This post at Consortium News is a stunning summation of what life was REALLY like in the America of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the rich and powerful owned our nation's government from top to bottom. Some highlights:
Politicians often evoke warm and fuzzy feelings for “the good old days,” but this nostalgia is usually for a past that never was. Some pols make up the history while others “misremember” it.
...in this election year, pro-corporate politicians felt free to offer their cuddly fictions of a time – a century ago – that, in reality, produced happiness for only a few. Still, many American voters seem to have been sold.
But when the rosy tales of a Rand Paul persuade voters that this was the best of times, we are in trouble.
People need to look back clearly at this past to understand where these politicians want to take the nation now. The free enterprise system that arrived at the dawn of the 20th Century brought with it a grim and gloomy inequality.
One per cent of the population owned as much as the other 99 percent. A small elite, sitting on the boards of dozens of companies, controlled 40 percent of U.S. industry and their monopolies and trusts dominated economic life.
The media surrendered early. In 1900, the New York Times proclaimed “Millionaires will be commonplace and the country will be better for them, better for their wealth, better for the good they will do in giving employment to labor in the industries which produce their fortunes.”
“We accept and welcome great inequality of wealth and environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial in the hands of the few, as not only being beneficial, but essential for the human race,” Andrew Carnegie declared.
In Chicago, retail store magnate Marshall Field made $600 an hour and paid his clerks $3 to $5 a week, after they had put in three years of satisfactory service.
Chauncey Depew’s steel mill laborers worked from six in the morning to six in the evening, seven days a week, in 115-degree heat for $1.25 a day.
Tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt boasted he could “buy up any politician” and claimed reformers “the most purchasable.”
“We hire the law by the year,” claimed a railroad magnate.
The 14th Amendment, designed to protect the citizenship rights of former slaves, was altered by the Supreme Court to mainly protect corporations as “persons.” This was just the high court’s first twist of the 14th Amendment to serve the powerful.
Similarly, laws intended to limit the powers of business were turned to the advantage of the wealthy. The Sherman Act of 1890, passed to curb monopolies, instead was used to stop strikes and jail union leaders.
Government officials dutifully identified corporations with the public good. When choking industrial smog blanked Chicago, a leading politician said smoke was beneficial to children’s lungs.
Governments saw no need to protect workers from unsafe working conditions despite shocking numbers of deaths and injuries every year.
President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill to hand seed grain to Texas farmers stricken by a drought, saying “it weakens the sturdiness of our national character.” Instead, he gave rich bondholders $45 million more than the value of their bonds.
Republican and Democratic presidents used the Army to crush nationwide strikes.
Government concern for the upper class and neglect for everyone else had these consequences: widespread poverty, child labor, and homeless families. Homeless children (100,000 in New York alone) scrounged for food, searched for shelter, and begged.
Employers at mills and mines preferred to hire children since at 50 cents a week, they were the cheapest. Ministers and other influential opinion leaders stepped forth to proclaim that work kept children out of trouble.
“The most beautiful sight that we see is the child at labor; as early as he may be at labor the more beautiful, and the most useful does his life get to be,” said Asa G. Candlers, founder of Coca Cola.
Working children suffered an accident rate in factories double the adult rate and saw their plight less favorably than did the silver-tongued apologists for industry.
The painful truth is that the start of the 20th Century was not a golden age, except for those with the gold. It was a dark and desperate time for much of the American population.
This is the "glorious past" that the right-wing Republicans want to return America to. The nostalgia for a "simpler time" is based on historical illiteracy and ignorance. With the acceleration of the wealth concentration in America and the constant lies flooding from the right-wing media, America is again being pushed into the darkness. PLEASE HELP US STOP THEM!