Gittler Prize winner says inequality at longtime high

Stanford Sociology Professor Doug McAdam shares views, research

Income inequality in America is currently more extreme than at any other time since the Great depression of the 1930s, and is continuing to increase, Stanford Sociology Professor Doug McAdam said in a lecture on race and poverty following his acceptance of the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize recently.

Polarization among politically active Americans also has reached new heights, he said, declaring that the only time the U.S. House of Representatives has been more deeply divided was in the run-up to the Civil War.

“How did we go from an egalitarian, consensual society” in the period following World War II “to where we are today?” McAdam asked. He supplied an answer by demonstrating the central importance of race in the structuring of American politics from the Civil War to the present.

He reminded listeners in Rapaporte Treasure Hall that into the 1950s the Republican Party “was far more liberal than the Democrats in their racial views…. This was the party of Lincoln that grew out of the abolitionist movement,” while the Democratic Party was solidly committed to racial segregation in the South.

For all that four-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt was an icon of progressivism, Roosevelt never came out squarely for civil rights for blacks, and even refused to support proposals in Congress for anti-lynching legislation. Dwight D. Eisenhower maintained the tradition of liberal Republicans when he sent troops to Little Rock to support court-ordered desegregation of schools, while John F. Kennedy was “absolutely intent” on continuing the Democrats’ segregation-tolerant policy toward the South, McAdam pointed out.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s changed everything, he said; as the movement pushed Democrats toward a more liberal position, however, it opened a political opportunity which the Republicans seized to capture a block of Southern states that had been solidly Democratic.

By reversing federal policy on school desegregation, attempting to weaken the Voting Rights Act and appointing Southern racial conservatives to the Supreme Court, President Richard M. Nixon “succeeded in pulling together and overwhelmingly white, conservative coalition,” McAdam said.

He asserted that Ronald Reagan’s “revolution” was no such thing. “It continued trends in place since the Sixties,” McAdam said, “and obscured the importance of race in American politics.”

McAdam is the author of two books on the civil rights movement, including “Freedom Summer,” which was a follow up study of the lives of those who applied to take part in the 1964 Mississippi Summer project 20 years later.

More recently, he has sought to assess the ongoing civic effect of participation in Teach for America, to explore the relationship between neighborhood religious and civic life in Chicago, and to explain county-level variation in the burning of churches in the United States between 1996 and 2001.

The Gittler prize, which carries with it a $25,000 award and a medal, is given annually in recognition of outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic or religious relations. See BrandeisNow for more on McAdam.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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