When Trump was first elected on November 8th of 2016, parallels from the left and from chaosticians alike began to circulate literally overnight referencing the similarities between Trump and Hitler. Memes, tweets and Facebook posts abound about the disaster that Trump would be. The prospects of world peace and a stable global economy seemed more intangible than ever. We felt on shaky ground, some of us for the first time.
It is understandable that the danger of Trump’s hateful rhetoric had people quickly associating him with Hitler. I personally think that gives Trump too much credit. We need to stop looking too far into the global future with the Hitler comparisons, and focus more on the immediate threat—that to the U.S. and the chasm of divisiveness that Trump has broken wide open through every mountain, river and valley throughout the country.
I think it would be more apt to compare Trump and his administration’s current nationalist agenda, along with their already legislated policies, to those instilled in the country’s own distant past. By following the adage “history repeats itself,” can we really predict what may realistically happen in the future under Trump? And how the country and planet might recover long after he has gone?
Within days of Trump’s election, a Facebook friend of mine posted a meme that foresaw the doom and gloom that liberals predicted would come to pass under Trump’s rule. I admit that when I saw it, I shared it right away. I didn’t research the claims made in the meme, I accepted them as fact and allowed the statements made in it to hasten my doubts and fears. The meme simply said, “Republicans Control: Senate, House, majority of governors, Supreme Court pick and Presidency. This hasn’t happened since 1928. Then 1929 happened.”
Yes, it is true that in 1928 Republicans controlled both branches of the government. The Republican Party retained control of the White House all throughout the 1920s, starting when Warren Harding became President on March 4, 1921 and continuing with disastrous effect into Herbert Hoover’s 1928 presidency. Republicans wouldn’t lose control of both branches of government until the mid-term elections of 1930, followed by their loss of the White House in 1932.
And yes, the stock market crash in October of 1929 did help trigger the Great Depression, and Republicans were in control when this momentous event took place. But to make the broad statement that one was the direct cause of the other is oversimplifying matters. To lay blame on one facet when there were other aspects in play starting from the end of World War I and building into the late-1920s, is to be naïve and biased.
What is false in the statement is that Trump’s victory secured control of both branches of the government for the first time since 1928. That is simply not true. Republicans also controlled the executive and legislative branches of the government from 1953 to 1954 during Eisenhower’s presidency, and again during George W. Bush’s presidency from 2003 to 2006 when they lost control during the mid-term elections of that year.
It is fair to admit that the Republicans did hold power of both branches throughout the 1920s and were in control when the Great Depression took a foothold around the world. But to argue that the Republican Party bears sole responsibility for the global economic crisis is taking things a step too far.
A Republican would have to concede, at a bare minimum, that perhaps the Republican policies instituted during the 1920s were a facet involved in bringing about the depression, but you can’t measure how much blame to lay on them and say that they bear sole responsibility. If that were true, you would have to discount three key facts:
- That some of the facets that brought about the depression preceded the 1920s,
- That the depression raged on well after the United States went Democratic in 1933, and
- The Great Depression was a global event, not just a national or even continental one.
Although the depression of the 1930s was a worldwide occurrence it was, arguably, an offshoot of events in the US and their administration’s policies in the financial sector throughout the 1920s. The United States, and foreign global entities including Japan and Great Britain, continued their struggle to recover from the human and financial costs of WWI. They were reasonably preoccupied with their own individual recoveries.
The fact that Herbert Hoover had been the US government’s Food Administrator during WWI and President Harding’s Secretary of Commerce in 1920, may be a relevant factor in determining what exactly went wrong in the 1920s. During the great war as Food Administrator, and rightly so, Hoover was key in having the U.S. agriculture industry increase their production to assist their European allies.
The prior industrial revolution of the late 1800s had served to improve farming capabilities, replacing horses and mules with tractors and other machinery, and production soared to feed the Europeans. The production of more and larger crops and surpluses in meat had the direct effect of causing the price of agricultural products in the US to fall dramatically, which only managed to hurt farmers in the long run. Even after the war, the agriculture and manufacturing industries were in a mode of overproduction, and the result was prolonged and unnecessary suffering by families the world over.
The Republican Party in the 1920s, under Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover respectively, were lackadaisical in their approach to the economy. The first in a long line of mistakes that drowned the globe into economic ruin happened long before the crash of 1929. In the years after the end of WWI, the U.S. government failed to implement economic oversight, and this is when things started to go terribly wrong.
The government failed to set a solid economic plan in place, and they failed to have their own government study and monitor the U.S. economy. There was a conscientious disregard for the need for government regulation. None of these three Republican administrations felt it was a priority to regulate the stock market and the bonds market. The economy was strong, and they coasted on the positive support from the country.
