How did we get here?
Jon Meacham in a recent interview (available as a podcast) made two striking comments: First, George III said of George Washington’s potentially walking away from another presidential term, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world” (Washington did walk); and second, “The Lost Cause” narrative traces back to a book written Edward Pollard of that title in 1866, just one year after Appomattox. Pollard’s book, which sketched out the Southern Strategy has played out throughout the 20th century. Conceptually place bookends on these two comments, and you have Meacham’s interview. Meacham, journalist and author of such books as “American Lion (about Andrew Jackson)”, “American Homer (about Shelby Foote)”, “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” and “Destiny and Power (about H W Bush)”, has recently come out with “The Soul of America”, where he takes us from Reconstruction through early 20th century battles over immigration, McCarthyism, racism and equal rights. We encounter figures such as Strom Thurmond, Huey Long, George Wallace, Father Charles Coughlin, Andrew Johnson, and events such as The first red scare, the birth and re-birth of the Ku-Klux Klan, and press censorship under President Adams and Wilson. Meacham remains cautiously optimistic: “[through our history] 51% of the time, we have heeded those better angels [of our nature]”. Based on his experience, he is in a good position to discuss our current moment in a historical context. Towards the end, he addresses where we are now (34:30), how we may want to approach the past (38:30), and what he would say to Trump if he had the chance (39:45).
Robert Kuttner, co-founder of the American Prospect, author of several books, including ‘Debtors’ Prison’ and ‘The Revolt of the Haves’, addresses a different question in the second podcast posted here: “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? He sees the hope in managed capitalism, which he feels has worked in different times and places in the 20th century. He is not a Marxist; indeed he notes that Marx got it wrong; workers didn’t unite. The response of the so-called proletariat in many situations in the 20th century has been to resort to ultra-nationalism, prodded by opportunists who were able to successfully blame some “other.” Perhaps the most interesting part of Kuttner’s podcast is the Q&A, which starts at about minute 28. The audience at the Philadelphia Free Library, where the event was held, was quite penetrating. Discussion points:
31’ – the impact of New Deal on non-white citizens (an interesting solution to some problems arising from identity politics)
37’ – whether to push benefits for the poor vs rich (arguments related to the velocity of money vs. investment)
40’ – why Obama was not a transformational president
46’ – Capitalism in Germany, Britain, India, and Canada, vs. the US
50’ – the Clinton, Blair, and Schroeder moment in the 1990s
https://archive.org/details/lostcausenewsout00poll (Lost Cause, 1866)
https://amzn.to/2Jpx836 (Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism, by Kuttner)
https://amzn.to/2sDrM9J (Listen Liberal, by Frank; mentioned by Kuttner during Q&A)
https://amzn.to/2JvgRcG (The Soul of America, by Meacham)