By Richard Bailey
The American Dream has always been up against rival systems based on dependence and exploitation. Generations who came to California from China, India and the rest of the world understand the American Dream. It works.
Abraham Lincoln gets credit for being the first middle class president. His understanding of America was the transition from working for somebody else to eventually owning an enterprise and employing others.
Lincoln’s administration aimed at creating conditions favoring the rise from poverty to middle class living in a lifetime. Lincoln’s Republican Party passed activist anti-slavery legislation that included establishing land grant colleges, the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act. Lincoln, like Trump, aimed at creating the conditions that would allow the American Dream to become a reality. He changed the world. Lincoln’s model became the aiming point for any country. His contemporary, Karl Marx, had a different model. He imagined class warfare. Marx’s ideas were played out in socialist countries during the twentieth century, as were Lincoln’s. Lincoln’s won.
The Jim Crow South tried to recreate conditions for continuing slavery under a series of polite fictions. John C. Calhoun argued that slavery was a “positive good” for its victims. Reframing slavery as something else is a reflex for those with an interest in cheap labor. Today, the same thing has happened. China calls its forced workers “interns.” American employers in construction, meat packing and agriculture, use the term “migrants.” These try to disguise what has been called the “new slavery.”
The views of three 19th century contemporaries, Karl Marx, John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln, are still fighting it out. Marx offered class war. Calhoun offered the Yale vision of contented slaves. Lincoln offered the American Dream. Each requires active support to flourish.
After a several generations of open borders exploitation, crippling dependence and centralized control, the conditions that support the American Dream are making a comeback. Strong individuals are the product of strong families, religious institutions and communities. These aren’t created by accident.
When something so out in the open is ignored, the usual fables come to mind. Someone needs to point out that the Emperor has no clothes. Someone may tell the blind investigators they are looking at an elephant. Fish may be told that they live in water.
Californians see exploited non-citizens working in the fields, on construction sites, in hotels and in restaurants. They mingle socially and worship with smart and hard-working people who can’t look forward to getting paid what they’re worth and live in fear. At some level, all Californians must be affected by this cultural truth.
Thomas Jefferson knew. He wrote that slavery corrupts both masters and slaves alike. Germans in the twentieth century looked away from horrors and still pay the price. Californians today look away from their own cultural abomination.
Abraham Lincoln’s House Divided speech detailed the problems caused by a society that is half slave and half free. He said it must become all one or all the other. California Democrats are again pushing to export slavery from a state they control to the rest of the country. As in 1860, the issue is likely to be decided only after those who oppose it take a stand.
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