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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Trump the New FDR?

One thing that caught my eye when thinking about Trump is the following (via Arnold Kling's askblog):
Often he acted not by following any grand design but by sheer instinct, hastily improvising. . .He deliberately fostered disarray among his own people. . .Disorder, delays, and muddle were frequently the watchwords; problems were met principally by improvisation, not long-term strategy.
When I read that, I thought the writer (Jay Winik), was writing about Trump. It turns out, however, that he was writing about FDR. And now that I think about it, FDR and Trump have a lot of similarities in addition to those noted above:

  • Use of Communications Technology: FDR pioneered the effective use  by a President of that cutting edge technology of the day, radio, while Trump pioneered the use of Twitter.
  • Infrastructure Projects: Both were/are big supported of massive government supported projects, FDR via the WPA, Trump, for example, wants to build a massive wall separating Mexico and the United States.
  • Wealth: Both were/are extremely wealthy, yet appealed politically to the common/deplorable man/woman.
  • Great Britain: FDR was allied with Great Britain, Trump wants to form and even tighter alliance with Great Britain.
  • Russia: FDR allied with the communists in Russia to defeat Hitler; Trump was allegedly helped in his campaigning by the Russians.
  • Political Opposition: Both were/are profoundly hated by their political opposition.
Many have noted that Trump is an anomaly by being the first person to win the presidency after never having held political office, not to mention having people of both parties against him as well as the media and being outspent 2 to 1 by his opponent.

But he still, by definition, has to have some past president that he's most similar to. I think that past president is FDR. What do y'all think?


Peter said...

No doubt Harry will be along shortly to insist this describes Hitler, not FDR, but I think it's very insightful. Progressive heads are going to keep exploding for quite some time, but it's going to be interesting to see how conservatives react if all his fevered activity proves popular. In addition to widespread wariness about his character and bombast (let's be honest--more than wariness), I think libertarians and constitutional constructionalists may have to face the fact that, for many, hating Washington and all who run it doesn't necessarily translate into a principled belief in limited government.

Bret said...

I added the humor tag because by comparing the two, I know that every progressive will consider it an insult to FDR and many Trump supporters will consider it an insult to Trump. Always fun to insult everybody in one shot!

erp said...

Trump will have a long way to go before he reaches FDR's despicable level of ignoring intel and allowing the Japanese to bomb an unprotected Pearl Harbor as a ploy to force the U.S. into WW2 in order to save Stalin's chestnuts.

At least with Trump and unlike Obama, the media will report on all Trump's objectionable actions, real and imagined.

o/t Apparently Trump intercepted Obama's parting gift to Iran. A mere 221 mil., but as the saying goes, a million here, a million there and pretty soon you have some real money.

erp said...

Correction: The parting gift of 221 mil was to the PA, not Iran.

Harry Eagar said...

It would be helpful if writers about history would look up some history.

As infrastructure projects go, the border wall is not at all like, say, the TVA, which led to the development of enormous job growth. I'll let erp tell us how many jobs we cn expect once the wall is done.

Few people (none on this blog, I'll bet) know that Roosevelt ran in '32 as a budget hawk, pledged to slash federal spending and balance the budget, or that he appointed a fierce deficit hawk, Lewis Douglas, as director of the budget.,_1933

Between the time he campaigned and the time he took office, something changed -- the banking system collapsed. Then, he began accepting the advice of his Brain Trust, which had (from his days as governor in '28) advocated controls on farm output to reflate prices and spending to put people to work.

I could go on, but only people with a cartoon view of the Depression will see any comparisons between Roosevelt and Trump.

Which president was most like Trump? Wilson. Both racist, xenophobic, master orators (though of very different styles), authoritarian, thin-skinned, quick to rattle the sabre, interventionist, megalomaniac. There are notable differences: Wilson Presbyterian, Trump irreligious; Wilson treated women as a romantic, Trump treats them purely commercially; Wilson had a number of talented associates, Trump none.

Bret said...

I thought about Wilson too, but stylewise, Trump feels more like FDR to me.

erp said...

Bret, I was around when FDR was president and can't see the faintest resemblance in style or politics. FDR was a socialist and IMO went even so far as to flirt with communism. Trump is a laissez-faire capitalist. FDR speaking style was smarmy, Trump bombastic.

