We Shall Overcome - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
We Shall Overcome

I’d like to start by talking about something my father said to me on my 50th birthday 27 years ago. Some of you will recall that my father, Herbert Stein, a noted economist from about around 1945 to 1999, was instrumental in helping the U.S. shift from a wartime economy to a wildly prosperous peacetime economy.

He served as a LTJG in the Navy, and then on a series of commissions and committees that planned how to get from huge wartime deficits under FDR — and rightly so, of course — to a sustained balanced budget peacetime economy under Ike and JFK and Johnson and, of course, the president he mostly served and whom he helped with an endless chain of problems, Richard Nixon, and then Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and Bush 41.

His life was an illustration, in living crystal glory, of what makes America great. His grandparents had grown up in Eastern Europe in the typical modest circumstances of Jews in the reign of the czars. They had come to America in the 19th century and worked in extremely modest jobs.

My father’s father was a skilled tool and die maker at Ford Motor in Michigan and then a machinist at General Electric in Schenectady. Before that, in an unusual circumstance for a Jewish boy from Eastern Europe, he had run away from home to join the U.S. Army Cavalry using his brother’s passport. He was a dead shot on a horse and fought in the Philippines against the Aguinaldo insurrection.

My father’s family suffered in the Great Depression. My paternal grandfather was unemployed for almost all of 1931 to 1940, despite extraordinary skills and experience at precise measurement long before the age of machine intelligence. Luckily, my paternal grandmother worked as a clerk at a local department store and that helped hugely.

My father was a brilliant student starting from the first grade. He helped support his family by entering and winning oratory contests in and around Schenectady. For instance, he would read the famous speech “Spartacus to the Gladiators.” If he did it well, he might win a $10 gold piece. If he won several of these, it mounted up.

There were no student loans and few scholarships. But my father was a hard worker and shirked at nothing. He studied ancient Greek and excelled at it in a public high school. There was no contest or job he was afraid of to pay the Stein family bills. Nor did he blame the anti-Semitism that was par for the course in those days for anything.

He aimed for admission to the nearby super college, Williams, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, not far from Schenectady. He was admitted at the age of 15.

My mother’s family was not quite as low social status as my father’s. Her father had owned a pharmacy in the small upstate New York town of Monticello. He died when my mother was nine. She never got over it.

But she worked hard at her high school and won prize after prize. Again, there was no ethnic favoritism in those days in New York. There was hard work. She was admitted to Barnard College in Columbia University in New York City when she was 16.

At Williams, my father worked as a dishwasher in the basement kitchen of a fraternity house that did not admit Jews. When the rich Gentile boys were upstairs in a paneled dining room, my pop and the other dishwasher, a “colored” man, were in a hot steamy sweat box washing and drying their tablecloths and napkins.

Decades later, when I asked my Pop if he were angry at his situation at Williams, he answered immediately, “No. I was happy that I could get a job of any kind that helped send me to a great college in the midst of the worst industrial Depression of all time.”

This was typical of my Pop’s reaction to everything about America: “Look for the good and praise it.”

After graduation, Mom and Pop went to grad school at what was then the premier school of economics in the country, the University of Chicago. It was a shining beacon of free enterprise. My parents met, fell in love, and were married in 1937. Except for the time my father spent in the Navy, they were together ever since until they both died at the end of the 1990s.

In roughly 1995, my parents hosted a Stein family reunion at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. My father was the main speaker, and he said something key. “My grandparents made many decisions in their lives,” my father said. “By far the biggest and best was to come to America.”

AND IT’S TRUE. There is no better decision a human can do than to come to America. When my ancestors came to America, it was the shining land of opportunity. It still is. If a man or woman comes here willing to work, to learn, to save, to acquire capital of any kind, human or financial or real estate, he or she can do miracles.

America was the land of opportunity then and still is. This is the place where — world over — every man and woman knew that hard work and or saving or learning a skill, from waiting tables to inventing solar-powered cars can make a man or woman a star. (READ MORE from Ben Stein: Taking Stock in 2022)

This is the place on the globe where men and women have rights guaranteed by the governing document of the nation: the Constitution. Incredibly, there is no other major country where the backbone of the nation assures not the supremacy of a family or a political party or even of the nation itself — but the rights of the individual.

My ancestors — and your ancestors — came from places where any galloping Cossack or nobleman or Party official could imprison anyone below him in social station or race or religion — to a place where everyone had guaranteed rights under the Constitution, rights superior to the rights of any official or any plutocrat.

BUT, there was one huge problem: one race of people who had been here for all eternity basically, namely, native Americans, had almost no rights. And another far larger group who had been captured by their fellows and then sold to slave traders had no rights at all.

