Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Class and Race: Driving American Politics Since Revolutionary Times

Disagreements over income inequality are always present in democracies, but at times the topic submerges. Today, the topic has reemerged and is driving the next presidential election.

Sean Wilentz:  I think a lot of people think the party is no longer serving their interests or their desires. It happens. It's happened before in American history plenty of times. Parties are always coalitions anyway so there's always somebody who's feeling as if they're not getting, you know, not being served well by the party, but it's gotten to be a real cleavage these days. One of the big reasons, this is 2008, which was a big, big year looking back on it. I mean not only the financial crash but Obama's election. Obama's election really signaled the end of the culture war that had been gotten Republican politics for a very long time and it was going to go over over, continued but really we were going to actions but that was it. And then the crash, in American history the question of inequality has been a perennial. We think of it now as something that has suddenly come up, but it's been a perennial; it's always there the idea that somehow vast inequalities of the wealth in particular are dangerous for democracy. That's nothing new. But the idea can submerge for a very long time and it did some submerge for a very long time and 2008 brought it right back up again with a ferocity that we're seeing on the campaign trail today.

The very beginning of American history, American politics, the question of slavery and race was there from the very beginning and it was actually being agitated with the margins at first, it later become more mainstream. So that's always an aspect of American politics. The question of slavery and it's legacy in American political history. The economics, I mean from the very beginning Washington's administration arguments about how the country should - questions about where the country should be headed? What kind of country we were supposed to be. There was some who thought that by bringing in a moneyed class, by building a moneyed class to consolidate the economy as to how. There were others who thought that power and economics really ought to be decentralized more than just the Jeffersonian view; more spread around. That's putting it very crudely but that's kind of what it was.

It was an issue from the very start and you could see that issue playing itself out. We've seen in American history there have been divergences and convergences. The period in American history, for example, after World War II, historians and economist call it The Great Compression, The Great Convergence where vast inequalities left over from the 1910s, 1920s actually began to narrow. And that continued right until the 1970s. So American politics, and it's about politics primarily, has had the and the ways to flatten those differences, to make them less garish to make them less severe than they’ve normally been.

Since the 1970s there's been a pressure towards divergence. It really began to take off during the 1980s and Reagan's policies made a big, big difference in terms of not only tax policy but in terms of the regulation as well. We're seeing the fruits of all that, the bitter fruits of all that in the 2000s, and of the deregulation and the financial collapse in 2008 only made it worse. So political decisions that the country made and the policies that followed after that have enormous consequences.

In George Washington’s "Farewell Address," he warned against political parties, saying they were toxic to a people’s government, and could well ruin the carefully plotted new American government. We didn’t listen.


Now, we may be facing the end of the Republican Party. According to historian Sean Wilentz, people don’t think of the Republican Party as a party that serves the people anymore. Currently led by Donald Trump, the GOP seems to have lost touch with the large classes of people who once vote for it. It all started in 2008, says Wilentz, Obama’s election year and the year of the financial crash.

Throughout history, America dealt with conflicts over class and race: there was the Great Depression, and the more recent recession. Wilentz mentions the Great Compression and Great Convergence, times when wealth inequality was extremely high and relatively low. Currently in the wake of Black Lives Matter, the death of Freddie Gray, and the shooting in Orlando, race has once again become a landmark on our political landscape.

The question of inequality comes up every year, especially one that’s an election year. But policy carries us back to President Reagan’s tax plans, including the flat tax rate. These changes have had big consequences, and as Wilentz points out, these consequences are still affecting our view of the government. While America as a country has tried lessen class difference, many feel that today's political parties do not earnestly prioritize returning the country a more egalitarian time.

LIVE EVENT | Radical innovation: Unlocking the future of human invention

Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Self-driving cars to race for $1.5 million at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ​

So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.

Indy Autonomous Challenge
Technology & Innovation
  • The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
  • The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
  • The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Keep reading Show less

The dangers of the chemical imbalance theory of depression

A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.

Image: solarseven / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
  • Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
  • Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Keep reading Show less

NASA's idea for making food from thin air just became a reality — it could feed billions

Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.

Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
  • Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
  • The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Keep reading Show less

Navy SEALs: How to build a warrior mindset

SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.

Videos
  • The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
  • Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
  • Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast