Aug 19 • 6M

The Beginning

The year was 1946

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Robert Reich
Robert Reich exposes where power lies in our system — and how it's used and abused.
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I was born on June 24 in 1946 to Mildred Freshman Reich and Edwin Saul Reich at the Mercy Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

That was ten days after Donald John Trump was born to Fred Trump and Mary Anne MacLeod Trump at the Jamaica hospital in the borough of Queens, New York.

It was 12 days before George Walker Bush was born to Barbara Pierce Bush and George Herbert Walker Bush at Grace-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut.

And 56 days before William Jefferson Blythe III, whose name was changed to Bill Clinton, was born to Virginia Cassidy and William Jefferson Blythe, Jr., at the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas.

I did not become President. But my grandmother, Minnie Reich — with whom I spent a great deal of time as an infant and toddler when Mildred was helping Ed at the store — told me repeatedly that I would be the first Jewish president. (In hindsight, I think she was seeking to reassure herself that despite my being a runt — a full head shorter than others my age — I would one day make her proud.)  

All of us — little Donald, George W., Billy, and I — were conceived in the weeks following America’s victory over Hitler’s Germany and Hirohito’s Japan, the previous September.

Ed Reich had been a medic during the war. Fred Trump had built barracks for Navy personnel. George H.W. had been a Navy pilot. Bill Blythe had repaired ships and tanks. At the end of the war, Ed, Fred, George, and Bill returned to Mildred, Mary Anne, Barbara, and Virginia, respectively — to stoke what would be known as the post-war baby boom. (More babies were born in 1946 than ever before — 3.4 million of us little darlings, 20 percent more than the year before.)

We were born into an America that felt proud of its war victories but was also exhausted by war. Surprising almost everyone, the nation emerged economically stronger than it had been before the war. During the war, almost everyone had been put to work and almost every factory run at full capacity — thus ending the Great Depression more effectively than any of the many programs FDR had tried.  

We were born to men and women whose futures were suddenly filled with more possibility than they had been for almost a decade and a half — for most of their young lives — but who were also shaken by the Depression and war, and by the brutality they had witnessed or heard about or would soon learn of. They had survived an economic cataclysm. They had fought fascism. They saw the results of genocide.

Because of the challenges they had faced together, this generation of young Americans felt more connected to other Americans than any generation before them. Black Americans and women were still second-class citizens, to be sure. But the nation emerged from World War II far more certain of the virtues of American democracy and more confident about the American system than it would be seventy-six years hence, and more determined to overcome its faults.

The two world wars and Depression decade between had also obliterated the entrenched fortunes of the Gilded Age — thereby leveling the playing field of the American economy and opening the way to the largest middle class the world had ever seen.  

When I was a toddler, Ed had saved just enough money to rent a store on Lakawanna Avenue in Scranton and buy the only things he had learned how to sell during a job before the war — women’s dresses and blouses. He called it the Beverly Shop, named after his sister.

When Donald was a toddler, Fred was a real-estate developer in the Bronx who had acquired a mortgage-servicing company with access to the titles of many properties nearing foreclosure, which he bought cheaply and sold at a profit.

When little George was a toddler, George H.W. was in the oil business in Texas.

Bill’s father had been a traveling salesman who died in an automobile accident three months before Bill was born. Four years after Bill’s birth, Virginia married Roger Clinton, co-owner of an automobile dealership.

So what did Donald, George, Bill, I, and millions of other boomers do for the next 76 years? Did we make America better, more inclusive, more tolerant? Did we strengthen American democracy? What’s the legacy we are leaving to future generations?

As you might imagine, I have lots to say about this. More to come.


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