In general, I like what Trump's doing, but vigorously oppose sending in troops anywhere on U.S. soil -- it is, in fact, illegal for him to do so. If Chicago needs help managing its crime situation, the governor, a Republican, can send in the National Guard to keep order.

Harry, you must have heard the one about assumptions. What makes you think I support building a wall. I support enforcing the laws in effect now. If that means augmenting the border patrol with the National Guard, let it be so until the situation is normalized. Anybody found here illegally should be shipped out or jailed until their situation can be adjudicated.

Re: FDR and the Collapsing banking system. Doncha have an expert to explain why that happened????? Do the words feds meddling where they have no business to meddle ring a bell.

Re: Trump an orator. That's a new one on me.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "Trump is a laissez-faire capitalist."

In some ways. He's anti-international-trade though, which disqualifies him from being really laissez-faire (though I'm not a huge fan of unrestricted international trade).

erp wrote: "If Chicago needs help managing its crime situation..."

Many ways that Trump could send in "Feds" without sending in troops.

erp wrote: "Anybody found here illegally should be shipped out or jailed until their situation can be adjudicated."

Well, probably only those who have acted criminally in other ways will be shipped out. If all of them were shipped out, forget eating fresh veggies and fruit.

erp wrote: "Trump an orator. That's a new one on me."

Yeah, new to me too. Trump is an entertainer though and knows how to connect with a crowd. He's not nearly as effective reading pre-written speeches.

erp said...

Bret, Very probably a president has options other than sending troops, but Trump actually said that he'd send troops. I'd support anything he'd want to do that was legally permitted to stop the carnage in Chicago. Obviously, Emanuel either doesn't want to stop it or is in over his head.

People who come here to pick crops are here legally. In Vermont, it was quite amazing. Apple pickers came from Jamaica every year to pick apples -- many were second and even third generation -- and returned home in the fall. It was a very small town, so everyone got to know them and their kids, etc. and looked forward to their arrival. It was quite amicable and friendly . I never saw their quarters, but knew the orchard owners well. They were true Yankees and I doubt there was anything amiss with the arrangements.

Just remembered, we also had a large contingent of Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam war was over. A visit to the local supermarket was an adventure in diversity -- the friendly outgoing dark-skinned Jamaicans, the tiny reserved pale Vietnamese -- mixed in with the diverse college student population and the Yankee farmers ... Americana at its best.

Peter said...

Harry makes a fair point, but surely it's a sign of the current topsy-turvy madness that he thinks the fact that FDR governed in a completely opposite direction from what he ran on was a strength that distances him from comparisons to Trump. I guess he thinks it showed admirable flexibility.

Comparisons are interesting, but Trump really is sui generis. As each day brings a new flurry of hyper-ventilating panic and horror stories, it's easy to lose sight of just what a miracle the guy pulled off and how he is making hypocrites of us all, including me. For years now, we have all, left and right, tried to see ourselves as aligned with "the people" in some way and told ourselves we stand opposed to powerful interests that thwart the popular will. For the left, that would be banks, nativists and militarists, shadowy plutocrats who own politicians, racist fundamentalists, the corporate media, party bosses, know-nothing talk-show charlatans and various incarnations of old white guys blocking the march of history. For the right, that would be race and gender-baiting activists, public service unions, unaccountable activist judges, rich Hollywood celebrities, the MSM and party bosses (they do double duty), academics and assorted scientific ideologues, etc. The two meet in Washington, that cesspool of back-scratching, deal-making corruption and pork-barreling. Backed by institutional interests too powerful to rein in, and sacrificing principles for gold and glory, our representatives deal and spend and bully themselves into impotence while the people groan under the weight of their irresponsible fecklessness.

Then one day, out of nowhere comes an interloper no one takes seriously. He has no political background, no party, no base beyond his family, no financial backers, no political debts and IOUs, and no experience whatsoever. All the interests mentioned above consider him a joke at first. Then the damnedest thing happens. He starts to attract crowds and supporters and win primaries. He keeps saying things received wisdom says simply cannot be said. He insults everybody, pits himself foursquare against all vested interests and challenges everybody's sacred cows. The interests on both sides double down. Alarms are sounded across the land and money to stop him starts to flow. The press unites in opposition. Eventually a full-blown panic develops. But he keeps winning and eventually takes it all, spending far less than his opponent, throwing one party into near-fatal disarray, leaving the other in the wilderness and taking down America's two most powerful and successful political dynasties.

