Covid-19 May Destroy Donald Trump’s PresidencyRoundup
tags: welfare state, Great Depression, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Relief
Meg Jacobs teaches history at Princeton University. She is working on a book about the New Deal and World War II.
We are now living in a nation of Trump Towns. Overnight talk of a recession is everywhere. With shops and restaurants shuttering, entertainment from Broadway to the NBA closing down and the travel industry grounded, the economy is coming to a screeching halt. That means a massive loss of wages and jobs, with untold financial hardships. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has warned that unemployment could exceed 20 percent.
And the stock market is in a free fall, with each day bringing new lows. Things will likely get much worse, bringing untold harm to millions of Americans who find themselves out of a job with little safety net to rely on.
We have seen this before. In the early 1930s, the bottom was falling out until there was nowhere left for Republican President Herbert Hoover to stand. The stock market plunge of 1929 set in motion a loss of business confidence that led to the Great Depression.
Like today’s pandemic, the Depression crisis had been a long time in the making. The economy of the 1920s was riddled with structural problems, from declining agricultural profits to the maldistribution of income to a fragile banking industry. Hoover, an engineer by training and the former secretary of commerce, did take steps to restore confidence, but they were not enough. As things worsened, Americans realized that much bolder measures were necessary, measures that Hoover refused to take. Angered by this unwillingness, voters decisively elected Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 to save the day. Absent massive intervention—or even with it—Donald Trump risks a repeat in 2020.