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.

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