Thursday, February 23, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 20

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

Chapter 20 is about the 1970s. Zinn wastes no time, starting the chapter thusly: "In the early seventies, the system seemed out of control—it could not hold the loyalty of the public. As early as 1970, according to the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, "trust in government" was low in every section of the population. And there was a significant difference by class. Of professional people, 40 percent had "low" political trust in the government; of unskilled blue-collar workers, 66 percent had "low" trust." Around this time U.S. citizens were less likely to support U.S. intervention in other countries, even if the goal was to provide humanitarian aid. I can imagine that citizens were disillusioned about what "aid" was code for. In addition, more citizens than ever identified as Independents instead of allying with one major political party or the other.

"The courts, the juries, and even judges were not behaving as usual. Juries were acquitting radicals: Angela Davis, an acknowledged Communist, was acquitted by an all-white jury on the West Coast. Black Panthers, whom the government had tried in every way to malign and destroy, were freed by juries in several trials. A judge in western Massachusetts threw out a case against a young activist, Sam Lovejoy, who had toppled a 500-foot tower erected by a utility company trying to set up a nuclear plant. In Washington, D.C., in August 1973, a Superior Court judge refused to sentence six men charged with unlawful entry who had stepped from a White House tour line to protest the bombing of Cambodia."

Zinn provides a succinct and cogent summary of the Watergate scandal. Bombing Cambodia was awful, but the campaign finance bribes and trying to destroy the Democrats seem like child's play now. When Nixon left office, everybody hoped the issues would go away.

"No respectable American newspaper said what was said by Claude Julien, editor of the Monde Diplomatique in September 1974. "The elimination of Mr. Richard Nixon leaves intact all the mechanisms and all the false values which permitted the Watergate scandal." Julien noted that Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, would remain at his post- in other words, that Nixon's foreign policy would continue. "That is to say," Julien wrote, "that Washington will continue to support General Pinochet in Chile, General Geisel in Brazil, General Stroessner in Paraguay, etc. . . ."" And how.

"In the charges brought by the House Committee on Impeachment against Nixon, it seemed clear that the committee did not want to emphasize those elements in his behavior which were found in other Presidents and which might be repeated in the future. It stayed clear of Nixon's dealings with powerful corporations; it did not mention the bombing of Cambodia. It concentrated on things peculiar to Nixon, not on fundamental policies continuous among American Presidents, at home and abroad." Basically, as Zinn writes, "The word was out: get rid of Nixon, but keep the system."

I don't think Zinn is being hyperbolic when, after a few paragraphs of explication about the way things happened in the Ford years, he writes: "What seemed to be happening was that the Establishment—Republicans, Democrats, newspapers, television—was closing ranks behind Ford and Kissinger, and behind the idea that American authority must be asserted everywhere in the world."

While public opinion of the Establishment - the government and the military - continued to be low, unemployment and poverty were up. Which caused which is an interesting question; what's more interesting to me is how that era reminds me more of the political climate today than did the climate of the Great Depression (although there are similarities - coming off of an unpopular war, huge income disparity (and probably the fact that the rich get richer during war because of government contracts and 'investment' and the poor working as grunts and 'sacrificing' while the fat cats profit)).

Former investment banker and Secretary of the Treasury under Nixon and Ford William Simon said  of the times that Americans "have been taught to distrust the very word profit and the profit motive that makes our prosperity possible, to somehow feel this system, that has done more to alleviate human suffering and privation than any other, is somehow cynical, selfish, and amoral" We must, Simon said, "get across the human side of capitalism." Mr. Simon, I dare you to show me that human side of capitalism. Sure, I enjoy my iPod today, but what about the suicidal people in sweatshops who made it for me, using materials raped from the earth, from land usurped from native peoples by massive corporations in the West, corporations defended by the military, the military paid for by U.S. citizens.

Zinn further shares some really interesting analysis by Samuel Huntington, a Harvard professor and advisor to the White House on Vietnam. Huntington talks about how people in the 1960s stopped recognizing the authority of the president and other traditional seats of power. Presidents who saw and valued this, like Truman and Kennedy [and Obama], pulled existing people in power, like bankers, lawyers, and Wall Street men and hired them as advisors and even Cabinet members. "Huntington saw the possible end of that quarter century when "the United States was the hegemonic power in a system of world order." His conclusion was that there had developed "an excess of democracy," and he suggested "desirable limits to the extension of political democracy.""

It seemed that many folks in the United States continued to see through this oligarchy. Zinn ends his (bitter, depressing, angrifying) chapter: "When the 200th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party was celebrated in Boston, an enormous crowd turned out, not for the official celebration, but for the "People's Bi-Centennial" counter celebration, where packages marked "Gulf Oil" and "Exxon" were dumped into the Boston Harbor, to symbolize opposition to corporate power in America."

No comments: