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Michael C. McHugh

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The Second Gilded Age
by Michael C. McHugh   

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Publisher:  Rowman and Littlefield ISBN-10:  0761834524 Type: 


Copyright:  January 28, 2007 ISBN-13:  9780761834526

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Read about the American aristocracy and how it controls the "democratic" political system with big money, and manipulates and diverts the masses with flag waving, Bible thumping, racism and general fear and paranoia.

Imagine an oligarchy that controls just about all the wealth and power in the American Empire, especially so in periods like the Gilded Ages? How does it maintain its position all out of proportion to its numbers?

Naturally, it uses old-fashioned methods like the military, police, prisons, and the death penalty. Indeed, it spends vast amounts of money on these coercive methods. In the 1945-73 period, a common assumption was that these would fall by the wayside in favor of more postmodern, postindustrial methods of social control, such as the social welfare state, drugs, and the whole therapeutic culture. This did not happen, and in fact, the welfare state was actually weakened during the Second Gilded Age, although not abolished totally.

In addition, this system also uses propaganda and near-monopoly control of information, particularly through television and the mass media. It feeds people a steady diet of consumerism, family values, nationalism, and fear. t also uses religion, as most regimes have throughout history, although fundamentalists have been very effective at adopting their message to the mass media, too and politicians use them all the time.

Then there is the massive power it exerts through economic controls--more or less the power over people's food, clothing and shelter. There is very little challenge to this elite control over the workplace and working life in general. From the New Deal up to the 1970s, labor unions and their allies in the state apparatus somewhat mitigated this elite control over economic activity, but that is no longer the case today. People who have a family and requite two incomes to maintain an adequate level of consumption are particularly trapped by the system in this way.

Naturally, the ruling elite also use money to straight out buy and bribe politicians; it happens every day. These days, it can cost a billion dollars or more to buy an election cycle, plus all that money for lawyers and lobbyists. They buy men like Reagan and Bush, who mouth cliches about God, country, freedom and apple pie,etc. to manipulate the voters. There are many issues that they use to divert attention away from social class and the fact that a narrow elite owns nearly everything in this society, such as hostility to minorities, abortion, homosexuality, crime, law and order and so on.

All in all, it is a highly effective system of control, and has kept wealth and income more unequally divided than in any other Western country. It also maintains rule over most of the power nations in the world, although there have been some failures, such as Vietnam or Iraq. Its the same system all over the world, but more brutal in places like Africa, South America, eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

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In 2005, columnist Ted Rall asked the question: “Why do the poor and the middle class, who get screwed by Republican policies, vote for them anyway?” One important answer was that, “they were willing to take an economic hit for their heartfelt beliefs” on cultural, religious and national security issues, although another would be that they had little choice or suffer from what Karl Marx called ‘false consciousness’. For whatever reason, America had no class parties, and in 2000, 46% of people making $100,000 or more voted for Al Gore, while millions blue-collar whites voted Republican. One of the most important questions this book will try to answer in the following chapters is why, “millions of Democrats and Republicans alike routinely cast votes that work against their narrowly defined economic self-interest.” But are either motivated by non-economic issues or do not vote at all.

Professional Reviews

Book Review of Michael McHugh, The Second Gilded Age: The Great Reaction in the United States 1973-2000, by Ed Bloomer.
When I was working on the assembly line at General Electric in 1979, a boss came down one day and gave each worker a share of stock worth $3.00. I tore mine up and threw it in the trash. Even so, the company kept it on record, and from time to time in the 1980s and ‘90s contacted me to say that the stock had split and increased in value. To make a long story short, by August 2001, that lonely share of GE stock had multiplied like capitalist loaves and fishes into 90 shares—now worth $4,500. Not being much of a capitalist, I gave away my totally unearned loot to my family or the Catholic Worker community. Even so, when I imagined from this one example just how much the rich, the near-rich and the obscenely rich must have increased their wealth during this time, I understand just what Michael McHugh meant when he called it a Second Gilded Age.

Anyone interested in politics, culture and race will certainly be enthralled with this book! It describes the cycles of US History from the time of the First Gilded Age (1873-1901) to the Second a century later. Both were periods of laissez faire capitalism, of Robber Barons who exploited new technologies to establish giant industries such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in the 19th Century or Microsoft a hundred years later. In these capitalist heydays, wealth and incomes are highly concentrated in the hands of the top 10% of the population, while the living standards for most of the population stagnated or declined. Far from protecting and defending the interests of the common people, politicians serve the oligarchy during these Gilded Ages, while manipulating the voters through the calculated use of racism, religious and cultural issues, law and order and nationalism. It is no accident that these capitalist heydays are also the heydays of right-wing populist movements like the Ku Klux Klan and Moral Majority.

