Janet Yellen Joins Democrats in Peddling Sour Grapes
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The Wall Street Journal 23/01/2022
Janet Yellen Joins Democrats in Peddling Sour Grapes
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made a stunning remark while celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Correctly noting that King “knew that economic injustice was bound up in the larger injustice he fought against,” she claimed: “From Reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to the present day, our economy has never worked fairly for black Americans—or, really, for any American of color.”
Saying America’s economy has “never” worked fairly for “any American of color” defines those Americans merely by one particular statistical community to which they belong. The claim refuses to treat them as individuals, eviscerating any personal story of success, of defying odds, of building a better life. Such sweeping pessimism also lacks historical context and a broader perspective comparing the American standard of living with the rest of the world’s.
Over the decades, tens of millions of African-Americans have flourished. Blacks have made enormous strides in gaining access to the most important key to higher earnings, education. In 2018 the Economic Policy Institute assessed the economic and educational state of black America 50 years after the Kerner Commission report warned of segregation and stagnation.
“More than 90 percent of younger African Americans (ages 25 to 29) have graduated from high school, compared with just over half in 1968,” the study said. “Among 25- to 29-year-olds, less than one in 10 (9.1 percent) had a college degree in 1968, a figure that has climbed to almost one in four (22.8 percent) today.” Studies show that since the 1970s black American adults have enjoyed the largest income jump of any racial group.
Disparities persist, bigotry exists, but negating the good lives so many blacks have enjoyed perpetuates racist stereotypes. Seeing only a black underclass ignores the growth of the black middle and upper classes. It plays to the politics of grievance that is prevalent on campus and increasingly souring the Democratic Party.
This pessimism regarding racism now deemed to be “systemic,” and thus essentially incurable, echoes a broader pessimism Democrats keep broadcasting. With the new year came waves of despondency pounding America, tweet by tweet, op-ed by op-ed. Scholars warn of a “democratic recession” worldwide and a possible civil war in the U.S. Amid such a barrage, it isn’t surprising that a USA Today poll reported that “across partisan lines, more than 8 in 10 Republicans, Democrats and independents say they are worried about the future of America’s democracy.” Democracy is fragile. It requires faith in the system and fellow citizens. Such bleak prophecies can become self-fulfilling.
For the opposition party to warn that the sky is falling is part of the game, as today’s outsiders seek to become tomorrow’s insiders. But when the party in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress leads this charge, it’s unnatural—and alarming.
Today’s doom-and-gloom Democrats forget that hope inspires citizens to do better, to try harder individually and collectively, in their jobs and in the public square. It has been the great American catalyst, challenging reformers, as Robert F. Kennedy famously said, not to “see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ ” but to “dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ ”
Every major stride in American history, from the Revolution to emancipation to civil rights, was spawned by purveyors of promise, not brokers of brokenness. In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the foundation for the New Deal by saying “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Today’s Democrats seem to fear not fearing enough. In 1984, Ronald Reagan’s re-election slogan was “Prouder, stronger, better.” Those words cleverly reconciled the president’s need to reinforce good feelings about the country with every great leader’s mission to lead toward an improved tomorrow.
Subsequent Democratic presidents learned Reagan’s all-American lesson, distancing themselves from Jimmy Carter’s 1970s sourness and all the 1960s-speak about America being a “sick society.” That’s why Bill Clinton framed his life story as coming from a “place called Hope,” not from a pit of despair. Barack Obama titled his recent presidential memoir “A Promised Land,” not “The Irredeemable Nation.”
As too many members of the current administration try satisfying the forever-dissatisfied left by echoing Ms. Yellen’s acidity, President Biden oscillates. He concluded his recent voting rights speech in Georgia by affirming his faith in “freedom.” But more pundits seemed struck by how he demonized opponents, warned of “totalitarian” threats, and falsely compared the challenges of today with the sins of yesterday in his “Jim Crow 2.0” rhetoric.
It is true that hope without criticism can produce complacency. But critique without hope invites paralysis. King understood this delicate dance. In February 1968 he preached: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Ms. Yellen erred in joining woke Democrats who express infinite disappointment in America, thereby suppressing the positive vision that has long buoyed the country and generated genuine progress, individually and collectively, for black Americans and their countrymen.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.
Copyright © 2022 Prof Gil Troy, All rights reserved.
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