The treatment of slaves had been a humiliation to the Constitution. True, at the time of the founding of America, slavery was widespread in the Western hemisphere, in Africa, in Asia, and even in Europe. Slavery was legal in England until about 1800. Most Russians were serfs, very close to slaves, until the 1860s. There are still slaves in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

It took some doing and a lot of bloodshed by the people of the USA to rid ourselves of African human slavery. More than 500,000 white Americans fought and died between 1861 and 1865 to free the slaves originally from Africa.

This had never happened before as far as I know, namely that the dominant race had fought and bled and died to free the slave race. It was a horrible, just awful war, the bloodiest conflict in the known history of the Western hemisphere. But when it was over, there was no longer any involuntary servitude in the USA. And freed slaves were supposedly the owners of the exact same rights that white Americans had.

But there was still terribly bad mistreatment of blacks in the USA. This was in large measure an effort by some whites to keep blacks from voting and acquiring political power in the USA. This involved murders, kidnapping, arson, terrorism, and mockery and humiliation.

The overwhelming majority of the resistance to this horror show came from brave, noble black and white men and women who fought violence with nonviolence and prayer. Some of them, including the bravest of the brave, Martin Luther King Jr., paid with their lives.

But by the end of the 1960s, an incredible triumph had occurred. Black people who had been treated as subhuman even as late as the 1960s had fully equal rights with those of whites under the law.

When I was a child growing up in an engrossing era, I would ride through the black neighborhoods of D.C. and Maryland and Virginia in my parents’ Chevrolet sedan. I saw the slums and the black kids in rags and tatters playing in the open fire hydrants on broiling hot days. I would hear my teachers in public junior high schools calling blacks by horrible names.

I thought that if I awakened one morning and looked in the mirror and saw myself as black, I would kill myself. That is how terrible life was for African Americans. At least that is how I saw it.

If I felt that angry about it, I can hardly imagine how furiously angry black people felt. And yet, despite the anger that black people must have felt, when a revolution in black rights came, it came rather peacefully.

There were demonstrations and sit-ins and huge marches.

And there were riots, but by and large, considering the oppression that black people had endured, they faced the future with a good spirit.

I was there the day in 1963 when Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. He did not urge black people to riot and loot. He did not ask for “reparations.” He wanted equal rights at the starting gate, not at the finish line.

He asked for black people to be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

And black people made enormous progress under law in terms of fair housing, fair hiring, political power, and favoritism in education and prestige jobs. We seemed to be making real progress in making America what we always wanted it to be — a nation of equal opportunity and progress forward under law. A nation where men and women and non-binary could make progress based on work, education, thrift, and steady habits.

And then something evil happened. The political power of minorities in this country became so great that laws falsely deemed to be oppressing them stopped being enforced. On the side of the minorities, and in the name of equal rights, prosecutors stopped enforcing laws. In our beloved California, by far the most populous state in the union, it’s now legal to steal things, to just walk into stores and steal things up to a value of close to $1,000.

In real life, in states all across America, minorities can riot, loot, ransack, murder, and in fact there is no meaningful punishment. For the overwhelming majority of crimes, there is no cash bail, and the criminal is out of custody before the broken glass in the store display windows has been or can be replaced. For good-sized swaths of urban and suburban America, there is no law.

This was a ghastly mistake. The laws preventing violence, murder, arson, rioting, and theft were mostly aimed at protecting blacks. When they stopped being enforced, the blacks suffered by far the most.

There was a wild swell of rage against the main entity that had been protecting the blacks: namely, the police. On no evidence at all, it was believed that the main force harming and killing blacks was the police. This was the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, of all violent deaths of blacks in American cities, 99 percent were done by other blacks. Almost none were done by the police.

When politicians said that the violence in the black communities in American cities was caused mostly by the police, they were 99 percent wrong. When they called for, and got, lesser funding for the law enforcement entities, they got the exactly predictable results: a huge increase in violence in the inner cities.

The wicked people who made money by crying “Black Lives Matter” got what any child could have predicted: they made a lot of money, but violent deaths of blacks skyrocketed.

In politics, the state of things has become even more heartrending. Men and women are elected not even remotely on the basis of their character but almost exclusively on their skin color.

It’s a sad, even heartbreaking thing, but to read Dr. King’s words now, in 2022, is enough to make me cry. The president of the United States appoints men and women to high office not on the basis of education or experience or “the content of their character,” but on the basis of what interest group they can appease. Now, to be sure, something like this has always been true in American politics. Politicians always seek to cater to various voting blocs. But in the past, those voting blocs generally did not make their wishes and wants known by rioting and arson.

