Dissent. Diversity. Unity.

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Javier Anderson - page 2

Javier Anderson has 11 articles published.

The Power of Companies in the New Age of Citizenry

in Media and Society by

As you probably know, Bill O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox recently announced an end to their nearly twenty-year association, ironically just after agreeing to a lucrative multiyear contract. Although some might reasonably say that Fox News made O’Reilly, I think a good argument could be made for the opposite. In its twenty-year run, his show would easily become the most watched weekday primetime cable news program. O’Reilly would cement the network as a bulwark for a brash and new type of conservative, sowing the seeds for the election result we saw last November.

Bill O’Reilly (left) and Tomi Lahren (right) have come to represent the current and upcoming generations of popular conservative television personalities. Recent controversies from both have ended the career of one (O’Reilly) while endangering the career of the other (Lahren).

It was a format and style developed by conservative media maven Roger Ailes that would be quickly adopted by such conservative pundits such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and, more recently, newcomers Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones. Sadly, developments have turned the tables on these commentators in ways we could scarcely fathom just one year ago.

Roger Ailes is no longer chairman on Fox News, effectively bought off by Rupert Murdoch’s young heir-apparent sons after settling numerous sexual harassment charges levied on him and the network. Glenn Beck left Fox News after an acrimonious fallout between him and executives in 2012. Although his startup online organization known as The Blaze is seen as a viable alternative to Fox News, even Mr. Beck has professed shock and dismay at the ascendance of Donald Trump. Rush Limbaugh has seen his listenership steadily decline in the face of more able and congenial radio hosts such as Mark Levin and Charlie Sykes, while Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones have fallen from their own personal grace by either failing to toe the line (Lahren) or seeming to admit that their show is nothing but an act (Jones).

This all pales in comparison to the realization that accusations of harassment and victim shaming on the part of the network to protect their star host have been swirling around O’Reilly and Fox News for more than a decade now. That this new environment finally produced the necessary ingredients to force his ouster is a sad reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have left to go.

Recent accusations of sexual harassment from Fox News personalities such as Gretchen Carlson (left) have led to a rash of departures of key high-profile on-air talent such as Megyn Kelly (right) to more mainstream media networks such as NBC.

This article, however, is not about how prolific the conservative media landscape is or the concurrent dearth of mainstream progressive media sources (thankfully free of harassment!) but rather about how these titanic shifts in our media landscape came about. As you have all probably read, O’Reilly’s recent ouster was the result of over fifty high-dollar TV sponsors pulled their ads from the 9 p.m. O’Reilly Factor time slot. This tendency to only pull a controversial figure when sponsors begin to pull their money is not new in our recent history.

The recent spate of child and domestic abuse scandals in the NFL, the ouster of Don Imus from his radio show, and even President Trump’s rare moment of contrition (at least seeming to be) when the Hollywood Access tape was released were all the product of major advertisers making their dissatisfaction known after intense public pressure to do so. It is an alarming trend that seems to have become quite predictable once a scandal begins to gain traction. You can pretty much bank that once major sponsors like automobile and pharmaceutical companies, along with the added online company or two, begin to release statements of condemnation, it’s merely a matter of time before that host, issue, or scandal comes to a head.

But although these moments, such as the departure of Bill O’Reilly, stand as important reminders of the new world that has evolved over the past decade, it is wrong to credit that change simply to the fact that companies have simply dropped their advertising or sponsorship. Such narratives promote the false impression that Fortune 500 companies are the true guardians of civilization and decency rather than what they really are. At the end of the day companies such as Daimler-Chrysler, Amazon, and Viagra are just companies—entities and organizations created for the simple purpose of making money and little else. They cannot decry injustice any more than a simple plant or a park bench can read. They’re simply not set up for that. The idea that these companies have been imbued with such abilities to strip power from others is not only preposterous but dangerous as well.

