Letters From an American – Commentary that connects us to today’s news and brings history lessons into everyday life in ways that remind us that history can be our future.
President Biden’s determination to “build the economy from the middle out and the bottom up,” appears to be paying off. Last Friday the global financial services company Morgan Stanley credited Biden’s policies with driving a boom in large-scale infrastructure and manufacturing, a boom large enough that Morgan Stanley revised its gross domestic product growth projections upward to 1.9%, a projection almost four times higher than its original projection.
Analysts doubled their projections for the fourth quarter, and raised forecasts for next year, as well. “The economy in the first half of the year is growing much stronger than we had anticipated,” Morgan Stanley’s chief U.S. economist Ellen Zentner wrote.
Part of their reasoning comes from a surge in manufacturing construction across the country thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which invests in roads, bridges, and other “hard” infrastructure projects; the Inflation Reduction Act, which invests in addressing climate change; and the CHIPS and Science Act, which invests in science and semiconductor chip manufacturing. During the 2010s, manufacturing construction generally held at about $50–80 billion a year. Now it is at $189 billion, with private investment following the government investment.
In half of the U.S. states, job creation is strong and unemployment is at or near 50-year lows, while lowering inflation rates has helped U.S. consumer confidence to rise to its highest level in two years (an important marker because consumer spending makes up about 70% of U.S. economic activity).
Today, the Teamsters union announced it has reached an agreement with United Parcel Service to avoid a major strike of as many as 340,000 workers. The tentative five-year agreement increases wages, including those for part-time employees, which was a sticking point in negotiations. Teamsters members still need to approve this deal, but Biden applauded the two sides for reaching an agreement by negotiating in good faith.
The agreement, Biden said, is “a testament to the power of employers and employees coming together to work out their differences at the bargaining table in a manner that helps businesses succeed while helping workers secure pay and benefits they can raise a family on and retire with dignity and respect.”
At the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan organization devoted to building a more dynamic U.S. economy, Daniel Newman reported yesterday that “[i]ndividuals filed nearly 2.7 million applications to start a business between January and June of this year, a 5 percent increase over 2022 and a staggering 52 percent increase over the same period in 2019.” He noted that “[t]he durability and growth of the startup surge is quite striking” and that nearly every major industry sector is participating in it.
Historically, Newman notes, “there is a tight correlation between the number of applications and true business formation.” “The sustained boost to entrepreneurship observed across much of the country since 2020 should produce a sense of optimism for a healthier, more dynamic economy in the coming years.”
Biden has always emphasized the importance of a healthy economy that gives workers breathing room and the ability to live with dignity.
But the administration’s reworking of the nation has not stopped there. Vice President Kamala Harris has stood firm on visibly honoring the nation’s commitment to equality before the law, and Biden has followed suit. Together, they have recalled the multicultural vision of the years from World War II to 1980, when the nation celebrated the power of its diversity.
On July 16, Harris spoke in Chicago at the retirement of the Reverend Jesse Jackson from the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a civil rights organization he founded in 1971. Celebrating Jackson’s storied career, from his years as a protege of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to creating Rainbow/PUSH, to running for president and critiquing the policies of the Republican Party, Harris noted that Jackson’s work rested on “the belief that the diversity of our nation is not a weakness or an afterthought, but instead, our greatest strength.”
“In his life’s work,” she said, Jackson “has reinforced that no matter who we are or where we come from, we have so much more in common than what separates us.” Jackson “has [brought] and continues to bring together people of all backgrounds: Black Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, farmers, LGBTQ+ Americans, Native Americans, women, labor union members, people with disabilities, our young leaders, and people around the world.”
He created “[a] coalition to push the values of democracy and liberty and equality and justice not from the top down, but from the bottom up and the outside in…. He has built coalitions that expanded who has a voice and a seat at the table. And in so doing, he has expanded our democracy—the democracy of our nation.”
But, Harris warned, extremists are threatening that expansion of democracy, seeking “to divide us as a nation,… to attack the importance of diversity and equity and inclusion.” “[I]n these dark moments,” she said, “history shines a light on our path.” “[O]ur ability to stand together is our strength. Our ability to unify as many peoples is our strength. And the heroes of this moment will be those who bring us together in coalition; those who know that one’s strength is not measured based on who you beat down, but who you lift up.”
Vice President Harris today opened an event to mark Biden’s designation of a national monument in honor of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in a searing reminder of what those determined to make the United States a country defined by white supremacy can do. “We gather to remember an act of astonishing violence and hate and to honor the courage of those who called upon…our nation to look with open eyes at that horror and to act,” Harris said.
In August 1955, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, a Black boy from Chicago, was visiting relatives in a small Mississippi town. After the wife of a white man named Roy Bryant accused the boy of flirting with her, Bryant and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, kidnapped Till, brutally beat him, mutilated him, shot him in the back of the head, and dumped his body in the Tallahatchie River. The county sheriff directed that the body be buried quickly, but his mother insisted that her son’s body be returned to Chicago.
There, she insisted on an open-casket funeral. “Let the world see what I have seen,” she said.
Till’s murder became a symbol of what would happen if men were not called to account for their actions and a rallying cry to make sure such a society of white supremacists could not survive.
In March 2022, President Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. And he warned that “those who seek to ban books, bury history,” would not succeed. “[W]hile darkness and denialism can hide much,” he said, “they erase nothing.” And, he added, “only with truth comes healing, justice, repair, and another step forward toward forming a more perfect union.”
Today, on what would have been Emmett Till’s eighty-second birthday, Biden established the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument. It covers three historic sites in Mississippi and Chicago: the site in Graball Landing, Mississippi, where Till’s body is believed to have been pulled from the Tallahatchie River; the Chicago church where mourners held Till’s funeral; and the courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, where an all-white jury acquitted Bryant and Milam.
“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know” about our history, Biden said. “We have to learn what we should know. We should know about our country. We should know everything: the good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation. That’s what great nations do, and we are a great nation.”
Letters from an American – Heather Cox Richardson