There was no attempt to control the banking, manufacturing or agriculture industries, and since there was little to no oversight on the state of the economy and the state of these three key industries, the stock market crash of 1929 under President Hoover burst the bubble that had been enveloping what was revealed to be a very vulnerable country.
In the year leading up to the crash of 1929, during the election cycle of 1928, President Calvin Coolidge chose not to run for re-election. This decision opened the door for a new Republican candidate to take the reins. In competition with Herbert Hoover during the republican primaries were Vice-President Charles Dawes, and former Illinois Governor Frank Lowden.
Herbert Hoover was clearly not new to politics, with his experience in the posts of Food Administrator and Secretary of Commerce, but he was a newcomer to the presidential race. He came off to his fellow republicans and the electorate as having a certain appeal, but the potency of that appeal had an untested strength at the time and they didn’t anticipate how strong that appeal would become.
Even with that appeal, Hoover soon discovered he would face opposition from the party faithful because of his support of prohibition. He faltered in a few key primaries, when he had been expected to breeze through them. It was decided that if a deadlock occurred at the Republican National Convention, Vice-President Charles Dawes would accept a draft nomination to proceed onto the ballot. But then, right before the RNC was set to start, Frank Lowden suddenly withdrew his nomination. As a result, Hoover was nominated on the first ballot.
Two months later, in August 1928, Hoover made this proclamation during his acceptance speech: “We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of this land… We shall soon, with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this land.” Those words would come to haunt Herbert Hoover repeatedly over the course of his presidency and throughout the duration of the Great Depression.
On the other side of the aisle, the presidential nominee for the Democrats was quickly determined to be New York Governor Al Smith. He was Roman Catholic, and in the weeks leading up to the Democratic primaries, Al Smith would come to realize the impact that anti-Catholic rhetoric would have on his campaign.
Ministers in the Protestant Church issued stern warnings to their followers about what would happen if Smith became President. They preached that the Pope would move his Church to the US, lording over them all from Washington, and the flocks of Protestant Democrats believed them. In a survey of 8,500 Southern Methodist Church ministers, only four supported Al Smith.
Many other voters were being swayed against Smith in their decision at the polls by their contempt for bigotry, racism and particularly the KKK. They believed that the Catholic Church was “Un-American,” and an “alien culture” that was against freedom and democracy. Even with this opposition, Al Smith ran virtually unopposed and secured the Democratic nomination on the first run of the ballot.
On the day of the Presidential election on November 6, 1928 Herbert Hoover became the third consecutive Republican to secure a landslide victory against the Democrats. Hoover won handily, a mass of red on the map of the United States, with a tiny sea of blue in the south east corner of the country. He won 444 of 538 Electoral College votes, 40 states, and 58% of the popular vote. To put that into perspective, Trump won only 304 EC votes, 30 states, and just 46.1% of the popular vote.
The Republican Party was given credit for the booming economy of the 1920s after WWI, and Hoover was granted the post of the highest position in the country as a result. Hoover even won several blue states that hadn’t voted red since the end of reconstruction in 1877, which saw a formal end to confederate nationalism and slavery.
Herbert Hoover was sworn in as the 31st President of the United States on March 4, 1929. Less than eight months later, the stock market crashed. One year after the crash, in the fall of 1930, panic in the banking sector set in for the first time. There would be three more major episodes for the banks in the next couple of years, but that first one in the fall of 1930 had caused investors to harbor mistrust for their banks, having them demand cash, and forcing their banks to liquidate loans from other sources to meet their demands.
The longer the depression dragged on, it had the effect of negatively influencing the country’s foreign policies in such a way that the rest of the world stepped away from the U.S., and their government tightened a noose around itself becoming more and more isolationist.
Key in this development was the U.S. government’s legislature in passing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff on June 17, 1930. This legislation was enacted with the purpose of protecting U.S. businesses, by charging high tariffs for imports and implementing a tit-for-tat retaliation on economic grounds. It backfired and led to decreased trade between the U.S. and foreign buyers. Why Trump and his administration haven’t or won’t look to the history of their own party in setting their own policies and tariffs against perceived enemies, creating foes of their allies, only they can say for sure.
It seems on the surface that Trump, his administration, and their agenda, almost 90 years later, have learned nothing. They should have taken some difficult lessons to heart after the stock market crash. It appears though, that the current government’s divisionism and enactment of nationalistic policies is happening in the reverse, with them enacting these policies unnecessarily, almost out of spite, only to have the same outcome of alienating their allies and creating chaos worldwide.