It speaks to a larger issue that we all must confront in the post–Citizens United era. Not only should we reassess what makes a citizen, but we must also seriously look at the emerging narrative that companies should be counted among those privileged few who influence elections and voting through their contributions and policies. This is not as academic a debate as some might rightly assume it to be. I for one do not consider myself to be the equal of McDonald’s or Sherman-Williams. They cannot think, they cannot reason, they cannot judge, and, most important of all, they do not breathe, sleep, eat, or talk.

The real credit for O’Reilly’s ouster should instead go to the thousands of people—like you and me—who pressured those advertisers to pull their funding. It was they who put the screws on such companies as Geico, Subaru, and Lumber Liquidators, which together accounted for $35 million dollars in losses to Fox News’s bottom line. The scandal also stood in the way of the Murdoch brothers’ plan to acquire SKY News, purportedly an $11 billion transaction, which the brothers are desperate to complete. In all, it was a combination of the money and bad PR that did O’Reilly in.

Calls for O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News had been steadily increasing after the first allegations came to light in 2004. In the end the loss of nearly $35 million in ad revenue is what did him in—despite numerous protests and petitions from ordinary citizens, as seen above.

Sadly, the work of those activists who pressured these companies has been ignored in this narrative. But I would like to salute them here, not only for their persistence and perseverance in making O’Reilly accountable for his actions but also for every time some controversy flares and requires our attention. If only our government could respond with the same speed and heft as companies as Credit Karma and Allstate (no offense).

Meanwhile, young progressive commentators continue to flourish both online and across various social media outlets. Here the Young Turks’ host Cenk Uygur (far left) and politics reporter Nomiki Konst (far right) are flanked by actress Rosario Dawson (center left) and immigrant-rights advocate Linda Sarsour (center right).

So next time a major scandal occurs on the airwaves, remember the secret ingredient to make the wheels of change happen. Once companies begin abandoning ship, the drumbeat for change will not be far behind. Although this is a practical reality to the way things work now, we must never forget that it is we the citizens, we the taxpayers, and, yes, we the people who are the real power behind our moral social order. It’s time we start reminding the politicians, CEOs and TV executives of that.

Courage in a Time of Fear: Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War

in History/Political Thought by

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew he was taking a big gamble in making this speech. The year was 1967. April 4 was a damp and dreary Tuesday evening in New York City. Dr. King was to speak before a large and receptive crowd at New York’s famed Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Though no one knew it at the time, Dr. King would have exactly one year left to live; in 365 days he would be struck down by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee. It was frightening and uncertain time.

Dr. King speaking at his Birmingham’s Sixteenth St. Baptist Church in 1963. An Atlanta native, Dr. King would come to be a thorn in the side of populist and racist Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. In fact, in the early stages of the investigation, the FBI looked into whether Governor Wallace played a part in King’s assassination.

For Dr. King this had been a time of severe uncertainty too. He was adrift, without rudder or compass, in search of a new direction for his efforts to speak for the dispossessed. His time of wandering in the wilderness had begun at the climax of his success, the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by then-President Lyndon Johnson (D-TX).

The Act, passed by a southern politician no less, signified the capstone of the Civil Rights Movement. For the first time since reconstruction, racial bias and voter suppression would face serious and sustained judicial action and review through the federal courts. The federal government now had the legal as well as moral tools to prosecute any person, business, or government for racial prejudice and discrimination.

President Johnson perhaps spoke more than he knew when he was said to have uttered sullenly after signing the historic Act: “I have just lost the South for a generation.” But that all lay ahead in the future.

Dr. King busily making last-minute corrections to his remarks on his way to the podium at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967. A consummate writer, King would later claim this speech was the most difficult he ever wrote—even more than his “I Have a Dream” speech that he is remembered for today.

For Dr. King the struggle now shifted gears from the blatant racism and bigotry that existed in the Jim Crow South to the fight for equality and rights in the urban cities of the North. Dr. King would soon find, however, that the last three years of his life would be years of surprising failure and disappointment, as cities, officials, and allies once sympathetic to him and his cause now slowly abandoned him—and the movement altogether. The great marches and rallies that had marked the movement’s highpoints from 1961 to 1964 had slowly eroded away in the face of the two new factors King now had to contend with.