So how do we who have told ourselves for years that we speak for "the people" react? Do we admire and marvel and give thanks for this modern day Mr. Smith Goes to Washington story? Do we celebrate that the original promise of American democracy is still alive? Hell no, we line-up in a row between wary nervousness on one end and enraged panic on the other and pray that all those vested interests will save us from the madman.

erp said...

Peter, Well done!

Question. Who are the who are here: So how do we who have told ourselves for years that we speak for "the people" react?

A lot of people I know and myself included, are optimistic for the first time since Reagan.

PS: That we rational thinkers bought the media's portrayal of Trump as a carnival barker/clown without a second thought shows how effective is that propaganda machine and how we need to double down on wariness when presented with any "facts" or "news" unless we are positive of the source.

Bret said...


I love your 3rd paragraph in your comment above. Trump is certainly impressive (or impossibly lucky) when looked at from the perspective of winning in the face of insurmountably long odds. In this case the unstoppable force won against the immovable object.

I'm personally in the "wary nervousness" end of the spectrum, if for no other reason than someone who is sui generis (lawyers and their damn latin! :-) is unpredictable by definition and coupled with having more power than anyone on earth has ever had is simply pretty scary to me.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter's analysis above is better than anything I have read so far in all of the Media I took a look at - in 4 languages and 7 different countries.

That said, the idea Trump fought and won against every vested interest is a bit naive. He himself is a vested interest in flesh and bone. There is a bandwagon of interests behind the GOP that will prevail, for Trump will be more beholden to the party than the other way around.

Yet, big, yuuuge things will come indeed.

erp said...

It occurred to me that Trump is like the biblical Samson and I'm afraid there's a figurative and even possibly literal Delilah out there coming for him.

Clovis, what are the interests behind Trump to which he is beholden?

As you can see from his nominees, he has ignored all the "usual suspects" from every bandwagon of special interests.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "Peter's analysis above is better than anything I have read so far..."

Yeah, half the reason I blog here is to try and stimulate Peter into writing yet another amazingly insightful comment! (And you too, for that matter).

Clovis wrote: "... the idea Trump fought and won against every vested interest is a bit naive..."

True, but I think the general point holds that he had a much bigger uphill battle than pretty much anyone who came before him. With the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, but then Bernie didn't win.

Harry Eagar said...

'Harry makes a fair point, but surely it's a sign of the current topsy-turvy madness that he thinks the fact that FDR governed in a completely opposite direction from what he ran on was a strength that distances him from comparisons to Trump. I guess he thinks it showed admirable flexibility.'

Why? Trump is, so far, governing as he said he would.

The comparison that fits Trump best is not a man who won the office but one who might have if he hadn't been shot: Huey Long. RtO said that loooong ago.

I guess it depends upon your definition of 'common man' whether Trump represents him. Maybe Trump even believes he is going to create conditions that will result in fine jobs for all those unemployed steel workers and coal miners. He believes a great many things that aren't true.

One way Trump is similar to Roosevelt is the extremely antagonistic elements within his electoral coalition. Roosevelt got votes from northeastern wets and (thanks to the Solid South) Southern drys. Trump coalition includes religious nuts, people who depend on public assistance, small business owners etc. A very heterogeneous passel of interests that would be hard to satisfy, not to mention that many of his policies run counter to the desires of the party's congressional leaders.

I don't expect anyone to be shot, but I do predict a Night of the Long Knives, and soon.

Peter said...

Thanks Clovis, but what vested interests? My goodness, the man's close pals are Dennis Rodman, Gary Busey and Bill Belichick! He's rich (yugely so)and had a quasi-celebrity public persona, but from what I've read, he was an outlier in Manhattan who wasn't well thought of in political, financial or social circles. I can't swear to this, but I've read that one of the reasons his financial history is so chaotic and dodgy is that the blue chip money kept a big distance. One of the more humorous ironies of the election was that Clinton clobbered him on his home turf in NYC and he whipped her in Arkansas. Native sons indeed.

I can't think of any other successful populist leader who roared into power with no political base or foundation of financial and popular support. The closest modern similarity is probably Berlusconi, but he built an actual new party around his ambitions.

Harry Eagar said...

Well, I think Trump has now lifted himself above any comparison with any previous president:

Peter said...


