Taking Back Our Democracy
Hedrick Smith describes reclaiming the American Dream
What: “Taking Back Our Democracy: The People and the Politicians”
When: 7 pm Fri., Dec. 7
Where: Heiner Hall Auditorium, Whatcom Community College
Sponsored by Indivisible Bellingham, Bellingham City Club, Village Books and the Western Washington University Journalism Department
Cost: Donations are welcome
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
“History often has hidden beginnings,” writes Hedrick Smith in the prologue to his latest book, Who Stole the American Dream. “There is no blinding flash of light in the sky to mark a turning point, no distinctive mushroom cloud signifying an atomic explosion that will forever alter human destiny. Often a watershed is crossed in some gradual and obscure way so that most people do not realize that an unseen shift has moved them into a new era, reshaping their lives, the lives of their generation, and the lives of their children, too. Only decades later do historians, like detectives, sift through the confusing strands of the past and discover a hitherto unknown pregnant beginning.”
Journalism has been described as “the first rough draft of history,” and journalists as the first private detectives on the scene of an unfolding mystery. Smith fills both roles ably.
The nationally recognized Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award-winning journalist, author and television producer presents a mystery in what he calls the missing story of American politics—how grassroots citizen movements may win the vital reforms to make our democracy fairer and more inclusive.
But first, he first lays out the crime scene.
“Today, the gravest challenge and the most corrosive fault line in our society is the gross inequality of income and wealth in America,” he writes. “Not only political liberals but conservative thinkers as well emphasize the danger to American democracy of this great divide.
“America’s super-rich have accumulated trillions in new wealth, far beyond anything in other nations, while the American middle class has stagnated. What separates the Two Americas,” Smith writes, “is far more than a wealth gap. It is a wealth chasm.”
Wealth has flowed so massively to the top that during the nation’s growth spurt from 2002 to 2007, America’s super-rich reaped two-thirds of the nation’s entire economic gains. The other 99 percent were left with only one-third of the gains to divide among 310 million people. In 2010, the first full year of the economic recovery matters accelerated, and the top 1 percent captured 93 percent of the nation’s gains.
“The danger,” he writes, “is that if the extremes become too great, the wealth dichotomy tears the social fabric of the country, undermines our ideal of equal opportunity, and puts the whole economy at risk—and more than the economy, our nation itself. A solid majority of Americans say openly that we have reached that point—that our economy is unfairly tilted in favor of the wealthy, that government should take action to make the economy fairer, and that they’re frustrated that Congress continually blocks such action.
“What’s more, contrary to political arguments put forward for not taxing the rich, an economy of large personal fortunes does not deliver the best economic performance for the country. In fact, concentrated wealth works against economic growth. Several recent studies have shown that America’s wealth gap is a drag on today’s economy.”
Smith’s mystery is not all murder, and at its center is are unlikely heroes—ordinary people, pushing back and reclaiming their democracy and heritance.
He shares surprisingly positive stories of grassroots reformers fighting and winning battles against dark money, gerrymandering, voter suppression and the power of megadonors.
Among these victories was Washington state’s successful Initiative-735 campaign to roll back the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, which has unleashed a flood of dark money in American politics.
“This is not a story of left versus right, or of Republicans versus Democrats,” Smith says. “It’s a story of the people versus the politicians—of We the People rising up against fat cats and entrenched power.”
Smith served as New York Times Moscow Bureau Chief from 1971 to 1974 and as its Washington Bureau Chief and Chief Correspondent from 1976 to 1982. He shared a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times coverage of the Pentagon Papers and won another for his reporting on Russia. He is author of five books, including bestsellers The Russians, The Power Game: How Washington Works and—most recently and relevantly—Who Stole the American Dream?
In 1989 Smith turned to producing television documentaries for the Public Broadcasting System. During the next two decades, he created 26 prime-time specials and mini-series for PBS and FRONTLINE, including two Emmy Award-winning programs.
“Few people have the experience and wisdom Rick Smith has gained over the years both at home and abroad,” Western Washington University Journalism Professor Emeritus Floyd McKay notes. “He is an excellent speaker, and will be talking about how citizens are taking the game of democracy from the politicians—very timely in 2018.”
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