|The author of the following book submitted a book summary which sounded like an interesting generational take (see below) and I thought I would pass it on in case any TimeLog readers might be interested.
"The Second Gilded Age: The Great Reaction in the United States, 1973-2001 " (University Press of America ) by Michael C. McHugh
Submitter: Michael C. McHugh
When I was young, I was very conservative, a big supporter of the Moral Majority and a Cold Warrior who voted for Ronald Reagan.It wasn't any one thing in particular that changed my mind and caused me to move left. I read Howard Zinn's book, PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, which really opened my eyes and told me things about this society that I'd never heard before. Then there was a two-month visit in Mexico City, where I saw the vast slums and extreme poverty that I had never imagined existed, and heard about how the International Monetary Fund was imposing 'austerity measures' on the country.
At that time, I also began to have great misgivings about US foreign policy in Central America, backing these brutalitarian regimes in places like El Salvador. I heard from guys in the Special Forces just what kind of war the US was fighting down there, with torture and execution of prisoners. It was then I began to seriously study the whole American Empire from a new point of view, and undertand that this Central American War was just like Vietnam and many other places over the years.More or less, I decided to drop out of the whole system. I lived on a commune in Missouri for a year and a half, then I worked for the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center for a year before moving to Des Moines to direct the Catholic Peace Ministry.
It was in Des Moines that I got the idea for my book, THE SECOND GILDED AGE. During the stike against Bridgestone-Firestone in 1995, all the union members were fired and 'permanently replaced'. Of course, I'd heard about this type of thing for years, but now I had a chance to see it firsthand. No one on the state or federal level would lift a finger to help these people who had basically been fired for going on strike.It was then I realized that 1995 was really a lot like 1895 and that the Gilded Age was repeating itself. I had long known about the conservative-reform cycles in US history, thanks to Pete Forcey at the State University of New York, but I realized that the Gilded Ages were about double the length of 'normal' conservative eras like 1919-32, for example or 1946-62. I also thing the backlash against the previous reforms was more severe than in other conservative cycles. In these periods, the state is openly allied with the very wealthy and big business interests, which was obvious with presidents like Reagan, but also with Clinton and his support of NAFTA and the WTO, indifference to working class problems and so on.I left the US in 1995 and did not return for 11 years, but I spent that time writing THE SECOND GILDED AGE. I was angered but not surprised by the corrupt election of 2000, which was really a 'selection' by five conservative justices of the Supreme Court. I was shocked by 9-11, to be sure, but I also understood that the US had done a great deal to create this whole monster when it spent billions arming the holy warriors in Afghanistan. They were indeed very anti-communist, but then it turned out that they hated the West as well.I regard the war in Iraq as just another episode in the long history of the US trying to maintain control of the oil resources in the Middle East--installing 'friendly' governments there that will follow its instructions. As with Vietnam, though, it's not working out as well as they planned. It all part of a very familiar pattern in the Third World, depressingly familiar, but the rulers of America are trying to impose the same system everywhere and have been since World War II.They don't always succeed, however.
In this book, you can read about the American aristocracy and how it controls the "democratic" political system with big money, and manipulates and diverts the masses with flag waving, Bible thumping, racism and general fear and paranoia.
Imagine an oligarchy that controls just about all the wealth and power in the American Empire, especially so in periods like the Gilded Ages? How does it maintain its position all out of proportion to its numbers?
Naturally, it uses old-fashioned methods like the military, police, prisons, and the death penalty. Indeed, it spends vast amounts of money on these coercive methods. In the 1945-73 period, a common assumption was that these would fall by the wayside in favor of more postmodern, postindustrial methods of social control, such as the social welfare state, drugs, and the whole therapeutic culture. This did not happen, and in fact, the welfare state was actually weakened during the Second Gilded Age, although not abolished totally.
In addition, this system also uses propaganda and near-monopoly control of information, particularly through television and the mass media. It feeds people a steady diet of consumerism, family values, nationalism, and fear. t also uses religion, as most regimes have throughout history, although fundamentalists have been very effective at adopting their message to the mass media, too and politicians use them all the time.
Then there is the massive power it exerts through economic controls--more or less the power over people's food, clothing and shelter. There is very little challenge to this elite control over the workplace and working life in general. From the New Deal up to the 1970s, labor unions and their allies in the state apparatus somewhat mitigated this elite control over economic activity, but that is no longer the case today. People who have a family and requite two incomes to maintain an adequate level of consumption are particularly trapped by the system in this way.
Naturally, the ruling elite also use money to straight out buy and bribe politicians; it happens every day. These days, it can cost a billion dollars or more to buy an election cycle, plus all that money for lawyers and lobbyists. They buy men like Reagan and Bush, who mouth cliches about God, country, freedom and apple pie,etc. to manipulate the voters. There are many issues that they use to divert attention away from social class and the fact that a narrow elite owns nearly everything in this society, such as hostility to minorities, abortion, homosexuality, crime, law and order and so on.
All in all, it is a highly effective system of control, and has kept wealth and income more unequally divided than in any other Western country. It also maintains rule over most of the power nations in the world, although there have been some failures, such as Vietnam or Iraq. Its the same system all over the world, but more brutal in places like Africa, South America, eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
In 2005, columnist Ted Rall asked the question: Why do the poor and the middle class, who get screwed by Republican policies, vote for them anyway? One important answer was that, they were willing to take an economic hit for their heartfelt beliefs on cultural, religious and national security issues, although another would be that they had little choice or suffer from what Karl Marx called false consciousness . For whatever reason, America had no class parties, and in 2000, 46% of people making $100,000 or more voted for Al Gore, while millions blue-collar whites voted Republican. One of the most important questions this book will try to answer in the following chapters is why, millions of Democrats and Republicans alike routinely cast votes that work against their narrowly defined economic self-interest. But are either motivated by non-economic issues or do not vote at all.