Time to Recall a Progressive ‘Truly Great’ First 100 Days

tags: FDR, Trump, 100 days

Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (Simon & Schuster). He is currently writing Radicals at Heart: Why Americans Should Embrace their Radical History (The New Press).  Follow him on Twitter: @harveyjkaye.

Franklin Roosevelt’s first “Hundred Days” of 1933, in which the newly-elected president and a Democratic-controlled Congress confronted the ravages of the Great Depression by enacting an unprecedented roster of 15 major new laws, have haunted the egomaniacal Donald Trump – and his own first 100 days as president have fascinated the media. While Trump in his own inimical way has been both dismissing the significance of the first 100 days and hyping the greatness of his own presidential performance in the course of those days, journalists and pundits have been keeping scorecards on him. But no consensus has emerged. 

Brushing aside the Trump campaign’s apparent ties to Putin’s Russia and the flagrant greed and conflicts of interest of the new president and his family, conservatives have unashamedly celebrated his Cabinet and Supreme Court appointments, executive orders, budget proposals and legislative initiatives. Breathing a sigh of relief that the Affordable Care Act survives, liberals have anxiously mocked Trump for his reversals, betrayals and immediate failures. And recognizing the destruction already wrought and further promised, progressives woefully agonize about what he is doing to the nation. 

Unfortunately, few have taken the time to recall what FDR and his New Dealers actually accomplished in their legendary “Hundred Days.” But we who are determined to resist, and fight back against, Trump’s and the right’s assaults on the public good – their war against the public programs that enable life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the public agencies and regulations that protect the environment and secure the rights of citizens as consumers, workers and voters; the public schools that empower generations; the public media, history and the arts that enrich our lives; and the public parks and spaces that allow us to refresh ourselves – should do so. We should do so not only because Trump and his comrades have directly targeted FDR’s legacy for destruction, but also to remind us all how a progressive President and people launched a revolution and started making America truly greater. The Resistance needs to develop a memory of how past generations confronted reactionary threats to American democracy.

In the early 1930s, Americans had reason to wonder and worry about the future of American democracy. The Great Depression was destroying the economy and overwhelming public life and resources. But as much as Americans suffered, they did not suffer passively. Bearing the Stars and Stripes, Midwestern farmers were mobilizing and taking the law into their own hands to halt foreclosures and block shipments of produce to markets. Organizing themselves in Unemployed Leagues, jobless workers were marching and demanding state and federal action to provide relief and jobs. And in 1932, 20,000 World War I veterans, many joined by their families, had made their way by every conveyance possible to Washington DC to petition Congress to immediately distribute the “Veterans’ Bonus” payments they were not supposed to receive until 1945. Sheriffs and their deputies fought farmers; police and hired thugs attacked workers; and General Douglas MacArthur led fully armed troops against the Bonus Marchers’ DC encampments – not to mention, southwestern state governments were repatriating both Mexicans and Mexican-Americans back across the border. 

With unemployment, homelessness and hunger increasing, and unrest spreading, President Herbert Hoover seemed incapable of addressing the crisis. Echoing the fears and desperation of the upper-classes, Vanity Fair editorialized in its June 1932 issue, “Appoint a dictator!”

Though no less elite, Democratic politician Franklin Roosevelt, the son of Hudson Valley gentry, had a different view of things. He knew American history, and what he knew had led him to believe that to save democracy Americans had to do what they had done in the past – enhance it! He did not fear Americans’ democratic impulses. In fact, he told students at Milton Academy in 1926, he feared what might happen if they were too long thwarted. ...

Read entire article at Moyers & Company

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