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Jim Crawford: ‘The Last Hurrah’ for outdated values

In 1956, Edwin O’Connor wrote a best-selling political novel about the end of an era in American politics. “The Last Hurrah” takes notice that, in American politics, the change we often find so slow can suddenly accelerate and leap forward, with new ideas pushing the past aside in an urgent necessity for a better tomorrow.

Today may be “The Last Hurrah” for several practices within our political system that have outlived their value, underperformed their truth claims and disgraced their intentions. As Bob Dylan said in 1964, “The times, they are a changin’”

Dividing Americans by race was borne in 1617 on our Eastern shores. The practice survived a Civil War and the formal end of slavery, survived Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s soaring rhetoric and naked truths, and, until now, survived a 21st century effort to sustain its latent, yet pervasive, inequality.

In the 1960s, Richard Nixon saved the fading vestiges of nationalized, institutionalized racism by the “Southern Strategy” of galvanizing white southern voters to unite and vote white.
Ronald Reagan found new ways to renew and revitalize that strategy with his “states rights” speech at the Mississippi Neshoba County Fair, where he reached out to “George Wallace-inclined voters,” AKA white supremacists.

And so, the strategy has lasted through the Trump presidency, still thriving in 2016 to election victory on division and repetitive race-baiting messages.

But the times, they are a changin’ and it may now, finally, be the last hurrah, not only for the politics of race, but for several other metaphysical tributes to a past, framed in false narratives, dangerous messaging and outright lies.

Even Facebook may be called to order for its ignoring of all the above, as it has become a forum not for free speech, but for hate speech.

Six short years ago, we saw the sudden change that gave freedom to LGBTQ Americans to live their lives openly. This year, we finished defining that freedom by ending the employment discrimination that still haunted their opportunities. Change has become sudden.

Today, we are confronting the false narrative that “law and order,” framed in brutal cultures of policing, was good for America. What that narrative has given us is more imprisoned citizens in prison than any other nation on the planet, lives ruined by convictions for minor violations and a policing culture that reminds us every so often of its cruelty and brutality.

Today, for five weeks and continuing, Americans of all colors and backgrounds proudly march for an end to the inequality sanctioned by the politics of division and the policing of race. May this, too, be a time of sudden change.

We are challenged today, not only by the false narrative of race that has undermined the nation, but by a pandemic that has revealed other false claims about the nation.

While the death toll rises daily from the coronavirus, millions of Americans are being fired from their jobs, losing their health care benefits in the middle of a health crisis.

And, were that not enough of an attack on those of us who are essential to the economy, our federal government is seeking to end the Affordable Care Act and throw 23 million more Americans into risk and danger. We can no longer sustain the lie that America’s health care is acceptable as it exists against the reality of its failure.

Nor can we sustain that the very workers we define as “essential” are often working on wages that keep them in poverty. That narrative cannot stand, and wages must allow these brave Americans a living wage and access to good healthcare.

The times, they are a changin’.

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.