Last weekend, my husband and I attended the Phoenix Theatre’s presentation of Sweat, a prize-winning play based upon an episode of union-busting and outsourcing that took place some years ago in Reading, Pennsylvania. As with all Phoenix productions, the acting was superb, and the set evocative. But it was the play’s message that really resonated.
As workers in the local factories lost their jobs, social bonds frayed. Self-esteem suffered. Longstanding interracial friendships surrendered to suspicions that promotions had been awarded on the basis of “diversity” rather than merit. As with all powerful art, the play illuminated a human truth: in times of economic and/or social uncertainty–especially when livelihoods are threatened– people turn on each other.
Political scientists have varying explanations for the election of Donald Trump, but those explanations all include, to varying degrees, economic insecurity and racial resentment. A significant number of Americans are struggling to put food on the table. Automation is threatening the jobs of many others. The pace of social and technological change can seem dizzying. And rather than working to tackle these and other problems, the President and his henchmen are telling us to blame the Other: immigrants, Muslims, minorities.
A recent headline from the Guardian tells us that anti-Semitic incidents soared in 2017.
Antisemitic incidents in the US surged 57% in 2017, the Anti-Defamation League said on Tuesday, the largest year-on-year increase since the Jewish civil rights group began collecting data in 1979.
Close to 2,000 cases of harassment, vandalism and physical assault were recorded,
Another report tells us that we are in danger of reversing the civil rights advances of the last fifty years.
Civil rights gains of the past half-century have stalled or in some areas gone into reverse, according to a report marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Kerner Commission.
Child poverty has increased, schools have become resegregated and white supremacists are becoming emboldened and more violent, the study says…..
Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, told Tuesday’s conference at George Washington University: “We made progress on virtually every aspect of race and poverty for nearly a decade after the Kerner report and then that progress slowed, then stopped and in many ways was reversed, so that today racial and ethnic discrimination is again worsening. We are resegregating our cities and our schools, condemning millions of kids to inferior education and taking away their real possibility of getting out of poverty.”
Harris, a former Democratic senator from Oklahoma and co-editor of the new report, added: “There are millions more poor people today than there were then. There’s greater child poverty; poverty’s harder to get out of. More poor people are in deep poverty than was true 50 years ago and income inequality is worse now and worsening.”
Last week, the Supreme Court heard a case that is very likely to eviscerate public-sector unions–the culmination of a decades-long, largely successful effort by the Koch brothers and their allies in the GOP to destroy workers’ ability to bargain. It is an effort that has gone hand-in-hand with their consistent and very effective attack on government programs that help needy Americans.
As Sweat vividly illustrated, poverty and powerlessness beget bigotry and social discord.
If voters don’t turn this country around in November, America will illustrate something else–Hobbes’ description of life outside society: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.