Policies

Nation at a Crossroads, Just like 1933

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By Angela Vullo

September 29, 2020–Ask yourself: Would our country exist today if Franklin Roosevelt had not been elected President?

During his four terms, President Roosevelt was faced with two foes, one domestic and one foreign, with an ominous overlap between the two.

In the same year that Roosevelt was inaugurated, another world leader rose to power.  In the spring of 1933, Adolf Hitler took over in Germany.  In fact, his rise was enabled by U.S. as well as British financiers, including the great grandfather of George Bush, Jr.  Similar shenanigans were exposed to be underway in the United States as well, but were thwarted.  More on this later.

Nation at a Crossroads, Just Like 1933

FDR speaks to the nation at his Inaugural

When FDR took office in 1933, he knew the existential conditions the country faced.  We are all familiar with FDR’s famous words, the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  He took on this fear with decisive positive measures.  Without those measures, the country would have gone in quite a different direction.

During the election period, FDR played his cards close to the vest as to what his policy would actually be if elected.  However, by the time of his inauguration, it became clearer.  As one close associate of the new leader commented, Roosevelt would be the best U.S. President, or the last. This article will take a closer look at what Roosevelt’s thinking was, as he expressed in his First Inaugural, which laid the basis for the New Deal.

Social-Economic Breakdown, Then and Now

The argument can be made that our country today is at a crossroads similar to that of 1933.  Although the pedigrees of the crises are different, the overriding conditions are the same: economic and social breakdown.  Unfortunately, there are two additional, threatening differences exhibited today. One is the widespread denial as to the severity of the crisis, and the second is that there is not yet a leader who is prepared to address it.  Contrary to today, FDR believed that he knew he had to govern by telling the people the brutal truth, because he knew that only truth could combat, “the nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Nation at a Crossroads, Just Like 1933

Distributing bread to the hungry during the Depression

Roosevelt understood that the only way to advance the country was to provide a vision: “when there is no vision the people perish.”  He was convinced that “our greatest primary task is to put people to work.”  This could only be done by direct intervention by the Federal Government itself, and he declared that, if the Congress failed to act, he would take “broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”

As a strong disciple of the U.S. Constitution, FDR believed that by defending the General Welfare was the only solution.  He addressed the country’s “common difficulties” and knew that the solutions had to encompass the country as a whole.

It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in all parts of the United States—a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer.  It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way.  It is the strongest Assurance that the recovery will endure.  . . .

If I read the temperament of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other  . . . This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.

Reining in Wall Street

Despite his focus on the urgent psychological and material needs of the population, FDR was also compelled to address the fact that he had powerful enemies who would try to stop his initiatives. Although the “practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion rejected by the hearts and minds of men,” there would have to be strong legislation to keep them at bay.  At the same time that he would create programs to put people to work, he would pass legislation to rein in the powerful financers of Wall Street, who created the crisis.

We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”   . . .  Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safe guards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

One of the cornerstones of FDR’s federal legislation in 1933 was the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act on June 16.  This piece of legislation, which separated commercial and investment banking, protected the banking system from a breakdown crisis for more than 66 years.

FDR signing Glass-Steagall in June 1933.

Suffice it so say, FDR was not popular on Wall Street, and as a result, a group of disgruntled bankers tried to run a putsch against the President in November 1934. Fortunately, the attempted coup was stopped by then-retired Marine Major Smedley Butler.  If the coup had succeeded, fascism would already have been alive in the U.S. even before the outbreak of World War II.

Address the Economic Emergency!

During this current election period, there is no serious debate of economic policy by either political party, for fear of alienating the powerful bankers.  Instead, the false notion is being propagated that prior to the outbreak of COVID, the United States had one of the most vibrant and powerful economies in the world.  This is sheer madness.

Economic health cannot be measured in low-wage job statistics (low unemployment figures) or high-priced financial swindles (the ballooning stock market).  The American people are not statistics, and they are suffering.  Due to certain safety nets in place, the damage does not look as dire as that of the 1930s, but the effects of the damage are reflected in the decline in manufacturing, collapsing and rotting infrastructure, and low wages, along with a fall in life expectancy.  None of this is adequately being addressed due to false beliefs about economic policy. A real, functioning economy has not existed in almost 60 years.

An unemployment line today

If this trend continues, our body politic will likely turn in the opposite direction of that we took in 1933. We are already seeing the tendency toward fascist economic policies looming on the horizon, with budget cuts on the one hand, and free money being given to the speculators, on the other.   We must learn the lessons from the past and take a page from FDR.  Without leadership with the proper vision, and the courage of those leaders from both sides of the aisle to align with that vision, this country will not survive.

There is a bill that already has been introduced in the U.S. Congress, H.R. 6422, which would begin the process of a Roosevelt-style recovery program.  The bill calls for the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, similar to what FDR used to build the country during the Great Depression. This bank would invest $4 trillion into much needed infrastructure and create 25 million new jobs.

Only this kind of positive policy can provide the trust and optimism to break the fear and pessimism that threatens the country.  Both political parties must support this bill.  If that happens, politics as usual will thankfully fade away, and a new policy direction will safely guide our nation in the days to come.

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