Take Back (Which) America?

[PLEASE BE ADVISED: This posting opens with an explicit photograph of racially motivated violence. Some readers may find it offensive or upsetting. Thank you.]

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Buried deep inside Tea Party conservatives’ gauzy reminiscences about those “simpler times” of greater American virtue, a smaller federal government and happier lives is a very dark reality indeed.

Segregated and unequal housing, transportation, schools, food service, retail, banking and entertainment. Violent and, sometimes, deadly racism. [The chilling photo of a lynching, above, was conveniently printed as a postcard to facilitate easier collecting and distribution by white townsfolk eager to share the moment with friends.] Restrictions to prevent the exercise of voting and other civil rights by non-whites. Prohibitions against inter-racial love and marriage.

Now, those policies of subjugation didn’t simply end of their own accord. They ended largely because people took to the streets, and did so in great numbers. And, for their efforts, they were beaten with clubs and hit with high-pressure fire hoses and attacked by dogs and arrested and sometimes killed. The federal government eventually became actively involved – sometimes through law enforcement agencies and the courts, other times at the business end of US Army bayonets.

These policies have ended, for the most part, but the struggle for equality continues, now almost 100 years since the lynching photograph (above) was taken.

And while we’re nostalgically thinking back, let’s not forget the unchecked abuse of our country’s children as laborers. Or the wholesale poisoning of our air and water and workplaces. Or the abandonment of our unemployed and destitute to prison-like workhouses. Or the purposeful impoverishment of millions of working people by the powerful and greedy. Or the isolation of wide swathes of our country by the lack of basic infrastructure, like electricity, sewerage and roads.

Laws, regulations and programs enacted and overseen by an active, substantial and progressive federal government addressed those conditions and were the only forces making life livable for many Americans.

That is the real history of America’s “simpler times.”

So, the very next time you hear someone rally their supporters with the tear-filled cry of “Take Back America,” think carefully about who they think they are and exactly what version of America they want to take us back to.

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