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Behind inauguration headlines, a clash of classes

When we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress.
(Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, p. 16)

Post inauguration, when visions of justice and peace seem most dim, it is encouraging to turn to the writings of Howard Zinn. But it is also bracing, like an in-your-face bucket of ice.

Consider these words: “Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie… the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that—not to know that the history of our country is one of slave-owner versus slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against workers, rich against poor—is to render us helpless before determined liars (p. 639).”

These words of a decade ago seem striking today as a one-percent billionaire class ascends to the presidency and cabinet, while Republicans hold a majority in both houses.

Together, their views of trickle-down economics and deregulation transfer even more wealth to the most wealthy. Is this “class warfare”? A war is a war, regardless. (Was Viet Nam any less a war because it was called a “conflict”?)

Class warfare in our nation has been going on for so long, and is so normalized, that many have come to accept the corporate welfare of tax breaks and incentives as “necessary,” while disparaging individual welfare as “feeding at the public trough.”

When the profit motive is the primary driver of our economics, and satisfying stockholders its objective, does anyone honestly believe that it operates for the benefit of the common person? If indeed the yachts of unfettered capitalism throttle up to full speed in the days ahead, powered by the engine of profitability, woe be to the lowly rowboats caught in their wake!

Yet somehow a near-majority of the US population came to believe that “Make America Great Again” was a slogan meant for them. Truth be told, the Constitution so revered by “strict Constitutionalists” was actually written for the benefit, not of the masses, but of white property owners who feared the masses. Nor did Thomas Jefferson’s noble Declaration of Independence apply to the slaves who serviced his Monticello estate. Where would we be without the Bill of Rights?

Helpless before determined liars

In the months ahead, let us not be rendered “helpless before determined liars.” A wise maxim of recent years suggests, “Follow the money.” Who will benefit most from legislation passed by the new administration? Thus far it appears that proposed tax reform, deregulation, and other measures will disproportionately advantage the super-rich, as the “less fortunate” face diminished services, resistance to a living wage, and health care uncertainties.

We need another Great Awakening! Only a revitalized and engaged civil society can stand against this growing trend toward plutocracy, which in coming days may be heightened by attempts to further restrict civil liberties as a self-proclaimed “law and order” president assumes power.

Against that bleak backdrop, the hopeful words of Howard Zinn shine in stark contrast. Noting that the last hundred years have seen many reversals no one predicted (such as the collapse of the Soviet Union), he writes:

“It’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than guns and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience…. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just (p. 269).”

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As a billionaire class ascends to the presidency and cabinet (in January 2017), Jim Hannah reflects on class warfare in the United States. Hannah turns to Howard Zinn for hope: "When we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress."
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