The Once Great Nation of America

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

In this past year, the American public has been witness to an almost apoplectic display of government melodrama.  Between threatened government shutdowns, Republican debates filled with more vitriol than substance, and certain Democrats who can’t decide whether their allegiance is to Wall Street or Main Street, you can understand why some in our population are sensing an end of times to our great democratic institution.

The once great industrial city of Trenton, New Jersey is a good example of what was so right with America that went so wrong because of neglect to social and educational issues and a lackadaisical approach to our national economic policy.  Through the mid-19th century until the early 1990’s, Trenton had a rich, industrial history of making iron, steel, rubber and pottery.  Trenton’s steel mills produced wire rope for the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and many others. Iron beams produced in the city were used in the U.S. Capitol Dome construction.

Fine pottery was also produced in Trenton, and its beauty was on display from the table settings atthe White House, to museums around the world. The “Trenton Makes The World Takes” slogan not only publicized theindustrial might of an area which boasted a mainly European immigrant andAfrican American working class population, it displayed the prowess of America.  With a strong tax base and a strong publiceducation system, Trenton, as well as the country, seemed to be on the course for continuous prosperity.

Unfortunately, many things along the way prevented this from happening. Corporations, lured by Free Trade Agreements promising cheap labor overseas and by non-union labor in so-called right-to-work southern states left the city in its present state of carnage.  With tax bases squeezed by the loss of business and rampant unemployment, social programs were cut as well as funding for the education system.  As recently as 2011, New Jersey ASK test results revealed that only 20% of seventh graders were proficient in the language arts.    

The loss of a steady tax basehas also affected the infrastructure in the capitol city.  From the South Broad Street Bridge, the Amtrak Rail Corridor, and many other edifices, the infrastructure of Trenton is in a precipitous state.  Add to this the deterioration of  abandoned factories and housing stock, it is no wonder that the city has trouble attracting new business to the area. If this sounds familiar as to what is going on in many major industrial cities in our country, you would be correct.   Add to this is all of the social ills that are created by massive unemployment and poverty, such as alcohol and drug abuse, and skyrocketing divorce rates which have created a plethora of single parent households. It creates the overwhelming and cataclysmic feeling that the best days of America are long behind her.

There is still a chance for America and its cities like Trenton to flourish again, but it is going to takesome very heavy lifting on the part of our federal and state governments, corporate America, and most importantly, the American public.  We the people must put aside our ideological differences and apply massive pressure on all these institutions.  We must swallow the bitter pill and demand an increase in the federal gas tax to fully fund the rebuilding of our nations’ roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, ports, power grids, ports, airports and rail systems.  This would not just take care of putting America back to having a pre-eminent infrastructure system (we are 16th in the world now, and falling), it would also spur businesses to not only stay here, but create the jobs that are needed. 

Our economic policies need tobe revamped to save and create American jobs. One step towards this is to drop the notion that free trade has been a boon to the American economy.  From the first mega treaty of NAFTA up to the most recent free trade debacle of KORUS (Korean/US Free Trade Agreement), the United States has lost approximately 5 million manufacturing jobs.  Calling China to task for its currency manipulation is one of many ways to stop the hemorrhaging.  We also need to seriously contemplate stiff tariffs on countries which dump their goods on Americas’ shores.

There is still time to get our nation back on track, but we must put aside divisiveness to achieve the common good.  There is no reason to think that the 21st century should not be a successful continuation of the previous American century.  It must be achieved so that the Trentons of our country can flourish and be shining examples to the world that America is ready, willing and able to recapture the standard bearing status we’d held for so long. There is no reason for any generation to look back and ask, “Rememberthe greatness that was America?”

Let’s get to work.

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You can contact Richard on Twitter @stlwrkr4889.

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