The first was the rise of a new, young, and militant group of civil rights activists such as Mohammed Ali, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X. They represented a growing and ever more vocal group of black Americans who no longer supported the nonviolent, gradual, and organized methods preached by men such as Ralph Abernathy, A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin, of whom King counted himself an ally.

These men of the old guard faced a growing discontent and resentment from fellow African Americans for the suffering and indignities they continued to endure despite the tremendous gains from recent legislation. As for the young militants, their views would soon come to have a creed and image associated with their calls for black separatism and power, in the famed (or infamous) Black Panther Party.

Dr. King (left) and Stokely Carmichael (right) when both were on better terms with each other. The two were a study in contrasts: they diverged on where the next steps of the movement should go. Carmichael believed in militant activism in the streets with no quarter to those in power, whereas King believed in conciliation and continued outreach to all disaffected communities.

The other factor was Vietnam. By now over 450,000 American servicemen were in that tiny corner of Southeast Asia, well on its way to having more bombs dropped on it (roughly 2.5 million tons of explosive munitions) than in the entire European theater of World War II. It is estimated that over 1.3 million casualties (those killed, injured, captured, or missing) would be sustained in America’s longest armed conflict up to that time (the War in Afghanistan/War on Terror now bears that dubious distinction). But all that still lay in the future. On this day King would speak for the first time on Vietnam.

For a man who had been so outspoken throughout his short and remarkable life, up to now King been glaringly reticent about the war. His reasons for silence were understandable, as explained through the age-old maxim “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Dr. King knew that these great bills, acts, and laws of the Civil Rights Movement would have been relegated to the obscurity and death of some Washington committee had it not been for the towering force and strength of President Johnson. King, out of deference and respect for the president and his commitment to civil rights, had held his tongue.

Initially Dr. King had even once been a strong supporter of the war. Like many Americans of the late 1950s, it was patriotic to support a nation fighting against communist invasion. The stance also lent King and his early followers an air of respectability that made up for the constant and persistent rumors that they themselves represented a Communist fifth column in the United States.

Slowly, however, King began to learn of the real cost of mounting such a war—both in dollars and in lives. Precious tax-payer funds that would have gone to desegregate schools and housing were instead spent to sustain massive armies and bomb enemy sanctuaries. The draft that sent many a young man to Vietnam tended to send more African Americans and poor boys of all colors, young men who could not seek or win deferment from their service. Even the justification for increased hostility, the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident, gave Dr. King cause for concern.

President Johnson (left) in a closed-door meeting with Dr. King (right). Although the two had been on friendly terms throughout the early 1960s, their relationship would turn cold as King became less willing to back the president’s agenda and more strident in his opposition to Vietnam.

Still Dr. King felt he knew his place and did not wish to tarnish his reputation or that of the greater struggle by speaking out against the growing controversy of the war. As draft boards began taking middle- and upper-class college students, resistance to the war inexorably moved higher and higher up the social ladder. By the time 1967 rolled around Dr. King knew he faced a choice: he could sidestep no longer. The title of his address went to the heart of his new thinking on the conflict: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

It would come to be known as King’s most controversial speech as well as the one he toiled the most to perfect and craft. Although his “I Have a Dream” speech carries with it the timelessness and beauty of his style and prose, “Beyond Vietnam” would show a different side of his oratory skills. He began by addressing his need to speak out by posing a series of questions asked of him:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

For King, being outspoken was a matter of moral principle and courage, not of political calculation or strategy. He continued by highlighting the vulnerability that antipoverty programs felt under the constraints of a major military action in the federal budget, saying,

I watched this [antipoverty] program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. 

Dr. King speaking at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967. With the exception of sympathetic religious clergymen, most of King’s major and powerful allies would withdraw their support after his comments on Vietnam. Although it made the final year of his life that much more difficult, it freed him from the burden of having to tailor his remarks; he could now speak candidly from his heart.

