These days our country is floundering as our political leaders show they are moral pygmies pandering to ethnic, racial, and religious fears rather than working together to fix the social and political ills facing the country. Thanks to gerrymandered districts, this rot isn’t confined to either mainstream political party.
It’s so depressing. Worse, it’s repetitive. In 1925, about 25,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. It was the largest open demonstration of “white power” in that city. What caused this open display of bigotry and hate?
By 1925, the U.S. had transitioned from a rural population to an urbanized population. The east coast cities were full of European immigrants who were overwhelmingly Catholic while western cities had seen an influx of Chinese workers. The Jewish population grew as they fled pogroms in Russia. African-Americans were struggling to end Jim Crow inequality. By 1925, Native Americans had become U.S. citizens and women could vote.
In 1925, the Klan represented the fears of the people who felt they were losers in all this change. The “losers” included Protestants who were afraid that Catholics would change the “Christian” values of America. Poorly educated, unskilled white men feared a loss of income as factory jobs were filled with new immigrants or black Americans. Politicians and business leaders weren’t interested in funding programs that could have helped these workers adjust to the changing economy.
Now take a look at today’s poisonous brew of “losers”. Protestants and Catholics are afraid that Muslim immigrants will change the “Christian” values of the U.S. The Black Lives Matter movement shows that racial equality is still unresolved. Men of all races and ethnicities fear a loss of power and prestige as women continue striving for equality at home and at work.
The biggest “losers” are again white men who lack an education. They are afraid of losing their few remaining job opportunities to recent immigrants from Central America and beyond. Their job skills don’t match what is needed for the global economy and they seem unwilling to learn new skills. Besides, no politician or business leader wants to plunk down the money needed for apprenticeships or retraining programs that could alleviate this problem.
Hello 1925 redux.
My fear is not of the bigots and haters. My fear is that decent people will be so filled with disgust and despair of the current mess that they will stop voting and give up on supporting the civil society institutions we need to fight the bigots and haters. If that happens, our democracy will die and we will all be losers.
About Norma Shirk
My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.