Small Towns and Such

“Benefits” of Slavery
I have no idea why this is even being discussed. Ron DeSantis, Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate, continues to twist himself into knots, trying to impress the MAGA base. Sunshine State teachers are now being told that they must instruct middle school students that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Sorry, there are some atrocities in our past that we must honestly say were horrible events. Period. There is no way to sugarcoat them.

Native Americans. Our treatment of the indigenous people here in the United States. Lands were stolen, women (raped), and children massacred from the East Coast to the West. The Trail of Tears. More than 100,000 thousand Native Americans, mostly Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw, were forced to walk to Oklahoma from NC, Tennessee, and Georgia; at least 15,000 died along the way. I don’t think that we know the true number which is probably higher.

The Holocaust. There is no way to spin the Holocaust to make it sound better. Six million Jews were rounded up and killed for no reason other than their religion; another 500,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma (“Gypsies”), Poles, gays, people with disabilities, and other “undesirables” also died in the gas chambers.

Slavery. It was a horrible, dehumanizing institution. Millions of Africans were separated from their families. They were forced to work, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others. They were beaten. They were tortured. They were raped, and their children were sold for profit. They weren’t allowed to marry. They weren’t allowed to read or write.

To say that slavery had benefits is like telling someone from Guantánamo Bay that waterboarding has benefits. The idea is repugnant. Students need to be taught the honest truth. Slavery was awful. The only people that consistently benefited from slavery were the slaveowners.

My hope is that Ron DeSantis is seen as anti-American. He has rejected diversity. I think, when we honestly look at the record of the United States over the last 50 to 75 years, diversity is one of the things that continues to make this country great. Ron DeSantis is fading in the polls. I am hopeful that he will be booted out of office by the good people of Florida and figuratively thrown into the dustbin of history. I have my fingers crossed.

Strong Unions
The middle class developed in this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Americans moved from Jason Aldean’s small towns into cities to work in factories. As factory owners began to line their pockets with money, the workers formed unions to negotiate with the owners. And, factory workers had to literally fight against private armies like the Pinkertons and even against corrupt police, for their share of the profits.

Ultimately, the overall standard of living increased in the United States because factory workers fought for better pay and better wages. Unions, as a matter of fact, kept CEO pay in check. In the 1960s and ’70s, unions began to lose their luster and their influence. Companies began shipping factories overseas. Union-busting began to sweep the nation, as it had in the 1910s and a’20s. Ronald Reagan—himself a former union president—crushed the air traffic controller’s strike in 1982. Union membership had peaked in 1954 at 35% of all workers. In 2022, membership was only just above 10%.

Now Hollywood writers and actors (Reagan’s former union) are on strike. The major studios are raking in profits. Their CEOs are taking home huge checks. Netflix is paying two CEOs $51 and $50 million. The CEO of Warner Brothers takes home $39 million per year. Paramount’s CEO is raking in over $32 million a year. There are tons of other executives that are making money. Why can’t they pay the everyday writers and actors?

UPS just settled with its union. It appears that both sides got something in the final contract, an essential outcome of fair negotiations: everybody compromises, and we get what’s known as a “virtuous cycle” (the opposite of a “vicious circle”). Working people earn more money and spend more money. They buy more stuff, which increases corporate profits and federal and state tax revenues, so roads get repaired, and firemen and schoolteachers can also get a raise—and everybody—including our entire nation’s economy—wins. That’s a good thing!

It is about balance and fairness. Wal-Mart is not paying a living wage. Tons of Wal-Mart employees are working over 20 hours/week and still must get food stamps to make ends meet. This is nuts. I don’t think that every worker needs a house in the Hamptons or a private jet, but they should be able to put food on the table and live in a decent house or apartment. This is why we need strong unions.

(And don’t believe that the “magic capitalism fairy” makes sure that everyone gets paid what they are worth. That’s also nuts. You get paid what you can negotiate. If you don’t negotiate, then you will be underpaid!)

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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