SSeveral months after the pandemic, a friend drove us away from the southern California coast toward arid, brown mountains, where road signs were riddled with bullet holes. We came across an abandoned gas station with broken windows and an American flag, faded by the desert sun, painted on the front. We entered the ruins. On the back wall there was a graphite: fucked at birth.
“I knew you would like that,” my friend said as he snapped photos of the words that encapsulated what I had been trying to say for the past 40 years in my work as a journalist documenting America’s ever-expanding class gap. .
In the early 1980s, I believed that consciousness would drive political and social change. Now after so many articles and books I felt like they were like a tired country ballad on a honky-tonk where everyone is drunk and not listening to the music. I’m done with work.
So when my friend suggested the squiggle as a title for my next book, I let it fly, I was exhausted.
For the next few days, however, I became obsessed with the juxtaposition of the flag and the spray-painted words. It was time to change the song. I decided to drive across America and visit homeless camps, meatpacking towns, cities that were once paralyzed industrialists, show people a picture of the outside of the gas station and what was inside, and let that the ones I found told me what it meant. The responses were always quick.
In Sacramento, John Kraintz, who had been homeless: “In the Declaration of Independence, they said that all men are created equal. That was the first big lie. If you have money, they care about you. “
In Denver, Black Lives Matter activist Terrance Roberts: “You ask me about being fucked at birth? I mean, I’m an African American man. “
In New York City, my former student Megan Cattel: “That is the battle cry of the millennials.”
That trip convinced me of the need for the title. The US sales representatives told my editor that it would be difficult to get the volume in stores; A teacher friend wrote that her California community college bookstore “warned me they might not sell it because of the title.”
Words – fucked at birth – maybe they are tough. But what is much harsher and more unpleasant is the fact that they are simply a reality for an increasing number of Americans.
The stiff title is the least part of changing the song. I also came out of my recent reporting tour across the country convinced that the 2020s will be the 1930s of this century. The stock market, driven by low interest rates and a record three-quarters of a trillion dollars of borrowed money, is overvalued by a metric more than at any time since 1929. In the midst of this, the Evictions Laboratory of Princeton University fears that up to 30-40 million people will face eviction from their rental homes when the various moratoriums end, which seems destined to create an unprecedented wave of homelessness.
Don’t be fooled by what’s going to happen later this year: When vaccines are widely distributed, the top two quintiles of the American population will start spending money. A lot of that. But this will not immediately translate into good times for the bottom three quintiles. Tens of millions of precariates were already living in a de facto Great Depression before the pandemic, and many working-class jobs will not return anytime soon, if they ever will. This growing disparity creates a level of anger among voters that inexplicably continues to elude Beltway journalists’ understanding.
It is not that difficult to grasp the meaning. Just look at the past. I’ve long been a student of the 1930s – Fascism was on the rise in America during the Great Depression. It is something that never disappeared; it is part of the American DNA. Many of the 74 million who voted for Donald J. Trump in 2020 would be quite happy with authoritarian leadership. They are not going away with the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
We think of social media, Fox News and One America News Network as promoters of QAnon or the Proud Boys, amplifying feelings and actions that until now would have remained in the shadows. But long before the Internet and television existed, fascist ideas completely infiltrated American culture. One of the first activists to recognize this was the Reverend LM Birkhead, a Unitarian minister. In 1935 Birkhead traveled to investigate the authoritarian governments of Italy and Germany. In 1938, he published a list of 800 “undemocratic” organizations in the United States that were aligned with the Nazis and fascism. He believed that one in three Americans was being targeted by fascist materials.
In early 1939, a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden drew 20,000 people. The growing authoritarian movement was the subject of a 1940 of 9,000 words. Harper magazine article, The American Fascists, by Dale Kramer.
In the modern era, Youngstown state labor studies professor John Russo recognized early that anger over the loss of good jobs was causing a resurgence of fascism. When I interviewed him in 1995, he foresaw the emergence of a Trump-like figure. When I passed through Ohio recently on my trip across the country, John doubled his 1995 prediction; feels that the threat from the far right will not diminish. Trump lost “and what I’m saying is, ‘so what?’ Right now we are at a tipping point in terms of what the American economy will be like, what the American social structures will be like, ”Russo told me. “2024, that will be the fundamental election.”
Russo says there will be “contested ground,” a struggle between progressives and right-wing authoritarianism from now until 2024. If a smarter and more effective Trump emerges, he could overshadow the threat Trump posed to American democracy.
The fascist leanings of the 1930s were simply stalled by the New Deal and postwar economics. The final paragraph of Kramer’s 1940 Harper The article, though out of time by about seven decades, serves as a warning for 2024:
“It will take time for a powerful movement to organize itself out of the confusion caused by the war. But [technique] So well has been learned from the politics of prejudice that if economic insecurity continues, there is no doubt that the American people over the next decade will be forced to grapple with powerful “hate” movements. It will take great vigilance to preserve our freedom without giving it up in the process. “
Adapted from Fucked at Birth: Recalibrating the American Dream for the 2020s (Unnamed Press, December 12)
Dale Maharidge is a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism