The 4th of July, America’s birthday, is a time for celebration and reflection. A look back to the beginning of the 20th century provides us with a measure of how far we have progressed up to now. Unregulated big business dominated American life at the beginning of the 20th century. Capitalists like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Hurst amassed great wealth and built themselves palatial homes. Average Americans struggled to pay for housing and put food on the table. The poor made up the largest class of society.
The goal of big business was to accumulate the greatest possible profit. In 1900, the beginning of the 20th century, unions were very weak. Workers labored for low wages. Environmental concerns and safety standards were sacrificed to enhancing the wealth and power of corporations. Teaching was a lowly, poor paying, profession. Existing public schools were under funded. Promising students lacked money for college. The wealthy sent their children to excellent private schools. Schools for poorer Americans were frequently run by religious institutions. States had no educational standards. Curriculums were often biased and factually inaccurate.
Restrictive laws denied rights to women and minorities. State laws deprived black Americans of voting rights. Traditional social and religious attitudes viewed women as irrational and incapable of making their own decisions. Legislative bodies, controlled by men, persisted in refusing to give women the freedom to make their own choices regarding issues that affected them.
Money flowed into politics. Large sums were spent in buying the elections of politicians who would uphold the interest of their corporate sponsors. Citizens coming together to demonstrate against corrupted government and the abuses of corporate America were often attacked by the police. They were sometimes fined, jailed and even beaten if they offered resistance. All of this has a familiar ring in the 21st century. America today is recreating American life of early 1900.
The wealthy no longer make donations directly to politicians. They now have PACS with lofty sounding names like “Restore our Future,” “Americans for Prosperity,” and “Crossroads GPS.” Untold millions of dollars are poured into these PACS and spent on advertising. Almost all this money is used for negative attack ads destroying the opposition and securing the election of politicians who protect and promote the interests of the wealthiest 1%. America’s Golden Rule might well be “Those who have the gold make the rules.”
The past is the model for “Returning To Our Future!”
Margie Abel — Franklin, N.C.