From here Dr. King highlighted six more reasons, from the glaring racial and economic bias in draft rolls, to dissonance in fighting enemies abroad while failing to protect the vulnerable here at home, to his advocacy for peace in all fields, and to America’s ambiguous role in helping the Vietnamese people achieve self-determination. He culminated his reasons by citing the terrible consequences that total war had brought upon the women, children, and aged of that poor beleaguered nation with poisoned rivers, killed crops, great deforestation, and mass famine.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon, the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

From a man of such deep compassion and conviction, such statements as these could be expected from a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But given the restraint he had previously had on the subject, saying such things must have been a welcome liberation for him as well as a true shock and surprise to many of his allies. Dr. King knew he would pay for his remarks—his complimentary visits to the White House and his favorable coverage by the press would be over. Still, he could now speak his mind freely, uninhibited by his fears of reprisals.

For President Johnson the real and hard break with his administration by the “voice of black America” would be a blow he knew would be hard to recover from. Within the year more and more people would re-examine their own views of the conflict, and opposition to the war would only intensify. President Johnson would recuse himself from re-election on March 31, 1968, four days before King’s death.

In many ways the Vietnam War would serve as a prism from which to view so many other causes, such as the war on poverty, women’s liberation, civil rights (much to King’s regret), and many others. It would be a war that would divide a nation more than any bombing raid, political season, or social movement. And it would take generations to heal.

Despite his specific address toward the Vietnam War specifically, Dr. King addressed history itself when he spoke of the need for a revolution of minds rather than a revolution of guns by saying,

It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause, emphasis added] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This was the real Martin Luther King Jr. No matter how much we may learn and remember of his life, no matter how we may recite his “I Have a Dream” speech, no matter what we may know about his life, his triumphs, his failures, his joys, his pains, his family, his passions, even his prejudices, this we do know: His compassion knew no bounds. He saw his struggle as the essence of the American dogma—that no person should be deprived of their dignity and no price was too small to secure it.

This Black History Month and in future Martin Luther King Jr. Days ahead, remember the King of his last year. Remember his struggle, and remind yourself that it is the struggle of America itself. Dr. King could take comfort should he have lived that he stands in good company today. History has a way of doing that.

The Mexican-American War (First of a Series)

in History by

Part 1: The Occupation

Tuesday, September 14, 1847, dawned beautifully and crisply over the spires and domes of Mexico City. The high altitude of the place (7,382 feet/2,250 meters above sea level) gave the weather the feel of an early autumn morning in the sleepy Central American highlands. In the city of roughly 200,000 souls, the day could have been like any other, but events around the federal city over the past month had caused this to be no ordinary day for the history of the town—or for that of the nation as well. For today U.S. Expeditionary Forces under the command of General Winfield Scott would begin their year-long occupation of Mexico City, beginning in a grand military parade into the central square to take place three days later.

 

A highly idealized version of the grand revue of the US Expeditionary Forces entry into the Central Square of Mexico City on September 17. Most foot soldiers at this point of the expedition were walking barefoot and starving from forced marches and meager provisions. This wood engraving would be the composite of many artistic renderings of the event.

For three days the expeditionary forces fought their way through the small and winding streets of the centuries-old city (founded in 1325 by the long-gone Aztecs) in dense and bloody urban combat, fending off Mexican sharpshooters, fortified gun emplacements, and ordinary roused citizens in defense of their families and homes. The Americans—and their hired mercenaries—would fight just as tenaciously, demolishing walls to move within homes, clearing opposition in their way. Though backbreaking as using picks and axes were, it made for a better prospect than having to face the withering enemy fire from outside. The nearly decimated Mexican Army, led by the beleaguered General/Dictator President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, could only watch in the hills north of the city as their country’s capitol slowly fell under enemy control.

When it was all over, over five thousand American and Mexican soldiers along with countless Mexican civilians (the city had not been prudently evacuated) lay dead, wounded, captured, or missing along the streets of the ancient City.

After a hastily arranged surrender in the dead of night from the highest-ranking Mexican officer still alive within the city, the expeditionary force of over six thousand Americans marched wearily into the center of town, facing sporadic fire from the surrounding hills and some abusive taunts from the demoralized citizenry. Most residents of Mexico City, however, kept their doors and windows closed tight, lending the scene a remarkable stillness and eerie silence in the air, punctuated by the snap of arms, the shout of command, the clack of hooves, or the whistle of a stray enemy bullet or mortar shell.

