A working class person who lives in the countryside may feel frustrated conveying to a better off city dweller the economic stagnation outside cities since the Great Recession (or Lesser Depression) of 2008. If that working class person has had his or her rural homestead on the market for over a year, a not uncommon length of time to sell real estate in rural working class areas, particularly since 2008, the city dweller might have a hard time understanding why that should be when places in the city sell well within a year if they are reasonably priced. For people in the cities, recovery from the Great Recession has progressed to pre-recession levels since the low point in 2009. For people in the countryside, where the economy has been on a downward trend for decades, there has been little to no recovery in jobs or in the housing market since 2008.
A Family Dollar store in Lenox, Georgia. Photo by Michael Rivera. Dollar stores have become a ubiquitous sign of the times in rural and small town America over the past 20 years.
Living in a middle class or upper middle class urban bubble can make it hard to understand how divided the country has become along class lines delineated between the city and the countryside. Those lines have always existed, but never more clearly than now. It’s little wonder many city dwellers, especially those living on either coast, were blindsided by the result of the 2016 election. Because their own economic situation has rebounded since 2008, they failed to notice there was no similar rebound for their country cousins, for whom things have only gotten worse. Beyond economics there is also a growing social and cultural divide between city and country. Again that is nothing new, but again it is a chasm that has opened wider than ever before.
The president elected in 2016 by the weight given to rural votes in the Electoral College has not delivered on any economic improvements to rural life he promised, such as infrastructure jobs, nor will he ever deliver on his promises. Rather than implementing policies meant to improve the lives of many of the people who voted him into office, the current president is primarily interested in stoking their anger and resentment over social and cultural issues while working toward their further economic exploitation by the corporations he really represents. To the extent those voters refuse to recognize their fleecing, they deserve contempt. The difficulty for rural voters who are not true believers in the current president’s cult of vile invective has been that corporate Democrats have forced them into a corner by not offering them a decent alternative.
A clip from “Bailey’s Bad Boy”, a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, with Bill Bixby and Don Knotts. The Andy Griffith Show ceased production in 1968 while still at the top of the ratings for CBS. Its successor, Mayberry R.F.D., fell to the axe of the Rural Purge a few years later, in which CBS and the other networks got rid of programs targeted at older, rural audiences, and replaced them with programs aimed at younger, urban viewers.
When there are only two substantial political parties, which in their allegiance to corporate donors over all other constituencies have come to resemble each other almost as closely as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, ordinary voters feel powerless and ignored by the system. Social and cultural policy differences remain between the two parties, but ultimately both parties serve their corporate masters before all else. Democrats, most of whom appear to live in urban bubbles on the coasts, would do well to recognize the dissatisfaction of those in the countryside, in fly over country, or the presidential election of 2020 could be a repeat of 2016. Recognition starts from understanding problems unique to rural America, and perhaps then people in cities won’t be surprised to learn not everyone has access to unlimited broadband, as well as many other things they have come to take for granted in wealthier urban centers. A little respect flowing both ways, between city and country, can seem hard to come by in these polarized times, this Cold Civil War, but it can go a long way toward healing divisions.
The headlines in the corporate media after the Democratic primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th congressional district on June 26 often omitted her name in favor of touting the loss by her opponent, establishment Democrat Joseph Crowley, whom the corporate media did name. Brushing aside the intentional or unintentional slight of the old boys’ club in the corporate media and Democratic party establishment, the victory of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th district in New York, a district encompassing the eastern Bronx and part of the Queens boroughs of New York City, was a major step forward for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), of which she is a member.
A panoramic view of the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes against a starry night sky. The Moon and the Milky Way are visible across the center of the sky. Photo by Babak Tafreshi. The Democratic Party establishment keeps looking for new stars to lead it, ignoring the new leaders emerging from the grass roots and pushing them aside.
Fox News blowhard Sean Hannity posted the following list on his television show of the points in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, no doubt with the idea of horrifying his viewers with her plan for destroying America, if not all of western civilization:
Medicare for all
Housing as a human right
A federal jobs guarantee
Gun control / Assault weapons ban
Criminal justice reform / End private prisons
Immigration justice / Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Solidarity with Puerto Rico
Mobilizing against climate change
Clean campaign finance
Higher education for all
Curb Wall Street gambling / Restore Glass Steagall
Actually, that all sounds pretty good! Thanks, Mr. Hannity! With that agenda, it’s no wonder Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA are worrying not only the retrograde part of the electorate represented by Sean Hannity, but the Democratic Party establishment lately represented by Joseph Crowley. Let’s look forward to that agenda catching on with voters and being pushed by them across the country in areas beyond the Democratic Party stronghold of New York’s 14th congressional district.
The ending of Ron Fricke’s 1992 film Baraka, with music by Michael Stearns.
Editor’s note: There was no post on this website last Friday, April 27, because it is healthy to take a break and go fishing once in a while.
“The pause that refreshes” was a slogan coined in 1929 by Coca-Cola marketers, and nearly a century later it remains one of the most memorable advertising slogans for Coke, or for any other product. It was also in the 1920s that Henry Ford instituted a new policy at his automobile manufacturing plant to shorten workers’ shifts to eight hours and their work week to 40 hours, a model that soon became the standard throughout American industry. In 1938, the federal government established with the Fair Labor Standards Act a minimum wage and rules for most workers to receive time and a half payment for hours worked over 40 in a week.
An Afternoon’s Rest, an 1885 painting by Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen (1855-1941).
It’s still up to the states to regulate breaks and lunch time off for workers, and many do so in a minimal way, if at all. It may come as a surprise to some workers that their breaks often come solely at the discretion of their employer or, if they are with a union, because breaks are written into the contract between the union and management. Even bathroom breaks can be a source of contention between labor and management. It is a wonder then to consider how much conditions for workers have generally improved since the early years of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when 12 and 16 hour days were not uncommon and workers’ welfare and safety were entirely their own lookout.
What changed things was when workers started to organize and bargain collectively in the late nineteenth century. It is a misconception to think the worker holiday of May Day started in communist countries, because it actually began in the United States, and has come to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago, Illinois, in May of 1886 when workers on strike and demonstrating for an eight hour workday ended up in deadly confrontations with the police over the course of two days. Unionization continued wringing concessions from management through the first half of the twentieth century, and from 1945 to 1975 the percentage of the non-farm workforce belonging to a union peaked at over 30 percent. In the years since, union membership has declined to less than half that, and the remaining unions, many of them organizations formed for the benefit of state employees such as teachers, are under attack from Republican controlled state governments.
A discussion of ways of coping in life from the 1964 film of The Night of the Iguana, based on the play by Tennessee Williams, directed by John Huston, and starring Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Richard Burton as the defrocked Reverend Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon.
None of that changes the need of people concentrating on their work to take a break from it every once in a while throughout the day, and for weeks or more at a time throughout the year. Robots have no need of breaks, but for the time being there are still jobs robots cannot do and those jobs will require the talents of fallible, sometimes frail humans. Enlightened management can choose to view breaks for workers as beneficial to both parties, since a more rested worker can be more productive in the long run than one who is run ragged. Less enlightened management may consider the burnout of workers as the cost of doing business, believing they are easily replaceable cogs in management’s profit making machine. That mindset prevailed over a hundred years ago, before Henry Ford, who was by no means enlightened in all areas, nonetheless saw that his workers and people like them were the buyers of his automobiles, and raised their wages and improved their conditions in the interest of maintaining a kind of partnership with them, rather than treating them wholly as chattel, as cogs in the gears of production.
Take a college course in starting your own business and you will likely find the instructor emphasizing “growing your business”, without ever mentioning why that would be necessary or desirable. It is an unquestioned given that making your business larger will be the determining factor defining your success. Employing other people for your business makes you a “job creator”, though you could be someone who seeks to exploit the labor of others in order to boost yourself higher on the economic pyramid. It’s possible to be an ethical job creator, but unfortunately too many business owners lose sight of that in the daily struggle to grow their business and be seen as successful.
The economist Kate Raworth talks about growth in this animated short for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). She doesn’t use the term “cancer”, but the effects of out of control economic growth brings the term to mind.
The economic model that said the world’s resources were boundless was always a fantasy, but people were able to ignore that for many centuries while the population stayed well within the earth’s capacity to sustain it. Now we are pushing against those limits, yet the business owners at the top continue to insist there are no limits, because it suits their self-interest. In the natural world, populations of animals and insects boom and bust depending on the capacity of their habitat, which is in all cases more narrowly defined than it is for humans. Because humans have adapted to the widest array of habitats on the planet, it does not follow that our expansion can be limitless. The physical problem is population growth pushing earth’s resources to the breaking point, but there is also a mindset problem caused by those at the top of the economic pyramid pushing the snake oil of limitless growth.
Native Americans have called this spirit of cannibalistic greed and lust for dominion wetiko, or wendigo. Their culture recognized it, but was not consumed by it, at least not from within. They recognized it in its most rapacious form in many of the white Europeans who started pushing into North America five centuries ago. The white Europeans came from a culture where being fruitful and multiplying was the means to have dominion over the earth and all creation, goals which they saw as not only morally sound, but their religious right and duty. When there were only tens of millions of humans spread out across the entire continent of North America, those beliefs were more defensible than now.
Dole corporate person parody in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2011, marking the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision; photo by Flickr user palnatoke.
In the eighteenth century, a white settler family huddled in their isolated cabin in the vast woodlands covering what would eventually become the eastern United States could hardly be blamed for feeling that nature was hostile, red in tooth and claw, and that a competitive, fighting spirit was the way to eat and not be eaten. Now there are hundreds of millions of us in North America, and billions across the earth, and the technological powers available to us for taking advantage of nature’s resources are well beyond even the imaginings of those early inhabitants. Yet many people cling to the old beliefs, ignoring how destructive they have become, and always were. Some people cling out of ignorance, and there is hope that their minds can be changed; but there are others, often wearing suits and making greedy, amoral decisions in corporate boardrooms, who are possessed by the spirit of wetiko and whose minds either cannot or will not be changed. The rest of us can recognize that on a finite Earth growth has limits, and work to lessen our impact before the Earth takes care of that for us.