I was just having a look! Edinburgh features Britain’s and maybe Europe’s largest charity book sale every spring at St Andrew and St George’s church in George Street. It is truly enormous and the books are divided by section and interest. By one of those curious co-incidences that can befall one in a second hand book sale, I came across a long forgotten biography of James Garfield in their American History. Well, biography might be a bit of a stretch for a book primarily designed to portray the President and his story from childhood in a Ohio log cabin to his eventual last home in the White House as a hagiography for children than a reasoned account of his life. The sort of book once readily available throughout the states in Sunday Schools at every church.
“From Log Cabin to White House” by W M Thayer, and published shortly after Garfield’s death by assassination, was reprinted in 1909 by Hodder and Stoughton in London (a UK imprint, and by then a late reprint of a very popular book) falls into that class of biography which at its kindest might best be described as inspirational.
All the characters are “tall, heavy handsome men” and “winsome damsels” it is very much of its time. Doubtless given to children at Christmas for a generation by well-meaning maiden aunts. Thayer wrote several of these homilies and seems to have cornered a part of the market that catered for this local boy made good story.
However, despite its more than obvious deficiencies to a reader over a hundred years later, I wondered what had happened to the world of Garfield out there in today’s America. Has it changed? Did those men and women we follow win through in the end? Did they turn it into a land of milk and honey?
Garfield we may care to remember was brought up in the said cabin built by his “tall handsome” father and “winsome” mother in Orange, Cuyahoga Country outside of Cleveland Ohio. And boy has Cuyahoga changed. It is a battlefield.
Mind you the whole of the mid-west is a mess. The rust belt they call it like it, and it’s all the workers’ fault it all turned out like this. Never cosy trade deals with China, or meddling from Big Government or regulations or tax dodging big businesses sucking the life cash out of communities that built their success in the first place. Above all never ever the neo liberal global market. And the people are as angry as hell. There are no jobs and society is unravelling so far that even the backbone of America the white middle-aged are taking meth and heroin.
People who used to think hand-outs were for lazy folk are being forced back onto food-stamps.
The politicians are waking up to this, albeit a bit late. So Hillary or her team rush about saying the future is in bringing in some form of new high tech jobs – only she could not tell you what sort of new hi tech jobs they might be. And Trump shouts that he will bring back the jobs that long since went east, but cannot tell you quite how that is going to happen. They might even play a little bit of Bruce Springsteen.
Where did the work go? Ford had a huge car factory here until it sold it off to Toyota who were allowed into the American market to buy the family silver. Toyoto then promptly sacked half the work-force for efficiency savings. Eventually Toyoto shut up shop and moved off to Kentucky where the incentives had been made better.
And the Politico’s and the Press are shocked, shocked I tell you, that the ordinary people are angry. That the working class do not see why they should have to subsist on food stamps, or that without medical insurance they should just be left to sit there and get on with coughing up lumps of asbestos.
They feel cheated. They worked hard and they paid their tax. Their kids went to war for their nation. Look around and see how many monuments to WWII, Korea or Vietnam and Iraq there are. What happened afterwards? Well they came back, got abandoned ignored and forgotten.
Garfield got a good education and opportunities. Today’s kid from a poor home would get what? Get lucky if he could wangle a minimum wage post at a local Walmart flogging poorly made crap from China?
But hey, who the hell is interested in poor white people in Ohio?
Maybe we might find out tonight.
Just don’t bet on it.
Copyright David Macadam 2016