 

Generals Winfield “Ol’ Fuss and Feathers” Scott and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (‘The Napoleon of the West’), rendered as they would have appeared during the Mexican War. Both were fierce generals who faced each other during the closing phases of the war. General Scott had presidential ambitions, but his outsized personality earned him many political enemies as well as a reputation of a regal commander. Santa Anna would hold the title of President/Dictator of Mexico a record eleven times over a span of twenty-three years but would not hold the position for more than two years at the longest for any one period of time.

Despite being outnumbered by most estimates at least three to one, despite fighting in a terrain wholly alien to them, despite suffering more casualties though diseases such as dysentery or yellow fever (from ravenous mosquitoes), and despite major defections from several Irish battalions (their main reason for laying down arms was their unwillingness to fight against fellow Catholics), in six months US forces had crossed half a hostile continent and now occupied a foreign capital for the first time in its history. It was a welcome change for a restless country, boldly on the move.

It had only been thirty-three years before when the British had laid the same humiliation on the United States with the occupation, sacking, and burning of Washington, DC, during the War of 1812. And save for sporadic wars against Native Americans (the Black Hawk War) and a short skirmish against Spanish Florida in 1821, the United States had been in need of a well-earned victory against a worthy foe.

As the occupation came to an end in the summer of 1848, various officials, aristocrats, scholars, and writers of Mexico began informal discussions in the occupied capital. They had no official agenda other than to tell a story—their side of the story—in the conflict they had lost. The result of their work was a voluminous book called Apuntes: Notes for the War Between Mexico and the United States.

The book was a valedictory of sorts, for though they were a conquered nation, they refused to be a conquered people. From this defeat they would take the hard-earned lessons to build a new nation and forge a unified people as well. The same could also be said of the United States in its victory, although its new identity would be forged in a conflict much longer and from a victory more ambiguous and costlier than the war in Mexico had been.

The results of the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) can be seen here. Over a third of Mexican territory was lost to the war, although the “real” price of this land would only become apparent in 1848, when land in California was discovered to have rich ores of Gold in the Sierra-Nevada mountains. In all, the Mexican state lost potentially trillions of dollars in gold bullion and other precious minerals (silver, platinum, uranium, etc.) because of ineffective military organization and corrupt government management. America, some said, was simply “the instrument of the devil” to exact justice on Mexico’s unscrupulous leaders.

For now the two nations would share a new border stretching from Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. And although the two nations would share this border for over two centuries, both would act less as brotherly neighbors but instead would treat one another more as silent, unknowing strangers. Sometimes it would appear their only common interest lay between their shared frontiers.

Since that conflict the United States of America and the Republic of Mexico have shared a strained and unique relationship, as compelling as a modern-day telenovela or soap opera. From border disputes, differing cultures, and values, down to the meaning of human and national identity and race itself. The United States and Mexico carry with them the embodiment and challenge of two New World countries with the legacy of Old World sensibilities and customs. To this day the interaction between the two shows a mark of suspicion and disdain rather than friendliness or mutual respect.

This series will cover that relationship, from its very first awakening in the colonial era, through both nations’ internal and external strifes, to the one each has with the other today. It is a tale of generals and politicians, farmers and soldiers, honest leaders and downright scoundrels. It is a story of love and hate, war and peace, drugs and crime, money and commerce.

But above all it is about people—ordinary everyday people—on both sides of the Rio Grande, who collectively make the countries of the United States and Mexico.

January 11, FDR, and the Fight for the Second Bill of Rights

in History by

On Tuesday, January 11, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his unprecedented twelfth State of the Union address to the nation. On the advice of his doctors, the president, for the first time, delivered his address from the comfort of the White House rather than in front of a joint session of Congress. Considering how difficult it was for him to stand and deliver remarks at all, it marked another softening of his stance toward the public knowledge of his disability. He had been a paraplegic for over two decades now, and in a little over a year he would publicly speak on the fact that he “walked” with the help of two steel braces that supported his full frame.

