History, they say, is the greatest teacher. Unfortunately, in this generation, most are guilt about not reading the lessons of the past. As usual, I am reading two more books on FDR, basically with a focus on his political life- Alonzo Hamby’s “Man of Destine, FDR, a Political Life,” and Robert Dallek’s “FDR, a Political Life.” In truth nothing has changed in the last 100 years. There is no real need to go back too much further, because America was much more rural, with a completely different set of economic dynamics. The same forces of economic imperative, culture, race, greed and fear existed and it was worse.
One thing for sure that hasn’t changed is the “cult of the personality!” In a sense, all the good meaning and the important achievements of the New Deal (with its failures) would never have worked politically without the immense personal popularity of FDR. In the same sense he faced massive opposition even in the heart of the Depression and the recovery. Let us not forget that in 1932, after three years of the Depression, with possibly 1/3 of the country out of work, Hoover still received 39% of the vote against a very popular governor of NY, who in the last election, won by 725,000 votes, more than twice the record margin that had achieved in any state in history, in any state or federal election (Al Smith won in 1922 as governor with 325,000 or so votes), a man with a famous name, a successful governor and a person, who was thought of as conquering polio. In fact, in FDR’s life up to 1928, when he first ran for governor, he would have been famous for his charitable work, especially at Warm Springs. Let us not forget, that the millions who voted for Hoover in 1932, most often voted for Landon in 1936 and for sure Nixon and Goldwater. The 21 year old’s would be in their 50’s.
In the same sense we face the same dynamic with Trump, just like the country faced with Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, etc. It is all reflective of a hero who (supposedly) represents what a segment of the population wants. There are great rational and irrational fears in America regarding the border, libertarian freedoms of the far left and the right, the widening gap between the rich and poor, the changing racial demographics, the high cost of housing, education and healthcare and the culture itself. Many American young people are reflective of the film ,”The Last Picture Show.” They have no clue what they can do, where they will live, they are not getting married, children aren’t being born and there are two distinct Americas: one where people can raise their family, educate them, send them to camp, with specialty programs with social and physical enrichment, along with the proper connections and all the rest. Just look at the rural South and West from the Mississippi to the Rockies in the 20’s and 30’s and today. No matter what all of us know, we are part of the elite that at another time, folks looked up to and aspired to be part of. That has changed dramatically, and the illusion of Andy Hardy and Ozzie and Harriet (which had some rationale) has disappeared forever! Interestingly, it disappeared with Ricky (Rick) Nelson who became a rock and roll star and whose life spiraled far away from the life he was raised.
In the last week or so, as I scrolled through the television, I noticed at least 6-8 college basketball teams and all the players on both sides of the court, from different sections of the country were non-white (Black). Their hair, their tattoos and their style of playing was incredibly foreign to me. Did I care? Not that much since I haven’t watch any basketball since the end of Larry Bird’s career. But to many middle (aged and in the flyover states) Americans, I am sure they wondered why there was not one white player on the courts. One can see the same in the NBA, and it is reaching close to that in the NFL. In baseball, without Latino/Hispanics, half the teams, or more, would be gone. The commercials and the sitcoms represent a different racial America, reflective of the younger elements of the population, which is the audience the advertisers want to see. In Britain, there is a popular program, “Midsomer Murders,” which is in its 23rd season and we have seen all of the 120+ shows. It is set in very, well-off British exurbia. For the first 18 seasons it was lily white to the nth degree. Now each episode has Blacks integrated into every aspect of the plot. But, in fact, there are virtually no Blacks who live in this area and the idea of inter-marriage is absurd. In fact, that characters are Black is completely ignored, so after social criticism of the program’s make up, they made the changes. But, I am sure older folks are bewildered by the casting.
Thus, this divide transcends politics. It is something engrained in people. Therefore, others like the wealthy Liberty League in the 30’s (Long, Father Coughlin, Gerald Lk Smith) or FOX Noise today (or the Klan, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Michigan Militia, etc), cater to the disenchanted. They keep on telling their audience that someone else is getting all the benefits of our society. In other words your legacy along with the country and the social order you love is being stolen!