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FDR and the Donald: Two Different Approaches to Governance

2016-07-23

I did not know until I read this post by “writeforthemasses” from June 28, which linked to this video of a speech by FDR in 1944, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had plans for after victory in the Second World War, plans which were dropped when he died of a cerebrovascular hemorrhage on April 12, 1945.  The direction of US policy and the federal government were, of necessity, left to Harry Truman, who was a newcomer to Roosevelt’s administration, having been vice president for only three months.

Roosevelt is considered by most historians to be one of the three greatest US presidents, after Washington and Lincoln; he helped to rescue the US from the Great Depression and directed the war effort to victory in WW II.  He believed that the common man needed protection and assistance, and he is known for saying this:

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” in in this speech, to complement the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.  This is an “economic” bill of rights.  It is justified by the Preamble to the Constitution, which confers upon the federal government the following purposes:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Specifically, the Constitution is intended to produce a government which “promote[s] the general welfare.”  The “welfare” rights of the people are broadly construed to include those things which provide for the people’s well-being: a job at a rate of pay which will allow adequate food, clothing, and recreation; housing, education, and medical care, and protection in one’s old age.  As shown below, Roosevelt’s idea of people’s rights include the rights of farmers, businessmen, and employed workers to “useful and remunerative” jobs, and freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies.

The Second Bill of Rights, from the speech referenced above:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

Our federal government could use a refresher course in applying this “Second Bill of Rights”, for which we have only a partial showing in our current system.  Specifically, we have been providing more abundance to those who already have too much, and stinting on providing enough for those who have too little.

Income inequality and wealth inequality have been increasing for thirty or forty years, since the benighted presidency of Ronald Reagan.  President Reagan began showing signs of mental decline early in his first term (after he was shot and nearly killed), and it appears that he left many policy decisions to his vice president, George H. W. Bush.  The first President Bush was an intelligent and capable man, but he was a conservative who paid only lip service to the notion that the federal government should provide for those with too little.

To contrast our current situation with the dark vision provided by the Donald in his nomination acceptance speech the other day, we have had a significantly improved crime rate in this country over the last twenty years.  There has been a small increase in some cities in the last year or two, but overall, crime, and especially violent crime, has been much reduced over the long term.  There has been a significant recovery from the very serious recession of 2008, and the yearly deficit has gone down steadily since that turbulent time.  The overall debt has dramatically increased because of the massive deficit that began in the Bush years and peaked with the recession; however, our capacity to pay off that debt has also dramatically improved.  Employment has improved significantly and steadily over the last eight years, although many US workers have abandoned their efforts to find work and have only recently been re-integrated into the economy.

In summary, the condition of the US economy has steadily improved over the last eight years.  What has not resolved is the plight of many middle-aged, steadily employed people who have been permanently thrown out of work by de-industrialization of the economy.  Manufacturing facilities have been moved overseas, to places where wages are lower and the condition of workers is much more marginal than here.  What has happened here is a deterioration to the state of things overseas.  We are beginning to feel the insecurity that people in developing countries have felt for many years.

The really serious development recently has been the rise of Islamic State terrorism; there have been repeated terror attacks all over the world, especially in Iraq, Turkey, and Western Europe.  The US military has responded to this development with aerial attacks against the base of the Islamic State, which have killed many leaders and degraded the oil refinement capabilities of the Islamists, but not reduced their capacity and motivation to strike within the unprotected civilian areas of the rest of the world.

Another serious recent development has been the exposure of police treatment of people of color by cell phone videos.  The number of shootings of black civilians has been relatively steady; what has changed has been the video documentation of the circumstances of these shootings.  As a result of these videos, people have become very concerned about the way they are treated by the police.  At the same time, the police have reacted as if they are under attack.  Who is actually under attack is a matter of perception.

The bottom line is that things are not nearly as dark as Donald has painted them.  He wants us to feel fundamentally insecure so that he can set himself up as our savior.  Donald gives us no specific plans for our rescue, but he assures us that he alone can perform the salvation.  How absurd, to think that Donald can rescue us from our existential plight any more than any other leader or government can.  Many people, though, will swallow Donald’s lies hook, line, and sinker; if he is elected, they are bound to be deeply disappointed.  What a great excuse to abrogate our civil liberties and force us to accept the destruction of the lives of the “other”– immigrants, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, and whomever Donald wishes to designate as the perpetrators of white America’s humiliation.  Doesn’t this sound similar to Hitler’s approach?  Only in Hitler’s time, it was the Jews who were the objects of destruction; this time, Sheldon Adelson will make sure that the Jews are spared and the Arabs (and many others) are given the shaft.

 

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