Even an FDR would have tough going today

In 2017, the incoming administration inherited a bad system that needed to be reformed, but, as we know. it wasn’t.  In 2021, the incoming administration will face overlapping emergencies probably even worse than Franklin Roosevelt did in 1933. 

The USA and much of the rest of the world faces not only an economic crisis, but an ongoing series of weather-related crises and probably a continuation of the pandemic plus ongoing international crises.

FDR was sworn in with the economy in ruins, including Wall Street and the banking system.  The country was pretty much ready to accept any bold action that FDR might propose. 

Yesterday’s leader

There were a number of political currents much more radical than Roosevelt––the CIO, the Progressive Party in WIsconsin, the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, Huey Long’s “Every man a king” movement.  The Communists and socialists didn’t have a mass following, but they were more influential than they ever were before or since and gave a lot of energy to the labor movement.

In the political spectrum of his time, Roosevelt was what we’d now call center-left.  The Democratic Party was never a true party. like the British Labor party or the French Communist Party, but labor unions had a place at the table, along with the oil industry, teh real estate industry adn so on..

The opposition to the New Deal didn’t coalesce until 1938, when the Republican-Dixiecrat alliiance blocked FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court and FDR failed to purge the Democratic Party of his strongest opponents in the Senate.

Then, too, there was no military-industrial complex in the USA in the 1930s.  The U.S. had a smaller standing army than Portugal.  The military-industrial cpmplex as we know it today was a creation of the Democratic administrations of the 1940s and its main opponents were Republican isolationists, many of them progressives who remembered World War One

Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was in some respects like the New Deal—a short period of radical reform terminated by a war. Johnson’s legacy is as a great civil rights president – the greatest since Lincoln and Grant.

But except for Medicare, none of the Great Society programs provided universal benefits to a wide public, and none of them except Medicare were broadly popular.

Tomorrow’s leader?

The incoming president in 2021 will face a different balance of forces than FDR did.  Wall Street and the Fortune 500 corporations are not in disarray. 

Policies put in place during the Obama administration allow the Federal Reserve to prop up the banking and financial system without legislation.  The bailouts enacted by Congress earlier this year primarily benefit big business.

It is hard to see how any program of progressive reform can be enacted without a drastic reduction in military commitments and war spending.  But millions of Americans depend on the war machine for their livelihoods—not just plutocrats, but working people and the middle class.

We need to replace the military-industrial complex with a Green New Deal.  But I don’t see any mass movement in favor of it, and even if there were, it would be a big challenge to bring about.

The strongest mass movement we have in the United States today is the Black Lives Matter protest movement.  It is the biggest U.S. mass movement in my adult lifetime.

But the leaders of this movement, unlike the New Dealers, see the main division in the United States as racist white people vs. African-Americans and their allies. They don;t see it as the common people of all races vs. a rich and powerful elite.

Of course racial prejudice and racial discrimination, including police abuse of minorities, are a great evil and it is good that there is a strong movement for change.

But seeing everything through a racial lens is perfectly compatible with plutocracy and the forever wars.  That’s why BLM gets support from big corporations and foundations. 

The goals of Black Lives Matter need to be part of a larger, more inclusive movement, and I don’t see one on the horizon.  Of course this could change overnight.  Maybe it already has changed and I don’t see it yet.

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