Let’s step back in time about 90 years. In Germany, a highly educated, industrially advanced country with a Constitution, there were plenty of grievances. There had been a terrible war with bloodcurdling losses. There had been genuine starvation and a disease epidemic, the Spanish flu, that was far worse than COVID.

There were many political parties in existence that promised real, substantial progress in solving these problems.

But there was one that started extremely small, with just a few dozen members and worked very largely on the basis of race and violence. This party, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, proclaimed that it would solve the nation’s problems by ridding what it called Germany of all people who were not of German descent. That party also openly used violence to attract adherents and to terrify opponents. It also openly proclaimed that it was against freedom of speech and of individual rights generally.

This party, which had only a few dozen members when it started, had a charismatic leader named Adolf Hitler. In what he proclaimed about the vital importance of race, he was in large part echoing the theories of the day. His views about race and especially about the superiority of “Nordic” races were not much different from those of H. G. Wells and, of course, of Charles Darwin (one of the master charlatans of all time). These were considered geniuses at the time.

Hitler’s views struck a nerve with the Germans. His bully boys who beat opponents and Jews struck terror into those who would be likely to oppose him. He had the right evil combination of racism and fear to get his party forward in Germany.

In addition, he had wounded German national pride and the economic malaise that had put so many Germans into poverty, illness, and death.

He was good at weaving all of these into a party that in roughly 10 years had become the largest vote-getter in Germany. He was named chancellor and soon he was running a totalitarian party that suppressed all views except Nazism with extreme violence and cruelty.

This is America. This is very far from anything like National Socialism. There is no party in the USA that has a leader, a “Führer” who can whip up Americans the way Hitler whipped up Germans.

But we have a “Black Lives Matter” movement that is explicitly racist and blames white people for all of the problems of black people in America. Just as the Nazis had a program that blamed Jews and communists for all of the Germans’ problems, BLM blames white people for all of the problems of the blacks. Just like the Nazis found a simple solution for all of Germany’s problems — xenophobic rage — BLM blames white people for the problems of the blacks, long after racism as a matter of government policy had vanished.

Sadly, frighteningly, BLM, and some of its adherents, also explicitly blame Jews for the problems of blacks.

Just as the Nazis had “the big lie” that Germany had been beaten in “the Great War” because of “the stab in the back” of Germany by Jews and Communists, so BLM and its colleagues have “the big lie” that America is a racist nation through and through. This racism is said to have been put into effect by a nation of racist police, bent on sabotaging the lives of blacks by any possible means.

Any deaths by violence are terrible. Any deaths caused by police to innocent people are terrible.

BUT THE STARK TRUTH is that the immense majority of deaths by violence towards black people are caused by black people. The police are miracle workers for the work they do by going out into the most terrifying neighborhoods and risking their lives to protect black people. Every day policemen and women leave their homes and families largely to save the lives of families whose “representatives” are calling them Nazis.

The nation badly needs far more police to protect us from violent looters and arsonists and killers. What we get from the government are cries to “defund” the police. This is the precise equivalent of turning off the water to firefighters as a fire is raging.

Incredibly, in major cities of the USA, BLM and its wicked slogans have so much meshed with popular opinion that prestige city blocks are no named for BLM — including a block exactly in front of the White House!!!!

It’s heartbreaking that BLM has made its slogans so popular that there is almost no complaint against the major adherents of gun ownership, the black gangs that kill dozens of young blacks every weekend.

The racism by the police that made BLM so popular is found still, but rarely indeed. The violence by blacks towards blacks and whites is still running on high-octane gasoline. Even in the most prestigious neighborhoods here in my beloved Los Angeles, the violence and threats of it are so prevalent that people who would not have considered owning a gun are snapping them up like lottery tickets.

The illusion that blacks are being attacked by white police has become a big business. The black women who started BLM are raking it in by the tens of millions. So far as I can find online, little of it goes to poor black families. And what if it did? The blacks are lied to so much by their own “leaders” and by the Democrat Party that they are left with little to believe in.

The Democrats tell the blacks that their problems will be solved by federal government handouts. They tell the blacks that their problems are caused in large part by someone else.

No one is telling them that acquiring education, a skill, good work habits, good family habits, will do the trick of getting them to a good life. They are being lied to by a hyper-racialist political party.

Our nation has become in part an apartheid state in which Martin Luther King’s dream has been reversed: power is handed out very largely on the basis of skin color and not at all on the content of a man’s or woman’s character. Where do we go from here? Can a nation based on explicit racialism long survive?

Time to pray. Time to clean up our own act. Time to live up to our own promise. Time to turn to work and love, saving and caring. Time to be Americans. We shall overcome.

Ben Stein
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Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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