”

She whispered: “He’s sick in the head, Robby.”

The man suddenly sat up and muttered to himself.

“Grandma, where is his family?”

My grandmother sensed my anxiety. She knelt and looked into my eyes: “If he doesn’t not have a family, Robby, America is his family. We have hospitals for people like him. The police will see him and take him to one of those hospitals. The doctors will clean him up. He’ll be safe. He’ll get treatment. We take care of each other, in America, Robbie. That’s what makes us great.”

My grandmother’s words made me feel safe.

Freedom from Fear-
“”Freedom from Fear” Ours to Fight For

If we are to restore our democracy, we must decide to live our principles in our daily lives: it’s the small acts of integrity that count.

Today I can marry my gay partner because I belonged to a generation of queers who said no to living like criminals.

We Americans are called to a mission, whether we are born here or come
as immigrants.

That mission is spelled out for us by our founders and the greatest President of the 20th Century.

To promote the idea that all people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Those principles became FDR’s Four Freedoms:

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

The New Deal was an experiment in regulating capitalism to fund federal and state programs specifically designed to prevent the conditions that breed fascism.

Roosevelt believed that access to the the kind of education that promotes class mobility is the best defense against fascism and the inequality that breeds it.

Most of the allied nations adopted some form of the New Deal, and some
of them kept it and are doing quite well.

The United States chose to dismantle the New Deal beginning with Ronald Reagan, and now we’re in the grip of tyranny, so I guess FDR was right.

The underlying premise of our system of government is that every citizen deserves of a chance to succeed at building a life worth living.

The U.S. Constitution was established to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare.

A President incites violence against his own citizen violates the fundamental the basic duties of his office. This must not stand.

We must say no to the hypocrisy and corruption that drains us of our lives.

We must do as Rosa Parks did.

“I did not want to be mistreated; I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was an opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Rosa Parks

(c)Rob Goldstein 2020
‘Freedom from Fear’ by Norman Rockwell and Fingerprinting Rosa Parks are public domain.

“On Concrete’ and ‘Rand’s Children are (c)Rob Goldstein 2012-2020

Guest Blogger, Rena Korb: Fighting for a More Perfect Union

This guest post is from Rena Korb.

Rena is a professional writer and editor, and one of many extraordinary volunteers working with #DemCastUSA to get out the vote.


Ronald Reagan plays a starring role in my political awakening.

Believe me, I take no pride in these words.

My first memory of Reagan dates back to seventh-grade sewing class. A voice breaks across the loudspeaker, over the clacking of 30 machines, to announce an attempt has been made on the president’s life. He has been shot and injured, taken to a hospital in Washington, D.C. To this day, I can recall my crushing sense of disappointment.

Fast forward two years. Now it’s ninth grade and I’m sitting at the back of the Los Angeles city bus with my friends, a group of smart but cocky misfits. We are scheming to kill Ronald Reagan. We whisper possible ideas and plots. Every one of us declares our willingness to go to jail to do service to the country.

By the time I’m in high school, college, the Reagan Era is entrenched. Tax money is being spent on defense to pummel the USSR. Conservatives have unleashed an anti-abortion campaign that seems nothing less than an attack on women. A generation of kids is scarred by the post-nuclear TV movie “The Day After” (my school is near an air force base and though jets were forbidden to break the speed of sound, they did so with regularity, jolting me awake with fear that a nuclear bomb was about to drop). As governor of California in the 1960s, Reagan took one of the best-performing public school systems and turned it into one of the worst. Now he was doing the same with the country.

Like him or not, as the president of my generation’s youth, Ronald Reagan defined many of us who came into political awareness at an impressionable age. To this day, when I think back on that period, I recall how it seemed that no matter what we did, we had no impact. Republicans continued cutting taxes for the wealthy, depleting the treasury on machines of war, attacking the poor, and lying to Congress. My friends and I became cynical, apathetic, and disaffected, a state that did not lift even when Reagan was out of office.

