Our nation's history is our greatest guide in troubled times. As America faces challenges and choices in 2020, we can learn much from recalling the events of 1932.
The year 2020 has been a hard time; 1932 was worse. In that year, 25% of our workforce was unemployed. Bread lines stretched for blocks in America's great cities. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes by foreclosure or eviction. They congregated in makeshift shanty towns they derisively named "Hoovervilles" after the feckless incumbent President Herbert Hoover.
In 1932, it seemed possible that our form of government would be overthrown by desperate extremists from either end of the ideological spectrum; a "Red" revolution or a fascist "putsch" appeared equally likely.
Amid this turmoil, Franklin Roosevelt was elected president. His landslide victory wasn't founded on fostering fear. His upbeat message was one of hope. It rang out in his campaign song: “Happy Days are Here Again.”
In his inaugural address, Roosevelt vowed to tell Americans the truth. He went on to identify America's real enemies in those fraught times.
"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth frankly and boldly. ... This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself..."
Roosevelt properly fixed blame for cyclical financial chaos on materialism and the unregulated excesses of capitalism. As much at fault, he said, were those who, like many in the current administration, believe "that public office and high political position are to be valued by the standards of pride of place and personal profit."
Today, as in 1932, America needs a president who will speak the "whole truth." We need a president who is prepared to restore stability and integrity to America's economy by reining in business practices which enrich a few at the expense of the common good. Most importantly, we need a president who inspires a spirit of hope and unity, rather than one who generates fear and division.
We must demand probity, civility and maturity from our next president. We must insist on detailed and achievable policy proposals, not a litany of lies and recrimination. Finally, we must reject name calling and labelling and messages of fear. If we do, we, like FDR, can be certain that our great nation will revive and prosper.