Thursday, November 17, 2016

Make America Great "Again?" To the Poor, the Land That Never Has Been Yet

Let America Be America Again

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!   
Excerpt from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
"Let America Be America Again" is a poem written in 1935 by American poet Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) . Hughes was not only a poet but also a social activist, a novelist, a playwright, and a columnist. 

The poem was originally published in the July 1936 issue of Esquire Magazine. It speaks of the American dream that never existed for the lower-class American and the freedom and equality that every immigrant hoped for but never achieved. In his poem, Hughes represents not only African Americans, but other economically disadvantaged and minority groups. The poem also conveys a sense of hope that the American Dream is soon to come – considering the date of publication, this hopeful attitude seems ironic.

Like many African Americans, Hughes had complex ancestry (Ethnicity – African American, White American, Native American). Both of Hughes' paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved African Americans and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were white slave owners in Kentucky. Hughes' father, James, left his family and later divorced his wife Carrie. James eventually traveled to Cuba and then to Mexico, seeking to escape the enduring racism in the United States.

After his parents separated, his mother traveled seeking employment, and young Langston Hughes was raised mainly in Lawrence, Kansas by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston. Through the black American oral tradition and drawing from the activist experiences of her generation, Mary Langston instilled in her grandson a lasting sense of racial pride.

(Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. 2003. And The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. 2002)

During the 2016 campaign, President-elect Donald Trump used “Make America Great Again” as his campaign slogan. Hughes poem came to mind in response to Trump's popular catchphrase. Greatness is surely relevant to those in the country. But this begs a question.

Was America ever great for many of its people – the long-suffering minorities and underprivileged poor? I believe the answer is “no.” The disadvantaged have long been denied any redemption of their American dream. It is 2016, and Trump's use of “again” effectively overlooks those who have no conception of a past that fitly recognized them. In 2014, 14.8 percent of all persons in the United States still live in poverty according to the National Poverty Center. Will it worsen?

I do not believe a billionaire without any remote experience of hardship and struggle truly intends to fulfill a commitment to these people. Although many of them have believed his promise to raise the lower class, I question Trump's understanding of their needs and his true desire to help them. I cannot see how his platform is designed to increase the standard of living for these Americans.


Consider what Donald Trump said while sitting in his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach during an interview with reporter Maureen Dowd ...

''My entire life, I've watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn't the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They're morons. There's a perception that voters like poverty. I don't like poverty. Usually, there's a reason for poverty. Do you want someone who gets to be president and that's literally the highest paying job he's ever had?

''You don't need money to get beautiful women. All my life, I've had friends who were successful and can't get a date, let alone a date with a beautiful woman. I have watched men worth hundreds of millions who have all the trappings -- a G-5 [Gulfstream jet], the Fifth Avenue apartment, the Palm Beach estate, and they cannot get a date. They're sitting at home watching television. They're brilliant all day long and at night, they don't have a clue.

''These people who eat people alive for a living, come 7 o'clock, they see a girl who's a solid 5 -- not supermodels, 10's -- and they look at her in awe, but they develop lockjaw.

''I fixed up a very well-known powerful, rich man with a very nice and very beautiful woman he'd been trying to meet for a year and a half. She called me the following day and said, 'Don't ever do that to me again,' and an hour later he called me and said, 'It was unbelievable. Could you call her and arrange a second date?'

''Ultimately, a woman can't make love to a G-5.

''People believe there's more glamor to being a very wealthy person, but there really is a lot of work. Once, a very rich guy calls me up and asks if I can get him reservations that night for Le Cirque. He can't get in. So I got him in, and he calls the next day and says: 'You got me the best table. But how do you deal with all that publicity?' Look, what's the point of being successful if nobody knows who you are?”

(Maureen Dowd. “Liberties; Trump Shrugged.” The New York Times. November 28, 1999.)

“Morons”? “G-5 jet”? “10 women”? Does this sound like a man who has any conception of the downtrodden?

Oh, of course, Trump's tax plan promises to put more money in the hands of poor Americans. Under his plan, single people making less than $25,000 a year and married couples earning less than $50,000 would pay zero income tax. He says, "Those who would otherwise owe income taxes will save an average of nearly $1,000 each."

But ...

The conservative Tax Foundation estimated that Trump's plan would reduce tax revenues by $11.98 trillion over the next decade. And, it would increase the national debt by over $10 trillion over the next decade.

And, Trump is calling for a balanced budget? Mathematically that means that the GOP will be on the lookout for $6 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. And Trump has essentially declared more than half the budget off-limits for cuts, since he wants to grow the military and preserve Social Security and Medicare.

The test of a new GOP commitment to poverty will be whether it can cut taxes and balance the budget without deep cuts in some of the resources available for basic assistance for the poor,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

(Rebecca Kaplan. “Donald Trump's tax plan would help the poorest Americans.” CBS News September 30, 2015.)

In the last eight years, President Barack Obama oversaw the largest growth in federal spending to reduce inequality since the Great Society of the 1960s.

His crusade had three pillars: (1) the Affordable Care Act, (2) tax benefits in the 2009 stimulus extended throughout the last seven years that raised the overall income of millions of poor Americans, and (3) measures going beyond the tax code to increase anti-poverty spending – food stamps, long-term unemployment benefits, and support for a higher minimum wage.

Together, these measures helped to reduce after-tax inequality more than any administration on record, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

It is unfathomable, but evidently many poor people voted for the removal of poverty spending. They actually believed unemployment had increased under President Obama, when, in reality, the labor market was in its longest continuous expansion ever, and the last 12 months have been the best period for wage growth this century.

Derek Thompson, senior editor of The Atlantic, said about Trump: “Quite simply, his administration would make it much harder to be poor in America.”

Thompson said repealing Obamacare would “almost certainly send the uninsured rate back up to Bush-era levels.” In the last six years, the number of uninsured families living around the poverty line fell by almost 50 percent. Thompson said that those gains would be reversed, and “more than 20 million people, many of them just above the poverty line, could suddenly lose access to health care.”

And, Thompson realistically addresses the result of the Trump tax plan ...

“With protective collars around defense and spending on the elderly, the rest of government spending would have to be bulldozed. This remainder is dominated by assistance for the young and poor. Medicaid would shrink, as might the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Food stamps would be cut. Federal unemployment insurance spending would fall, as would housing and energy assistance for the poor. The Department of Education would have to be gutted, taking federal student loans with it.”

(Derek Thompson. “Things Are About to Get Much Worse for Poor Americans.” The Atlantic. November 09, 2016.)

Mr. Hughes, once more the American dream for the underprivileged seems destined to be deferred. Although America has gone through great reforms and social advances since you wrote your poem in 1935, much of the “rack of ruin” for the poor remains.

Sadly, it seems a mega-rich shyster has somehow convinced enough of the less-advantaged that he is a savior, yet, as president, he intends to provide the highest-income taxpayers with the biggest cuts, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income (according to the Tax Policy Center). And, the richest 0.1 percent of the country is likely, on average, to save more than $1 million.

And, all the while, the poor get poorer as this carnival barker brags about taking a $916 million loss and not paying his taxes for many years. He continues to extoll the virtues of “making America great again.” Yet, for the poor, he is just promising to weaken further a country where the land of the free “never has been yet.” God help America to “be.” The dream is still a dream.


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