In his prepared remarks the president spoke of the successes the United States and its “United Nations” (UN) had delivered against the Axis Powers in the theaters of North Africa, Italy, and the South Pacific. He spoke of the need for continued US involvement in world affairs after the war was won, noting the terrible consequences that isolationism had brought during the interwar years. He also turned his remarks to domestic affairs and the abrupt change that peace would bring to the nation and its people. There were already fears of explosive inflation once favorable wartime spending was gone. Unions, women, and many minorities feared that their hard-fought rights and wages in wartime America would be dismantled or taken away once the 20 million GIs came back home.

Then, nearing the conclusion of his half-hour speech, the president began to speak about his vision for a postwar America once the war was over. He began,

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

Harkening back to the beginning of the nation, Roosevelt spoke of how the country’s founding fathers had—for the first time—established a nation based on certain political rights and liberties such as the freedom of worship, speech, press, and so forth. Then came the crescendo he was famously known for:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

The president then outlined to the nation—and, indeed, the world at large—eight proposed economic rights that he believed would spell the foundation of economic and human well-being in the United States and around the world.

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

He then climaxed his remarks with an exclamation point, saying,

All of these rights spell security, and after this war is won, we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home, there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

This, coming from a sitting president of the United States while in the middle of the largest global conflict the world has ever known. Today these words may seem so foreign to us in their implications, considering the Pax-Americana that followed. Some might be discouraged by how little of the president’s splendid goals have seen fruition since 1945.

To me, however, I am always struck by how much of the Roosevelt’s vision lives on in the programs he either helped originate or inspire.

César Chávez at a March for Education Rally in the 1970s.

Today, while the right to associate has been under constant threat here in the United States, the world has seen the greatest increase in the human standard of living due to increased wages and benefits, thanks in no small part to unions and collective bargaining.

US Census Bureau Chart showing the declines in poverty during FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society and War on Poverty. Sadly, the United States still has the highest childhood poverty rate in the world.

When Roosevelt first became president in 1933, over two-thirds of all seniors lived in poverty. Today, thanks to such government programs as Medicare and Social Security, less than 10 percent of all seniors now live below the poverty line, and in the most recent economic recession, that number fell instead of rising, as it did in all other groups.

President Roosevelt’s widowed wife, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, proudly displays the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to reporters after its adoption by the General Assembly in 1946.

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights today embodies many of the rights that President Roosevelt considered essential to maintaining human betterment and peace. All nations should abide by its tenants or face the collective impunity of the nations of the world.

The Rural Electrification Administration (now known as the Rural Utilities Administration) provided electricity to the most far-flung areas of the nation, reducing the hard labor and high costs of farming before mechanization and electricity.

Today, thanks to such government programs such as the Rural Utilities Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Homeowners Loan Corporation, and the Federal Labor Standards Act, all the citizens of our country can have electricity in rural areas, refinance their home mortgage to a more favorable contract, and organize in their shops and companies to receive fair contacts and benefits.

Norman Rockwell’s famous depictions of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech from 1941 citing freedom from want and fear as well as freedom of speech and worship. These freedoms would prove to be the foundation of his later “Second Bill of Rights” Address.

This is the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt and his grand vision of “a lasting peace.” Although we may not be at that point in our society as yet, nothing should deter us from reaching for this vision. In doing so, we will pick up the mantle of our forebears in helping to maintain and strive for “a more perfect union.”

A Time of Great Challenge and Adversity: A Look Back at 2016

in Election 2016 by

For the last two months, I’ve been mostly muddling through the days, swimming in a sea of thoughts following our elections. While I’ve completely accepted and absorbed the consequences to these results, I’ve been racing through my mind about the many pathways and outcomes we may soon have to face.

Despite the enormous gulf that exists between us, we must not degenerate into demonizing our fellow citizens. One cannot blame people for voting the way they did. Despite what I might think about their choices, we must respect the will of the people and join together as Americans. For those who refuse to do so, I ask you to remember that no election result is permanent and those who fought you this cycle might as easily become your allies in the next election. Voters can change minds, in other words, so diminishing them for their choice is never a way to go about conducting politics.

