Progress pausedby Bonnie Greer / May 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
On the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency, an arc of American history came to an end. Or it appeared to. But his era was not—counter to much commentary—swept away by some unique and profound tide of populism, even though the angry and disenchanted have always formed an undercurrent in American politics. The new ascendancy of the right is attention-grabbing, and both Democrats and Republicans are struggling to come to terms with America’s new political atmosphere.
But this new Republican administration represents only a temporary triumph over the deeply-rooted liberal consensus which has shaped US civil society more profoundly than any other political tendency in American life. It is but one touchdown in a long-running game of political football played since the defeat of Senator Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican presidential hopeful in 1964.
The Obama era actually began 154 years ago with Lincoln’s executive order of 1st January 1863—the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a war measure whose aim was simple: to break the southern insurgency. Lincoln changed the legal status of more than three million enslaved people, the backbone of the region’s economy. And he did this at federal level. This was the societal equivalent of an atom bomb: it destroyed the entire base of the south’s economy while creating another class of people: free blacks. The Union army was deployed as its enforcer.
“All men are created equal” has, over the century and a half since, slowly but remorselessly become the business of Washington. Five great federal revolutions put Obama into the Oval Office, all with the aim of “fixing” America: raising up those with the least, and constraining those who had the most.
First was the New Deal in 1933. Franklin D Roosevelt enacted 15 major laws in his first 100 days to increase employment and provide support for the poor. Much of the New Deal reached into the south, disrupting its pattern of resistance to federal authority, which too often expressed itself in white supremacy. Second was Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal” in 1948, proposing universal health care, an initiative Lyndon Johnson gave credit to when devising his own plan, Medicaid. Truman also signed the executive order which led to the desegregation of the armed services. Third was the unanimous 1954 Supreme Court ruling that segregation in publicly-funded schools was unconstitutional in Brown…