McHugh compares these Gilded Ages with what he calls the Historical Exception Period of 1945-73. He shows us how prosperity after World War II, when the American Empire was at its strongest, also gave working people social democratic and modern liberal capitalist welfare state. Building on the New Deal and Fair Deal of the 1930s and 1940s, the New Frontier of John Kennedy and the Great Society Lyndon Johnson created programs that uplifted the city’s and fed the hungry plus Medicare, which enriched the elderly with help on their medical expenses. As a result of the Second Reconstruction of 1954-65, new laws were passed to protect minorities in voting rights, affirmative action and desegregation of schools and work places.

In the 1968 election, the Vietnam War was tearing the fabric of the nation apart. Nixon beat out Humphrey for the presidency. Nixon was the last president of the Historical Exception Period and the initiator of the Second Gilded Age. He promised to dismantle the Great Society programs that benefited poor women with children the so called ‘welfare queens’. He was effective in manipulating the backlash of white voters, which Republicans called the Southern Strategy. Nixon also used the issue of ‘law and order’ to erode the gains which minorities and working people had gained during the Historical Exception Period. Reelected in a landslide against George McGovern in 1972, only the Watergate break-in and his disgrace and his ouster from office prevented him from establishing a new Republican majority. Nixon self-destructed in 1974, but the conservative backlash endured and prospered despite this.

Even so, with the declining economy and massive public distrust of government and politicians, the Second Gilded Age was being ushered in. Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 by labor minorities and the Old New Deal Coalition, but he was basically a moderately conservative southern Democrat. In the last two years of his term, Carter had on the drawing board massive increases in military spending, the neutron bomb, and the B-2 bomber—all of which robbed the poor and it took. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was the High Noon of the Second Gilded Age, which featured huge cuts in social spending longstanding hostility toward civil rights for minorities, the Draconian age of more prisons, tougher penalties and ushered in a backlash against gays, feminists and minority rights. Reagan and his advisors were experts in using the Southern Strategy, beating Carter and Mondale with issues of culture, race, flag-waving and family values.

By the 1990’s, after twenty years of declining living standards, the majority of voters were alienated from the political system and favored a third party candidates, from Pat Buchanan on the right and Ralph Nader on the left but. In the 1992 election Ross Perot stole enough white votes from George Bush Sr to hand the election to Bill Clinton. Like Carter, he was a moderately conservative southern governor, who made promises about improved social programs and universal health care, but was unable to keep them. Once again using cultural and racial backlash issues, the Republicans under Newt Gingrich seized both the House and Senate in 1994.Their Contract on America was a radically free market version of capitalism to which Clinton accommodated with a welfare ‘reform’ law that dumped the poor into the street. Thanks to this ‘triangulation’ strategy, Clinton was elected for a second term in 1996. By then, the Stock Market was riding high, although by 2000 -2001 its bubble began to look deflated even before 9/11. This Gilded Age version of ‘prosperity’, like that of the 1920s or the First Gilded Age, was concentrated mostly at the top. In an election that further disgraced the political system, George Bush, Jr. came to power in 2000 thanks to a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. His War on Terror and Second Oil War brought about big deficits, high inflation with big tax cuts and breaks to the rich.

I cannot do this book a great enough service. In The Second Gilded Age, Dr. Michael McHugh has given a concise critique of the history of the workings of our society and political system in an amazing way. This book should be read by scholars or anyone who is concerned about the future this country and our world. It at least offers the hope that the Gilded Ages are cyclical and that although they might have seemed endless at the time, they have never been the last word in history.

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Reader Reviews for "The Second Gilded Age"

Reviewed by Bruce Nickerson 5/5/2007
Dear Michael,
Congratulations on your new book. It is a must read for anyone interested in a historically balanced rendition of America's manipulation by parallel, covert and overt force.

I miss our long discussions in the Far East. I miss access and immediacy, to erudition of history and collateral influences you possess and disseminate, as though second nature.

I miss your fine mind. What a fine mind it is!

Your friend and associate,


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