If you watched the Republican Convention and wondered what the country would be like with a successful Romney-Ryan ticket, take a look at the new BBC series, “Copper.”
A sort of early day police drama, Copper paints an accurate portrait of what America was like in the latter half of the 19th century. It takes place during the waning days of the Civil War in New York’s infamous Five Points slum, and features an Irish American detective, Kevin Corcoran, played by British actor Tom Weston-Jones.
What makes Copper so timely today is its portrayal of social stratification that plagued the Untied States in the late 1800s. Throughout the drama, detective Corcoran must wend his way between the rarified air of New York’s powerful capitalist elite, its relatively small – compared to pre-Reagan America – middle class, and the pitiful filth of its overwhelming numbers of poor.
Within a few years after the period depicted in this series – a period during which the Republican Party would largely control the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court – this stratification only became more exaggerated. It was a time described by Mark Twain, in his typical cutting wit, as “the Gilded Age of Republicanism.”
It’s fitting that a British broadcasting company should be presenting an American historical piece like this. After all, the United Kingdom does, for some reason, have an excess of Irish actors, and those are necessary for a series of this kind.
In the mid-1800s, Catholic Irish immigrants in the United States were the hated aliens du jour. As such, they took all the worst jobs no one else would take. Since being a cop was considered beneath most people, Irish immigrants filled the ranks of police departments – hence, the enduring early 20th century stereotype of Clancy, the Irish cop.
The same is true about the American army in the late 19th century. Military service was also considered beneath most Americans. As a result, one third of the army on the frontier was comprised of black Americans and most of the remainder were European immigrants, mostly Irish. Again, that’s why you see so many stereotype Irish sergeants in Western movies.
This is the America the BBC is portraying in Copper.
What’s this have to do about Romney-Ryan? Let’s take a look at history.
The progressive movement in this country began in the Republican Party after the Civil War. Many Union veterans figured since they ended slavery in this country, perhaps they could wrest control of the country away from the capitalist interests – what today we call corporate interests – for the benefit of the masses.
For decades, the conservative and progressive elements of the Republican were engaged in internecine warfare, conservatives vs. progressives. Despite great resistance from the conservative elements of the party, the Republican progressive movement gave this country some of its greatest politicians, men like Teddy Roosevelt, the great “trust buster.”
When Teddy left the White House, the GOP moved heaven and earth to roll back his reforms. Teddy fought back, but was forced to leave the party in 1912 and create the Progressive Party, nicknamed the Bull Moose Party. On the Progressive ticket, Roosevelt made his last bid for the presidency, losing to Woodrow Wilson.
In the 1930s, the Democratic Party – led by Teddy’s distant cousin, Franklin – picked up the Progressive Party’s banner and rallied the country to climb out of the economic morass of the GOP’s Great Depression. The walls of social stratification began to crumple. The country experienced its greatest economic growth in its history. The middle class boomed. People were educated, well paid and able to buy their own homes. The American Dream was born.
Then in 1980, the Republicans foisted on the United States Ronald Reagan, an aged B-film actor and failed California governor. With him, the GOP pushed through its notorious theory of “trickle down economics” – cutting taxes for the country’s wealthiest citizens while offshoring U.S. jobs and stripping Americans of their benefits, and taking the U.S. from a creditor nation to a debtor nation.
In the 30 years since Reagan took office, the middle class has dwindled as wages have dropped 30 percent thanks to “trickle down.”
Today, the Republican Party has wrapped itself in the flag and religion and goose-stepped its way to the most extreme realm of conservative politics. It has stacked its presidential ticket with the worst form of vulture capitalist – Mitt Romney, the wayward son of a progressive Republican – and Paul Ryan, a man who calls progressivism “a cancer” on society.
Both these men believe the America of the late 1800s was its zenith. That is their idea of traditional American values. That is the GOP’s ideal of America.