I’ve been reading a fair amount of historical nonfiction lately, and one thing that’s struck me is how the U.S. tends to go through fairly regular cycles of progressive vs. conservative thinking. Here, from “Asleep,” is some interesting data from the 1920s and thereafter.
“Most historians now consider the 1920s an extension of the Progressive Era. The movement began with the antitrust laws that promised to rein in some of the business megamonopolies, but it soon grew into the progress laws and ideals that aimed for a more modern, safer and healthier lifestyle. Legislation like mandatory milk and meat inspections, restrictions on tenement housing, improved working conditions, and child labor laws passed. The movement then morphed into legislation concerning civil responsibility, granting Native Americans citizenship, and allowing women to vote….”
At the same time Warren G. Harding, widely considered the most corrupt president, died in office. The Teapot Dome Scandal and many others bloomed in the aftermath of his death.
Again, from Crosby’s “Asleep,” comes the pointed corollaries of all this progress. Immigration became a hot-button issue. The Ku Klux Klan spread like a cancer through the country. Bills were proposed to overturn American’s open-door policy and stop immigration. A conservative backlash called for the country to return to its “original” religious and ethnic mix. Particularly hated and discriminated against were Italians, Irish, Germans, Puerto Ricans and the migration of American blacks toward Northern cities.
This all ended, of course, with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. “Most historians agree it was a complicated combination of factors like consumerism, market speculations, easy credit and business monopolies.”
Sound at all familiar?
By pure chance, the next book I read was set during the era of the Civil Rights movement, when so many of these factors rose up again. And now, we see them again, and again.
* The destructiveness of consumerism and uncontrolled big business.
* Rampant fear of “the other,” whether immigrants or people with different lifestyle choices, or even the old familiar ‘BlackMexicanAsianArab.’
* The spread of hate groups. The Klan may be underground, but its brethren are fully with us. Westboro Church, anyone?
* Wars to keep us (we the people) distracted from real problems.
* Angry youth.
* Destructive drug use.
It all goes around and comes around, and probably has been since earliest pre-history. Does that mean we give up, knowing that the cycle appears to be never-ending?
No. We live and seek joy and try to love even our least loveable neighbors. We lend a hand whenever we can, turn our backs on selfishness, fear and hatred.
Because no matter what happens before or after, all each of us us guaranteed is this one existence. What a shame to waste it on fear and hatred and sadness. Somewhere the sun is shining. Delight in the day.
P.S. My daughter says I’m too optimistic. My husband probably agrees. But still… smile, laugh, see the beauty rather than the ugliness.