Under these circumstances, by rights, I should have given up, become one of those people I knew who paid little attention to anything beyond their immediate concerns. But that never happened. I have phone banked and canvassed for many candidates in red states and red districts, even though I am a hardcore introvert. I have attended rallies and marches from New York to Hawaii, even though I hate crowds. I binge watch MSNBC. I argue politics even when it may ruin the social vibe — don’t get me started about those men, newly interested in politics since Trump’s election, who felt they could explain Hillary Clinton and 2016 to me.

You could say I was destined — some might say doomed — to become a civically engaged person. I was raised by a single mom in the 1970s. My mom was a quiet feminist. She wasn’t vocal about her views, but they were apparent in everything, from taking me to defend an abortion clinic when I was 16 to the cardboard mobile hanging in her office with red letters stacked like a pyramid spelling out, “I AM WOMAN,” plastered with pictures of Helen Reddy.

So should I thank my mom for my civic engagement? But maybe it was connected to growing up in Los Angeles, which was full of one-parent families, artists, actors, gays, pot smokers, and people who, in some way, lived outside the norm.

Or maybe it was just a quality of something in myself, some part of me that cared about learning about and challenging the world that existed around me. I have never liked being told what to do.

Or maybe the reason that I give a damn doesn’t matter at all.



Jump forward. It’s August 2020, less than three months remain before the next presidential election. Since Reagan, because of Reagan, I still fill out every ballot with a sense of despair, imagining the future loss. Every single election seems to be more important than the one before it,  this time, that sentiment is actually true.

I’m still delving into my political past, trying to answer the question of what citizenship means to me.

There’s the simple answer: Being informed, being active, voting.

Since I was a pre-teen, I’ve vacillated between thinking we could change the world and feeling profound disgust for my own country. Bill Clinton, who was supposed to represent a new dynamic in politics, ended up following the old playbook cherished by too many men in power. Barack Obama, by far the best president I have ever known, could have pushed Mitch McConnell harder over revealing the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Every silver lining has its cloud, as it turns out.

Now we have lived through almost four years of Trump. After the election, I didn’t really want to be here. I tried to persuade my husband, who is Australian, to move back. But when my family shot me down, I faced the decision of keeping my head down and trying to get through it — like many people I know chose to do — or fighting back.

“Citizenship is a full-time job.”

Fighting for a better country is what true citizens do. Remaking our country into a far more perfect union is what true citizens do.

Years of Trump’s cruel policies and corrupt acts and attacks on the Constitution have reawakened countless Americans to their civic and moral duty. This is, of course, a good thing. But while I see more engagement than I have ever seen, there are still people who “don’t do politics.” a sentiment I can’t understand.

Not doing politics means refusing to be part of your community and your country. Not doing politics means ignoring who your leaders are and who sets your values. Not doing politics means making do and giving up.

So maybe it does matter what inspires Americans to become engaged citizens. Nature or nurture? If we knew, we could instill in our children and young people a desire for activism, involvement, and making their world a better place. But unfortunately, and despite the many hours I have devoted to solving the question of why I am a person who cares about what’s going on around me, I still am no closer to finding an answer. My biggest hope now: that my own kids — only 12 years old — will pick up the torch one day and, of course, that well before that, we resoundingly vote Trump out of office.

Recently I heard this quote from Dan Pfeiffer of “Pod Save America”: “Citizenship is a full-time job.” Imagine if everyone took these words — and this duty — seriously. If everyone respected citizenship, our country would have leaders who all considered it their jobs to build a better country, not just their own bank account or political capital. We would be in a position to continue making progress to that city upon a hill, one that has a home for every American. And we could all take a little time off.

(c) Rena Korb, 2020

You can read this and other writing by Rena Korb on DemcastUSA. 

Rena Korb is a professional writer and editor. Her publications span from children’s books to political commentary. She volunteers as a DemCast California captain and as a leader with her local Indivisible chapter. She also is a lifelong activist, attending her first protest when she was 16. She lives in San Mateo with her family and, in non-pandemic times, enjoys playing Ultimate frisbee.

What is #DemCast?

Reagan, Trump and the Cruelty of Indifference

There may be triggers in this post.

How do we trust our government when the President is a pathological liar?

For people over 60, every interaction is fraught with death.

When the #COVID-19 shutdown began five months ago, my partner was with his elderly Mother in San Bruno, where he remains.

A few weeks ago, I started meeting with my therapist in Dolores Park. On my walks to the park, I noticed more homeless people in new tents.

Yesterday I saw a collection of freshly laundered business suits draped in plastic over a bright blue tent.

Blue Pup Tent
A Memory of Market Street

The sight of It broke my heart.

When I can’t take any more Trumpian abuse, I switch and log into VR, where my alternates recreated the homeless encampments of the 1980s.

Trump’s intentional mismanagement of COVID-19 is reminiscent of Reagan’s indifference to mental illness and the outbreak of AIDS.

The consequences of Reagan’s policies were as traumatic as the treacheries of my childhood.

A Memory of market Street
A Memory of Market Street

I spent most of the 1980s preparing to die from AIDS. 

I asked myself what I wanted to do with the last days of the rest of my life and chose writing.

I had wanted to be a poet as a youth, but I took my Grandmother’s advice to make poetry an avocation, something to do in old age, which was suddenly 29.

In August of 1984, I befriended a poet best known in the gay community for his homoerotic poetry. I was ballsy enough to ask him to teach me to write poetry, and he said yes.

He offered me a room in his rented cottage on Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.

I took the room and began the painful work of becoming literate.

By day I absorbed centuries of writing and literary criticism.

By night, I wrote as much as possible,  desperate to leave a legacy as my community sickened and died.

I also worked full time as a fitness trainer at the local YMCA.

Four years of Reagan’s budget cuts culminated in a permanent population of  disabled people living on and in the gutters.

It started with the mentally ill.

The mentally ill were soon joined by gay teens who came from all over the country, many from abusive communities and families.

Some of these kids formed an alliance with AIDS activists and built a sprawling encampment at San Francisco’s Civic Center.

I wonder where they're going with that Bat-2
I wonder where they’re going with those Bats

As AIDS took my friends, I began to compulsively check my arms and legs for KS lesions and had a crisis over every blemish.

In 1985, an alternate, inspired by the Nathaniel West short story, ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ emerged.

Like Miss Lonelyhearts, the alternate had a Christ complex.

He took dangerous all-night walks into the homeless encampments at Civic Center and around the adult cinemas and arcades on Market Street and in the Tenderloin.

He returned to the cottage at 6 AM to write a paragraph and sleep.

He called himself Loleeta Morales of Los Portales.

The name, Loleeta, is a regrettable pun.  Morales was the name of one of my many shrinks, and Los Portales was the name of a popular gay dance bar in San Francisco’s Mission District.

‘Loleeta’ became more emotionally unstable with every walk, and I sometimes ‘woke up’ in a crisis clinic or on a locked psychiatric unit with no memory of why I was there.  Still, I always found a story in Loleeta’s notebook.

““A locked psychiatric unit stinks.

A janitor arrives in the morning to stir the floor with his mop.

A Nurse patrols the day room with a can of Lysol spritzing above
her head.

Dr. Christopher Morales is a German from Brazil.

He is like a frog becoming a prince, frozen in transition.

Dr. Morales watches me eat breakfast with a look of calculated concern.

“You like your breakfast?” He asks.

I nod and nibble the tip of a sausage.

“You are feeling suicidal today?”

I nod and swallow.

“How long do you do you intend to feel this way?”

“Until the day I die!” I say sweetly,  so Doctor Morales hops
off in pursuit of a fly.””

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

Psychiatrists thought Xanax was a treatment for depression, so mine had me on eight milligrams a day.

Loleeta frightened me because I didn’t know why ‘he’ existed, and I worried he would get us killed.

When I expressed these concerns to my psychiatrist, he upped the Xanax.

