Many of the folks I know are getting ready to play serious defense in 2017, and they’re not wrong. Before we take up our three-point stance on the national line of scrimmage, however, maybe we should ask ourselves not only what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for. What kind of United States of America do we actually want? Maybe, in fact, we could start by asking: What is a country for? What should a country do? Why do people establish countries in the first place?
There is, without question, much that will need defending over the next four years, so much that people fought and died for in the 20th century, so much that is threatened by the ascendancy of Donald Trump, the white-nationalist right, and the Republican Party.
The 20th century saw the introduction of many significant laws, regulations, and—yes—entitlements: benefits to which we have a right by virtue of living in, and in many cases being citizens of, this country.
We could start earlier, but let’s begin with the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. It established the right of workers to collectively negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers and made collective bargaining the official “policy of the United States.”
This policy faces an immediate threat. Identical Republican-sponsored bills in the House and Senate would end the right of unions to require the workers they represent to pay union dues. These bills would, in other words, reproduce at the federal level the so-called right-to-work (more accurately, right-to-starve) laws already in place in more than half the states. If—or as seems likely, when—they pass, millions of workers will face the potential loss of the power of collective bargaining and find themselves negotiating with employers as lonely individuals.
Then there was the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which guaranteed a minimum wage and overtime pay to many workers (although not, notably, those laboring in agricultural fields or inside other people’s homes—workplaces then occupied primarily by African Americans, and later by other people of color as well).
Andrew F. Puzder, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of labor, opposes the very idea of a minimum wage. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since his current day job is as CEO of the parent company of two fast-food franchise operations, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.