A Sordid History and Present

The sordid political and social circumstances in which we find ourselves today have a long despicable history. Our President consistently and cavalierly lies whenever he thinks it will benefit him. He seems to have no ethical or moral principles other than what is self-serving, and that pattern has been lifelong. He has amassed wealth by repeatedly bullying others, ignoring government regulations and failing to pay contractors for work on his business projects. He reacts to even the slightest criticism or opposition with unbridled personal attacks and persistent propaganda campaigns designed to discredit and humiliate anyone he sees as an opponent. He is by far the most alarming national leader in my lifetime.

I am now reading an excellent book – Labor’s Untold Story by Richard O Boyer and Herbert M. Morris – that describes another contemptible period in American history. During and following the American Civil War, many men amassed fame and fortune in ways similar to Donald Trump.

We know Trump avoided military service through repeated draft deferments and a faked “bone spur.” When President Lincoln called for volunteers at the beginning of the Civil War, members of trade unions volunteered in enormous numbers soon amounting to more than 50% of the nation’s workforce. At the same time, J P Morgan paid a man to serve for him in the war while making a fortune speculating in gold and profiteering on the war. He bought defective rifles from the government and sold them back the next day at a profit of more than 500%.

Commodore Vanderbilt leased a decrepit steamer to the government for $800 to $900 a day. John D Rockefeller was making his fortune in Pennsylvania oil and told his son, “Only greenhorns enlist. . . . There is no credit attached to going.” Philip Armour, James Hill, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk, all in their early twenties, also did not join the military. By the end of the war, they had all amassed fortunes in industry and banking. Some sold war supplies, such as uniforms, shoes, canned goods, meat, and grains, at enormously inflated prices. Some built the transcontinental railroads on the backs of underpaid Chinese laborers.

Wealthy individuals controlled the Republican party and the government. Congress, rampant with bribes and corruption, turned over the Union Pacific, Central Pacific, Northern Pacific, and other western railroads as well as more than 150 million acres of land estimated to be worth more 335 million dollars to these robber barons. The land was public land that should have gone to farmers under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Greed and corruption were everywhere among the rich and powerful. Following the war, northern profiteers joined with southern plantation owners to destroy every attempt by laborers to form unions and for blacks to gain equality. Unscrupulous Wall Street investors were making a fortune while millions of ordinary people were starving. Workers and farmers, including newly freed slaves, were being forced to work for poverty wages. Working hours were increased, wages were cut, children were required to work to support families, and prices of goods were skyrocketing.

As unions finally grew and strikes became more common, violence was used to crush union strikes. Workers were dying in sweat shops and unsafe mines while greedy owners refused to change horrible working conditions or improve mine safety. Owners used armed thugs, police, state militias, and federal troops to attack union members. Mine and railroad owners spread propaganda accusing unionists and Irish immigrants of being communists, foreign agitators and terrorists. They hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to install spies in labor organizations and to form a private army. Labor leaders were even convicted and imprisoned or hanged by corrupt courts.

Today Trump verbally attacks and vilifies immigrants and American citizens who look like immigrants. He supports and endorses White Nationalists and foreign dictators while implementing policies that reward the wealthy and penalize the poor. He has staffed his administration with wealthy, powerful Republicans and family members, more than 35 of whom have been indicted as of last year. The only recent president with more associates indicted is Nixon (the administration of President Obama had zero indictments during his eight years). Donald Trump has the presidential record for turnover of cabinet members.

The most recent tax revisions helped wealthy individuals and businesses the most. In recent years, the wealthiest 1% got 95% of the economic gain, and eight rich people, six of them Americans, own as much combined wealth as half the human race. While Trump touts the low unemployment rate, 25% of American workers make less than $10 per hour, work two or more jobs, and receive no health insurance, sick days or pension plan. In recent years, average wages have remained flat despite an increase of worker productivity of 15% and corporate profit increases of 13% per year.

All this is very similar to the post Civil War period – corruption; immoral, unethical & criminal behavior; greed; misuse of power; and unimaginable wealth amassed by a few unscrupulous individuals. It took the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 to begin reining in the excesses of business. Now we need to figure out how to rein in the excesses of an administration.

Our democracy cannot survive elections manipulated by foreign agents and an American administration willing to accept that influence for personal gain. Accepting foreign assistance in a campaign is unethical, is a crime and is wrong. ALL Americans should be outraged by what the Mueller investigation found. President Trump panders to the fears and prejudices of poorly informed, gullible voters. He must be defeated before the harm he is doing is irreversible.

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