If one considers slavery evil, as I do, then can such evil be defended? It can be chronicled, described, documented, explained, talked about, criticized, shunned, reviled, ostracized but not defended. At least not if one believes in making a better world, lessening suffering, in decency, morality, compassion, ethical behavior, harmlessness, social responsibility, justice, human dignity or even love. Yet directly or indirectly it seems that is what Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark, is endeavoring to do. In a recent interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he is calling slavery a necessary evil and linking that characterization to the greatness of the US, a country founded he reminds us on the proposition that all mankind is created equal. He has introduced a bill, Saving American History Act of 2020 that would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project in K-12 schools or school districts. The Pulitzer prize winning 1619 Project was undertaken under the aegis of the NYT and traced the consequences of slavery to today’s problems thus documenting the long arms of the evils it represented and unleashed. In an age of the Black Lives Matters movement and protests, this is not a proposal that can be ignored. Mr. Cotton was duly elected and has a following which make him a possible presidential candidate in 2024. I am not in the habit of writing about politics and I admit that I may be overly direct in stating Mr. Cotton’s argument. But this is not about politics, it is about how to move forward, how to recognize evil including the evil of slavery, address it and repair the harm it has caused. Defending slavery does not fit into a race-relations agenda that as far as I understand is necessary to save the future of the United States.
Early in July the city of Memphis unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. In 1866 Memphis was the site of a massacre where dozens of black people were raped and killed by white terrorists and in 1968 it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, thus drawing a line from the past to the present at a time when coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black residents. Over 50 cities have passed similar resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis, these cities are in urban centers, as well in in rural areas, with various sizes and demographics, such as a cluster of small towns in Connecticut, and contain surprises such as the Douglas County Board of Health in Nebraska.
In June an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the health effects of being subjected to racism and discrimination and declared that they can lead to brain disease, “accelerate aging and impede vascular and renal function” thus drawing attention to the stresses and difficulties affecting African Americans and other minority populations. The resolutions are not binding, yet their impetus being inspired by the research of scientific journals nevertheless make them one step on our journey to redress the wrongs of racism.
There are now 788 billionaires in the US, or at least there was in 2019 according to a study by Wealth-X which issues a comprehensive report yearly, that is 12% more than the year before. Collectively they control $ 3.4 trillion which is 14% more than they did in 2018. The US actually has more billionaires than any other country, more than the next 5 countries combined. China is second with less than half the US number. In 2016 the 620 billionaires in the US controlled $2.6 trillion. The growth among the mega rich which is partly due to the tech boom is now the subject of much discussion. It is becoming more and more inescapable that the US has economic policies which favor billionaires and end up placing workers at a disadvantage. Are the rich too rich, many are now beginning to ask? Given it is an election year it is assumed the question will be a continued topic. When considering how difficult it is for many workers to be paid a living wage, how many jobs are being lost to automation, how many are unemployed with no assurance they will be able to get their job back due to Covid-19, when several studies show the US trending towards being a plutocracy, how rich is too rich is not only an important topic it is a must.
The chancellor of the University of California San Francisco was concerned about getting masks and supplies for the university’s hospital, all his sources had dried up. So he called Mark Benioff, the billionaire founder of Salesforce who had previously donated $100 million to the hospital. Marc Benioff, then called upon the people he knew, and the NYT story details how what he did created a chain reaction of other wealthy people willing to contribute. He called someone at Alibaba in China, and as he continued in his search for masks, PPEs and the like he ended up enlisting the help of people at Fed-Ex, Walmart, Apple, other Silicon Valley moguls like Jack Dorsey of Twitter, who pledged $1 billion and even Bono. Along the way they met obstacles and solved them so that they ended up with all the masks and protective equipment needed for the hospital. In fact, they ended up with more than they needed and New York benefited and now other hospitals are benefiting too.
It’s a great story in many ways and yet it does seem it is something federal agencies and/or members of the coronavirus taskforce could have done and done on an even larger scale. But more than that, Mr. Benioff for all his largesse did not take the initiative, he responded when called, which granted is commendable. Then there are the other billionaires, whose behavior in responding to Mr. Benioff is also commendable, but still who did not act on their own. And while the story makes us feel good, I am nevertheless left thinking of all the billionaires who not only did not personally initiate a response to this crisis, but who still have to participate—despite the fact that many of them have increased their wealth as a result of the pandemic.