Trump Continuing to Fight on Could Cost American Lives, Jobs and MoreRoundup
tags: Herbert Hoover, Donald Trump, lame duck, presidential transition, COVID-19
Eric Rauchway, professor of history at the University of California, Davis, has written six books, most recently Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal. Follow
Unlike President Trump, Herbert Hoover conceded the presidency, in a telegram he sent from Stanford, Calif., at 10 p.m. Pacific time on Election Day in 1932. The president and his staff thought the defeat bitterly unfair; “no man ever was treated more unjustly,” one aide wrote. But they had to face facts as reported in the press.
Yet while Hoover conceded the election, he refused to concede the argument over how to battle the Depression, which continued to deepen in a fresh epidemic of bank failures. Suffering a pandemic now, Americans find themselves asked to indulge the currently outgoing president in his refusal to admit defeat and permit a transition. “What's the downside for humoring him,” one official asks, anonymously. In considering that question, we might count the cost of Hoover's inability to accept that the electorate wanted a change in crisis management. Americans lost jobs, money and lives while he resisted the consequences of the election — and the same thing could well happen today without an orderly transition.
Franklin Roosevelt campaigned on the New Deal in 1932. By the November canvass, he had promised a massive federal public works program; support for agricultural commodity prices; old-age pensions and unemployment insurance; hydroelectric projects for economic development; soil conservation programs, which also would relieve unemployment; federal organization of industry to adjust production and to ensure good wages and hours for factory workers; financial regulation, separating commercial from investment banking — in short, nearly everything we now associate with the New Deal. To be sure, he promised fiscal restraint, too, but never at the expense of the New Deal: “If starvation and dire need on the part of any of our citizens make necessary the appropriation of additional funds which would keep the budget out of balance, I will not hesitate to tell the American people the full truth and recommend to them the expenditure of this additional amount.” Even inflation of the currency, which Roosevelt knew better than to promise publicly lest he imperil the effect of the policy, he had promised “point blank” off the record.
For Roosevelt, such pledges amounted not merely to a program for recovery from the Depression but for building a better nation. He promised voters that his administration would “restore the close relationship with its people which is necessary to preserve our democratic form of government.”
The transition now, as then, need not be an interregnum. The Presidential Transition Act of 1963, often and recently amended, provides for a smooth shift from one president and policy regime to another. But the constitution and laws still require that officials acknowledge the basic facts and legitimacy of elections. Without such admissions, in time of crisis each passing day increases the cost of flouting democracy.