Discover more from Peter’s Newsletter
Making America Great...again.
The story that still astounds nearly every European that I befriend is the one that details my family history. Both sets of my grandparents in the early 1900’s left Sicily with nothing but the desire to live a better life. The world they left was one of grinding poverty with little or no hope for escape. The promise of America gave them the courage to risk what little they had to find their way to New York traveling as barely more than cargo on ships bound westward. None of them could read nor even write their names at the time of their entry. and yet, inch by inch, step by step, they walked through the open door that greeted them and found a way to first survive and then move forward.
My parents born in the ‘20’s survived the Great Depression and then made their contributions to the War effort, all the while taking advantage of opportunities for education and advancement that were unknown to their parents. My father was the first person in his family to have a “white collar” job when he returned after the War as a sign of the advances that were already made. The post war period was the period of the greatest expansion of the US economy and perhaps of any country in the world and my generation were the greatest beneficiaries. The goal of the US Government was the expansion of the middle class and they directed tax policy and investments in education and infrastructure towards accomplishing that goal. Public education guaranteed a quality education to most, but sadly not all, given racial injustice, but even there, Brown vs. Board of Education became a landmark ruling that began the process of not only school integration, but fulfilling the promise of America to all children.
Remember, that during this period of expansion Eisenhower was President and the Republican Party was in power. The highest marginal tax rate was 80%! CEO’s were incentivized to reinvest in their businesses rather than pocket the profits themselves and their workers and the levels of productivity that ensued helped to continue to drive economic expansion. Labor Unions were a way to insure that benefits of expansion were shared and most workers could provide for their families on one income. During that time we built the Interstate Highway system and laid the groundwork for putting the first man on the moon. All of this helped many in my generation to have stable families go to elite schools, gain access to opportunities beyond our parents imaginations and prosper in ways that to my friends here still find unimaginable given where our family journeys began.
This world of opportunity that we in the US have lived and experienced is still what most Europeans hold in awe, and have little belief can be replicated in their own countries…and it’s what saddens them about our current state of affairs. When we fail to fulfill our promise, it reaffirms the belief that there is less hope and possibility in the rest of the world.
The convulsions that our Country is going through at the moment could be the labor pains that deliver a new version of that promise of America; but by no means is its birth assured, as there are very dark outcomes equally possible. While there is an ever clearer consensus emerging of what we do NOT want our Country and our legacy to be there is less clarity about the vision that we share for what we want. We want change; how else to explain Obama voters in key states voting for Trump in 2016? But what kind of change?
For me it’s going back to the vision of post war expansionism: rebuilding the American Middle Class, but this time for all Americans regardless of the color of their skin or their gender identification. We need leadership, not just from the eventual resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. but at all levels of government that share this goal and will fight for it. There are clearly identifiable and very powerful forces that notwithstanding the current convergence of crises want things to “go back to normal” the normal that created the levels of despair and inequality that convinced people that Obama and Trump were the same answer and that has now spilled out into the streets demanding for justice.
We again need to be the land of opportunity, where my story like that of so many others who shared humble beginnings can be shared, and that the access to opportunities that we say define who we are, are available to all. All of us and each of us can help to make it happen and in the process can pay forward the gifts that our grandparents and parents through the miracle of what America was and still can be, gave to us.