Whereas the tariffs and nationalism in the 20s and early 30s were implemented post-war, Trump’s minions give the grandiose appearance of imposing tariffs, bullying their allies and breaking down treaties and alliances that have been in place since the end of WW2, with the end-game of creating war and chaos.
Draw what parallels you like to today’s political climate from those statements. I look at the Trump administration. He has all the best people, with their flouting of regulations, stripping down of the EPA, and rolling back of the peoples’ protections against big banks and the stock market. You must fear another great crash coming in the not too distant future, and one that may not be so easy to recover from.
When looking at the bigger picture of life in the U.S. in the 1930s, you must also consider the climate conditions during that time. The droughts and dust storms that decimated the Mississippi Valley in the 1930s, which alone would have arguably crippled the country even without the crash, were a huge contributing factor in the magnitude of the Great Depression.
The endless droughts served to advance the weakened, broken state of American farmers. Millions of acres of farmland were destroyed, farms folded, and taxes went unpaid. Caravans of farmers moved west in search of a better life, only to find once they reached California, that things weren’t much better there either.
After that first banking panic occurred in the fall of 1930, the next two bank frenzies occurred in roughly six-month intervals, in the spring and fall of 1931. In response, Hoover and his administration attempted to lend aid to these banks by providing them with government loans, the idea being that these banks would pass down the aid in the form of small business loans to their investors, who could then hire back their employees. That never fully transpired. The last banking frenzy occurred roughly one year later in the fall of 1932. This last one was the death-nell for the banking industry.
Hoover’s belief that government should not get involved in the economic crisis, nor be responsible for job creation or economic relief, resulted in the country with its roughly 14 million unemployed (20 percent of the population) overwhelming voting out the Republican Party in favor of Franklin Roosevelt and his Democratic Party on November 8, 1932. The best news in all of this, if it could relate to today’s politicial landscape, is that it would take 24 years, until November 4, 1952, for a Republican to win back the White House again, when Dwight D. Eisenhower secured a landslide win over Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson.
Before the spring of 1933, as Roosevelt was sworn in as President on March 4th of that year, literally thousands of banking institutions had become insolvent and closed their doors. FDR’s first order of business after his inauguration was to enact a four-day bank holiday, wherein he had all functioning bank facilities close for that duration while Congress could pass reform legislation. Only those banks on solid financial footing would be allowed to reopen.
At the same time, FDR started what would come to be known as “fireside chats” where he regularly addressed the American people over the radio, helping to calm his country and restore their confidence in government. In just his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt was successful in passing key legislation that was instrumental in stabilizing the industrial and agricultural sectors, creating jobs, and stimulating the country’s recovery.
During these first three crucial months, FDR also sought to garner protections for depositors at banks by creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and formed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the stock market. The hope with these groundbreaking protections was to prevent the kinds of abuses and oversights that ultimately led to the 1929 crash under the Republican Party.
When the depression began in the months after the crash of 1929, the U.S. was the only industrialized country that did not have unemployment insurance or social security in some form or another. Finally, in 1935, a Democratic Congress passed the Social Security Act which gave Americans unemployment, disability and old age security benefits for the first time in its history.
Around the globe, the effects of the depression were felt to great, world-altering effect. In Europe, high unemployment and the hardships garnered by the depression there were leading extremist behaviors and ideals to take root. Perhaps most significantly in the depression’s cause and effect on future events, you can find a direct correlation between the depression and the rise of extremism in Germany, which led to Hitler’s rise and the humanitarian horrors of WWII in the late 1930s through the end of the war in 1945. Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany rose to power, and Germany’s aggression led to war throughout Europe in 1939.
While Germany was brutally plowing its way through Europe, the Americans were publicly maintaining a neutral stance to the unfolding war. Behind the scenes, they were quietly building up their military arsenal in support of Britain and France. The availability of private sector jobs quickly geared up as a result. When the U.S. declared war on Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, the draft, or conscription, was reinstated a few short weeks later. These two boosts in the private and public sectors would quickly lead to the nation’s unemployment rate falling below pre-1930s levels.
Whereas the US’s isolationist legislation in the years following the end of WWI and the crash of 1929 were a direct result of the major world powers and their collective struggles to recover from the financial costs of the war, Trump’s administration appears to be leading the way in putting themselves first, and punishing everyone else in the process, consequences be damned. Allies are becoming foes. Enemies are being lauded. Dictators and authoritarians are being praised. Up is down. Black is white. Truth is lies. God help us all. //