Save and Preserve Our American System
Vaughn Davis Bornet is Emeritus Professor of History and Social Science at Southern Oregon University. Among his books are "The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson" in the American Presidency Series (1983), "Welfare in America," (1960), and other books on Herbert Hoover, social welfare, radicalism, and unions. His autobiography is "An Independent Scholar in Twentieth-Century America (Bornet Books, 1995).
I regret that a system that really can work is being damned once again by those who declaim in the mainstream of long-ago radicalism. I fear that the youth among us are unable to recognize and decipher the prose used by yesterday's Populists, LaFollette Progressives, Wallace zealots, Socialist Worker Trotskyites, Socialist Labor debaters, and similar related radicalisms. They are taking to the streets and even sloganeering in our community newspapers.
These super-critical and super-activist people know perfectly well that ours is in form a representative democracy that exists in a welfare capitalist system. Most of the time—but not always—the system ends up working. Violence of invective, born of understandable frustration and impatience, can be potentially revolutionary. Remember the violence in the turbulent 1960s, which would be an unacceptable outcome from today's street convulsions.
One radical writer today says that "oligopolies...milk the system." Always upset activist Amy Goodman demands her version of "democracy now" with no delay. She quotes C. Wright Mills to good effect in her crusade to dump the system that has so served Americans in yesteryear. (I do remember when Mills fulsomely praised my summaries of socialism and communism in my dissertation.) A column syndicated from the rational Kansas City Star mourns the demise of our “spirit” and the total irresponsibility of Congress. That I can agree with! The Occupiers continue to get good press in papers across the country. Overall, something "basic" is said to be wrong.
Sadly, this is indeed not one of the times when our system is working. There is growing inequality that must be addressed—and now. It cannot be saved for another day. Many reliable measurements display it. The tax system is skewed to serve the very rich. Our representatives in Washington are not taking seriously the threats to both our well-being and to the system itself. The malaise is serious. Anybody with even half a brain is very concerned—or ought to be. About what? Our economics and our politics—that's what! Our conduct in this era's foreign affairs, where the out of control impulse to “do good” or “bring change” has led us into a succession of military interventions we cannot afford, has been poorly researched beginning to end. Indeed, we have somewhere picked up on the concept that in the Middle East the U.S. can disregard deep-rooted local religions and historic tribalism and simply barge in to convert any local civilization to a defined idealistic Western democratic capitalism.
Now the piper wants to be paid. Iraq better not be the model. Yesterday's Soviet Union, now "capitalist" but unsafe, unequal, uncertain, and unloved is not the system we want to be spreading, right? Japan and Korea may be workable models, however, and there is no denying that they have done well in adapting many aspects of Americanism to their peoples' lives. I sincerely hope they will avoid what doesn't work here.
Our passion to spread democracy and with it some aspects of capitalism is admirable in theory. So far it is killing us in practice, at home and abroad.
Meanwhile, we mistakenly thought the highly-educated but ethics-ignorant leaders of our economy were sympathetic to the well-being of Americans on the farm, on Main Street, and those living on various pensions. Such faith was unwarranted. Our trust was misplaced. If they know, and care, it doesn't show.
So, should we dump the political and economic system that built America? As CBers once said, "Negatory, good buddy."
The American system is worth preserving, rebuilding, expanding in acceptance, and admiring for what it was and what it can be again. Forget any lashing out!
Capitalism is not the culprit. Nor is our form of government. Our economic system and our form of government (national and local alike) can do the job for us if a new generation works with rather than against us.
As a very senior citizen I cling to faith that my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will get to live in a democratic, representative, and welfare capitalist America.
That can happen if we all work to reform, preserve, and protect the most important aspects of the American system. The ball is in the court of all of us. Meanwhile, convinced radicals and discontents among us will have to stop persisting in throwing out the baby with the bath, so to speak.
I say with conviction that the systems that built the United States of America are the right ones. I agree they are sick. Even so, we will be better off if we hang on to what has worked in our better times up to now. Reform is in order. Intelligent parts of our public are crying out for new and reputable leadership. Who can blame them? Still, basically, our political and economic systems are sound.
This is not the time for contaminated prose pointing hopefully to possible revolution. Nor do we need demoralized generalizations that go nowhere. We definitely hope we don't need a "new order."
We can preserve and restore procedures that work. I know we can. But what a task! There is a sickness in the land. To treat it and not kill the patient will take skill from the educated and restrained patience from all who suffer. (Don't think my parents and I weren't once, from 1930-34, embedded among the poor.)
We will be counting on those in education to help. Leaders in commerce and finance must think constantly of others. Those entrusted with our government must honor their trust. Our younger generation, meanwhile, needs to resist zealots and direct action enthusiasts.
We must not "settle" or pretend there is no problem. Embedded in our minds must be the total survival of the American political and economic systems that are absolutely basic to this great and good, welfare capitalist, democratic republic.
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