Our feelings of frustration are better directed at the Democratic Party, the candidate herself, and the campaign she ultimately ran. While they may never admit it, the date of September 10 will always be seared in my mind as the date the election was sealed. For it was on this date that Mrs. Clinton called “half” of President-elect Trump’s voters “deplorable.” A comment so flippantly made, so carelessly delivered, with the added distinction of being prefaced with the words, “You know, to be grossly generalistic . . .” All above a little podium sign that prominently displayed in purple and white “Stronger Together.”

How could any person expect to lead a country—much less win an election—after saying such remarks as these? Any person thinking forthrightly about the qualities of leadership and governance would do well to remember the lessons of this sad episode. More was expected of the woman candidate running for president, it’s true. And some of that double standard was indeed very unfair and biased, to be sure. But I also must believe that some of those expectations were a result of the competency and experience that were her supposed calling card.

2008 should have been a clear lesson that this also was not a winning strategy with the broad electorate. To be sure, experience in governance is a good thing to have. But experience may also be predicated upon poor judgement and lead to equally bad consequences, making such qualifications as useless as choosing a novice. With anchors such as the Iraq War, the intervention in Libya and the nonintervention in Syria, one could be forgiven if the Democratic nominee had all the foreign policy hallmarks of a Republican over her opponent. Perhaps this heightened the contrasts this election year, though I doubt it.

When answering a question from a young Muslim woman in the second presidential debate about how to combat the rise of Islamophobia in our land, Trump’s response was (paraphrasing), “Radical Islamic terrorism is a problem, and Muslims should report on other Muslims about suspicious behavior, like in San Bernardino, or Orlando, Paris, or 9/11.” The Clinton response was no more comforting, if not downright vague: “Thank you for your question. I’ve heard this question many times before.” After invoking the names of Captain Kahn and Mohammed Ali and then reciting some rhetoric about the American ideal of tolerance and respect, she said, “We need our American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears, on our front lines.” The woman later responded that the answers, other than delivery and tone, were not much different from each other in substance and meaning. Me neither.

How did we get here? That I believe is the most important question we can ask ourselves this day. While the decisions and results of the candidates and their campaigns will vex none but historians and biographers any longer, this should not mean we should easily forget what we all witnessed and endured this year.

We must earnestly look back to see how a nation of laws and norms end up nominating and electing among two of the most unpopular people in the country. Is it any wonder that turnout dropped to the level as that of 2004? Why was the media so derelict in its duty to give fair and equal representations of all candidates? Why were our great journalistic bulwarks so mistrusted on one end and so painfully slow to grasp the realities on the other? Could these not be related in any way? In the coming weeks, I’ll do my level best to review these issues one-by-one and to seek a framework to learn the hard lessons from this campaign. From this, I’ll also try to provide a window into the past to provide not only comfort but also perspective for these times.

We will soon face these challenges together, as a country should. And like it or not, all countries must overcome these great periods of challenge or else silently fall into the dust bin of history. Lately, I have searched our great volumes of history in search of any parallels in our nation for moments of great tragedy and adversity. For those who think this is the greatest test our country has faced, let me remind you of the American Civil War.

Living in the twenty-first century, few scars of that terrible conflict can be seen on the landscape or in the streets. But the frightening figures should be known to us all. Lasting nearly four years, millions of men, women and children were made casualties, orphans, or refugees from the fighting. All done in the name of southern independence, emancipation, or simple conquest, depending on one’s viewpoint. Whole families and communities were torn asunder, heroes and villains were prevalent on both sides, and to this day, evidence of its impact can be seen if one looks carefully. Battlefields are one piece of evidence, but perhaps our latest election results could also be seen as yet another.

In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Cassius at one point says, “How many ages hence, shall this our lofty scene be acted over, in states unborn and accents yet unknown?” So must we too ask this question about our current state of affairs, here and the world over. I look forward to having this conversation with you and finding out from the journey ahead. We might not see the fruits of our labors, but let us begin.

 

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