January 23, 2021

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Opinion | How Biden can quash the resentments that cleave us

3 min read

A man popped into the live TV feed from inside the building who claimed:

“The government did this to us.”

What did the government do? He never got that far before disappearing. He should be found and jailed. Then, we should earnestly ask ourselves what he was talking about, because that guy shares a perspective with tens of millions who think they somehow got cheated.

Well, they have been cheated over the past half-century, while fed a steady diet of baloney about welfare queens and immigrant marauders, in part to keep the working class fighting among each other.

The average blue-collar manufacturing wage around here is about $18 per hour, barely enough to get by. Those union jobs in the industrial heartland that once paid double that are long lost, south of the border or to China. Ottumwa, Iowa, once a manufacturing hub, is half its size from 50 years ago. Capital flows to the coasts. We get left with hog confinements and the manure that goes with them.

It breeds a resentment that fosters racism and rage. Jobs in meatpacking pay half what they did when I was in high school in 1975. Immigrants moved in, and the Anglos either bailed out for the big city or stayed behind, nursing a grudge. Some of them get mad enough to grab a gun.

Desperation makes you crazy. That’s the root of it. That, and White people afraid of losing their many privileges. It took a madman like President Trump setting the spark amid a pandemic of disease and frustration. The system in place for the past couple of centuries has again overplayed its hand, pitting ignorant White people against poor Black, brown and Native people.

President-elect Joe Biden has an opportunity to grab us by the shoulders and challenge us to look at ourselves. Georgia voters delivered control of the Senate to Biden’s party, but he will need to speak to the disaffected who have been led to believe they are disenfranchised — when, as always, it is the poor person of color whose franchise is at stake.

Biden campaigned on unifying the nation through shared prosperity and security for everyone — rural and urban, Black and White, men and women. At the same time, our very existence is in peril from global heating. Biden’s goal of transforming the economy to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is the principal cure. He proposes a massive infrastructure program starting immediately to build out a wind and solar smart grid that will jolt economies from Appalachia to the Great Plains into a prosperity never before witnessed.

Their plan: Farmers now growing corn for ethanol will be able to earn far more by growing grass to make hydrogen. High-paying jobs in renewable energy will quadruple from Iowa to Ohio to Georgia. Texas will morph into the carbon-holding and hydrogen-converting capital of the world. West Virginia’s coal jobs will be replaced by people making jet fuel from hemp or switchgrass. All without giving up an acre currently devoted to food production. We can feed and power the world sustainably.

The Southeast can be reforested. Coal and fracking jobs in Pennsylvania and Ohio will be replaced and expanded by solar and wind. Underground storage and pipelines to transport carbon dioxide and hydrogen will be built from the Industrial Midwest to the Gulf Coast.

This would put the places forgotten by time back in the center of the action. Corporations know what is coming and are lining up. Cargill, Xcel Energy, General Mills, and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission are ready to profit from the Great Transition.

Somebody making $75,000 in Arkansas producing biofuel is far less likely to waste time protesting phony election fraud.

It’s high time we brought everyone along. That means civil rights. For Blacks, Native Americans and immigrants of all faiths. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. knew, there is no justice without economic justice.

It’s the only path forward, for the American experiment and the planet. Bring Ottumwa, Iowa, and Flint, Mich., long ignored and deplored, into the great American economic juggernaut.

That’s how we quash the resentments that cleave us.

By Art Cullen

2021-01-09 08:00:00

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