With coronavirus pillaging the land, politicians shut the gates on such social and cultural barns as public libraries.
Now, with the plague barring access to Cannon Beach Library, writing a column mostly dedicated to new books, authors and events at our library requires some ingenuity.
Fortunately, I checked out a new green-dot book to review before doors were shuttered. Moreover, being confined to house arrest in a beach community that Trip Advisor just ranked sixth-best in the country provides me time to scan my own shelves and read one or two books between these columns.
So, recently I finished a couple of books about the Sixties. In “Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties,” a memoir published in 1988 but still available at the Seaside Public Library, Richard Goodwin, an advisor and speech writer for both residents Kennedy and Johnson, writes about their promise and failures, as well as the dashed hopes of Americans from the election of Kennedy in 1960 through Johnson’s departure in 1969.
Having graduated first in his class from Harvard Law in 1958, Goodwin clerked for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter before becoming counsel to the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, where he counseled the investigation of television’s quiz show scandal in 1959.
Goodwin began “Remembering America” with that scandal, and quickly described Robert Kennedy recruiting him for John Kennedy’s Senate office staff and 1960 presidential campaign.
From this point on, Goodwin’s memoir describes his relationships with major figures of the Sixties: Robert, John and Ted Kennedy; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Lyndon Johnson; Eugene McCarthy; Ernesto “Che” Guevara; Hubert Humphrey; and a cast of “the best and brightest.”
No better description exists of Goodwin’s themes of hope, idealism, vision and failure than an oft-quoted passage from President Kennedy’s inaugural address on Jan. 20 1961:
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
All 500-plus pages of “Remembering America” describe our aspirations, beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, for a new frontier of discovery, peace, opportunity, civil and voting rights, and educational access.
Goodwin, who passed nearly two years ago, also relates how Johnson’s Vietnam War crushed his own Great Society.
Had Robert Kennedy lived, he likely would have defeated Richard Nixon in 1968, ended war in Southeast Asia, expanded Johnson’s Great Society programs, and healed division that yet remains from Vietnam and subsequent American militarism.
If the Sixties had matched President Kennedy’s inaugural vision, we might not now be isolated fearing this plague, first denied and then mismanaged by an unprepared government that dismantled health planning and refused hospitals testing kits and personal protective equipment available throughout the world.
So much for “Guns and Butter.”
A second title linked to the Sixties and the following decades is “The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite” by Daniel Markovits.
It’s available at the library when the doors reopen. Until then, check the library website about e-books.
Markovits’ analysis of the American myth that success depends on merit - either God-given or earned - offers a simple, logical argument. But his prose presents a tough slog,
Markovits argues that, following the Sixties, elite schools that formerly preferred students from wealthy and/or aristocratic families decided to upgrade by admitting more students to Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and so forth, down the pecking order, based on their high school records and SAT scores.
Their students became more competitive, talented and higher-performing.
This improvement was not lost on law schools, medical schools and graduate programs at elite research universities. Nor was it lost on law firms, Wall Street financial institutions and sophisticated corporations.
Nor was this shift in admission criteria lost on America’s aristocratic and wealthiest families, who recognized that their elite status and wealth could no longer ensure their children’s admission to top schools.
But the wealthy are different. They have wealth to invest in the next generation, to prepare children to succeed at the best preparatory high schools, the best-resourced grade schools, and most recently the most-exclusive kindergartens and pre-schools.
They have wealth to provide their kids with summer camps focusing on science, art and sports; after-school programs and tutors; test preparation; world travel; and access to cultural events in major metropolitan areas.
Wealthy parents transfer their wealth to the next generation by investing in the human resources of their children in order to guarantee their admission to elite colleges and high-skill professions.
Meanwhile, corporations were cutting middle management by hiring highly competitive managers with specialized training from elite schools in engineering, finance and management systems, rather than promoting middle managers.
A few highly educated managers, aided by new technology, replaced many middle managers, while other supervisors slipped into low-skill positions.
Today’s workforce contains few high-paid managers and many low-paid employees, clearly contributing to a widening income gap.
Finally, to attract sophisticated management, corporations recognized the importance of locating in preferred metropolitan communities. This further separated low-skilled and high-skilled positions geographically.
Markovits argues that this emphasis on ever greater merit and efficiency has succeeded in creating dissatisfaction among both the low-skilled and the high-skilled.
Low-skilled employees resent their lack of status as well as low incomes. High-skilled managers resent working 12-hour days and their loss of family time and development of personal interests.