When I was a kid we learned that America was a melting pot. We were told that people from all around the world dreamed of coming to America because success was based on how hard you worked, not where you came from. The dream of every immigrant coming to America was that their children would become “real Americans” and live that American dream. While we all came from different countries and had different histories and traditions, the goal was to sort of homogenize this into the ideal which was to be an American. For most, the path to this goal was through education. Learning English and dressing like an American was important. Efforts were made to lose accents and learn American slang. While you could be where you came from in the home, you strived to be an American on the street.
Perhaps the greatest indicator that the melting pot was, in fact, working, was the growth of suburbs after World War II along with the huge number of GI’s who went to college on the GI Bill. America, its lifestyle, wealth and freedoms were the envy the world over, as we, as Americans, were proud and felt that we could achieve anything. The latter half of the 1940s and the 1950s were a special time and, on the surface, a time of tranquility. The election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 seemed to symbolize the youthful vitality of a nation that could strive to new heights. That is certainly how we felt when Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.
However, much of the illusion that had been the cement holding this country together died along with Kennedy when he was assassinated. The contents of the melting pot began to appear more as a stew than a broth. While throughout the first half of the 20th century every Americans sought to be as American as apple pie, during the latter half of that century we began to see new labels appear. Individuals began to identify themselves as African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Irish- Americans. We began to see the growth of the Women’s Movement and the birth of Gay Pride. The generational split over the Viet Nam War further exacerbated a sense of fracture within our nation. The Civil Rights Movement imposed itself on this landscape and began to tear at the very fabric of American life. While many welcomed the changes represented by the clash of generations, values and dreams, there were many who longed for the days of Ozzie and Harriet and the melting pot mythology that bound Americans to each other.
Most dangerously however, there were those who sought to exploit these changes for their own political benefit. The first effort that comes to mind was Nixon’s Southern Strategy that turned states that had been Democratic for years into Republican supporters. The goal here was to emphasize the crumbling of yesterday’s America and create fear in the losses yet to come while promising to prevent additional erosion. He further tried to create a fear, hatred and distrust of those who would dare to question those values. The Republican past and Nixon’s Southern Strategy was only a precursor of the Republican present.
Imagine that in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s a fully accepted slogan was “What is good for General Motors is good for the USA”.that long for the America of yesterday where everyone knew their place and the rich got richer and the poor were fed scraps by corporate America continue to support these Republicans. While I imagine there are many in the Republican party that see no problem with this, we do understand what it says about the climate in America at that time. While the Republican party talks a good game about wanting to enlarge its “tent”, they, in fact, really want to maintain their base of 50’s and 60’s throw-backs. The GOP yearns for the simple days of yesteryear when people believed in the authority of government, the rightness of corporate power and accepted their station in life. The GOP believes that all who really want to succeed can do so with hard work. They consider any government role in preventing those in need from complete disaster to be unnecessary because if they really wanted to be better off , all they need to do is work harder. The long-term unemployed simply aren’t trying to find jobs, that’s why we shouldn’t encourage them by
extending their benefits. They believe immigrants are taking jobs and benefits away from real Americans. Therefore, we can’t provide a comprehensive Immigration Bill. We can’t raise the minimum wage, they believe, because it will hurt corporate America.
The mythology of the melting pot worked as long as everyone knew their place and didn’t push to upset the order of things. While the GOP yearns for a return of those days, we must make sure they don’t have the opportunity by taking over control of the Senate and maintaining control of the House in 2014.