By 1986,  I was sick enough to meet Reagan’s definition of total disability.

“The law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Disability Evaluation Under Social Security

My psychiatrist said I had a potentially lethal mood disorder so the government reluctantly gave me a grant of 700 dollars a month.

By 1987 I was on the brink of homelessness and wondered why I was still alive

I was sickened by Reagan’s government and felt betrayed by my thirtysomething peers, whose political activism became an empty rebellion of style.

“Loleeta Morales reclines to read her favorite leftish magazine.

She offers this excerpt from an Utne article entitled, ‘The Place of the Poor in our Cities:

Poor people have taught us so much about how to move rhythmically and melodically down the street, about how to use color and ornamentation to say new things about ourselves, about how to bring out the rhetorical and theatrical powers of the English language in our every day talk.”

Loleeta writes: “I can teach them how to walk, talk, and dress.”

She decides to prepare herself for the task. First, she needs a hit of speed to kill the hunger. Next, she needs an especially well-swept section of The City: where is the color and ornamentation of her poverty needed most? Does the Castro want some rhetoric? And what shall she wear? Her wardrobe expands with possibilities. She settles on an avant-garde pair of shit-stained chinos topped with fading looks and tie.

Loleeta writes:

I never thought I would have a special place in the life of a city. For this, I am grateful.”

She crosses herself and enters traffic.

Lights change on her command.

Loleeta Morales looms over San Francisco like a Godzilla in search of King Kong. Her jaw flops open, and she roars: “How many bores wanna be like Loleeta Morales!”

Dozens she decides.

As if the hills are alive with the theatrical joy of Loleeta, she storms 18th Street like a mob with convictions. There was money in her mailbox today, her payday for going crazy

With that thought in mind, she clamors into the Bank of America.

“Cash my check!” she demands.

“Gladly!” the teller answers.

And Loleeta takes her place in the scheme of things.”

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

In late 1987 I tested negative for AIDS, and Loleeta and my bi-polar illness went away.

“Loleeta Morales” ran my life for over two years.

In the end, Loleeta committed suicide and left me with 200 pages of a story that frightened and confused me.

“Loleeta  Morales decides to die from compassion instead of lust and self-loathing.

She is the New Puritan who brings a message of cleanliness: yesterday’s stud is today’s carrier, so Loleeta gets carried away.

She writes: “Now is the time when I, Loleeta Morales, will deliver my eulogy — because no one else can possibly know how nice I am.

I was a good girl. I respected science. I felt the Constitution of the United States was worth reading. I also felt that food was something I had a right to because the anguish of hunger us cruel.

Let it be said at my funeral that I was always one of the others.”

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

It is 2020.

Our president is a racist who persecutes migrant children. He extorts our allies and invites tyrants to help him rig our elections.

He is using a deadly virus to kill off the poor and disabled as he spreads enemy propaganda designed to distract and confuse our people.

Reagan’s 80s proved that average Americans will not only normalize a disgusting abuse of political power, they will also happily condescend to and blame the victims, if the consequences don’t directly affect them.

Can we undo the mistakes in collective judgment that got us here?  Can we face up to and atone for over 40 years of our complicit abuse of the poor and disabled?

During the shutdown, I built a virtual replica of the homeless encampments on Market Street in the 1980s.

I log in to remember and bear witness.

“Young girls are coming to the Canyon.

They make their way up Polk Street; hustle the arcade on
Turk and Ellis.

Young girls are coming: in the all-night cinema on Jones Street.

Where the homeless sleep in the aisles.

Where the pushers hustle the john.

Loleeta sees them and loves them.

She is the queer Jesus, come in the true spirit of Christianity.

She witnesses to the sick and needy,

She does it with the patience of a god.”

Excerpt from Loleeta, 1987

A Memory of Market Street
Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon

“The homeless are “homeless, you might say, by choice,” Ronald Reagan, 1984

The Mattress
The Mattress

All Images by Rob Goldstein 2020
(c) Rob Goldstein 2020