I'm personally in the "wary nervousness" end of the spectrum

Me too, and apart from fearing chaos, I think a lot these days about an issue you have raised in the past, which is federalism. It's only been a week, but this flurry of executive orders we've seen makes me worry that Trump will like the imperial presidency too much and that his supporters will applaud too automatically because they like the substance of the orders (kudos to erp on Chicago--what's the national interest there?). It's a common failing of successful business people who jump into politics to think it's all about "getting things done" and that there is really not much difference between running the United States and negotiating state and municipal planning approvals for a casino.

It's pretty clear from several elections now that there is a deep demographic divide between New England/the left coast/urban and South/heartland/small town/rural. These are not just ideological, they are also cultural. They are so close that one wins one election and the other the next. There's always been something like that, but it's hard not to feel the divisions are now dangerously overheated, and one of the reasons is that everybody wants the President to impose their ideals on the entire nation. Surely the only way to try and lower the temperature is be more vigilant about what truly is and is not a national issue and demand Washington bow out if it's not even if your guy is in power and you like what he is saying.

Sadly, I don't see much evidence anyone is thinking hard about this. The left simply can't get past Jim Crow and is now at the point where they (and liberal courts) have convinced themselves that bathroom rules in Wyoming are not only a national constitutional matter, they're an international human right. But the right isn't as clear-headed about this as they once were and seem to have their own rationales for dirigisme out of Washington (ex. national security). The blanket threatening of so-called sanctuary cities with big sticks if they don't help the feds round up illegals when there is hardly any local support for that has way too many dark historical parallels and is just asking for noble resistance and martyrdom that will eventually draw support from conservatives and independents too decent to stomach the repercussions. Remember Elian Gonzalez? Try multiplying the images by thousands.

erp said...

Bret & Peter, were you as worried about the vast number of EO's coming from the left. Perhaps, I'm naive, but I think Trump is "sticking it to them" by his EO's which are reversing ones already in existence. A lot of our ills are from imperial lefties like Nixon (EPA), Kennedy (public sector unions), Clinton (wholesale pardons of the unpardonable) and the top EO-er, Obama (far too many to enumerate).

I worry about Trump too, but not because he has a Napoleonic complex. It's a vague unease because of all the nonsense that has come from the media about him -- we can't know what's true or what's false. That'll become clear as time goes on. What is clear is that both the Democrat and Republican parties as we knew them are histoire and IMO that's a good thing.

I hope the wall won't happen, mostly because it's ugly and sends the wrong message. We are welcoming of those who immigrate legally and want to assimilate and join us as unhyphenated Americans. Others stay home or go elsewhere.

Harry Eagar said...

An odd post coming out of Canada, I think. Anyhow, not to fret about federalism, Mississippi just passed a law endorsing religious bigotry (so long as the bigots are sincere, and in my experience they always are), and other states have done so, too, or are considering it.

erp said...

Callista to the Vatican! Fantastic.

Harry, I totally agree with your assessment of Trump rising above all other presidents. This move is brilliant beyond my wildest expectations and as an added benefit of the Jesuits praising her, it'll get her hubby out of the way of the talking head circuit.

How about naming a Hasidic rabbi ambassador to la Belle! Maybe Trump really is the smartest man that ever trod the earth. :-)

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "federalism. ... Sadly, I don't see much evidence anyone is thinking hard about this."

I'd still love for power to devolve to the states (and even more locally). At this point, neither side will trust the other to maintain federalism when they get power, so it probably won't happen. A constitutional convention might make it a possibility if very strict new limits were placed on the federal government.

Bret said...

erp, I agree that a majority of Trump's first EOs were either undoing Obama EOs or were clearly within the realm of laws of congress that the president is supposed to enforce (being the executive branch and all). We'll see if he sticks to that or become more imperial over time.

erp said...

I'm hopeful for the first time in a very long time and it feels really weird.

Harry Eagar said...

Considering the most notorious adulteress in American politics for the Vatican? Well, now we will see 50 million American Catholics given a chance to speak out about the morality they preach.

Whatever they do, they'll look like hypocrites.

erp, I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying the Trump presidency.

erp said...

Harry, apparently you don't get the irony of proposing Mrs. Gingrich to the Vatican and she's hardly the most notorious adulteress in American politics. As far as we know, she only committed adultery once

... and you should be enjoying the Trump presidency because as erroneously attributed to the sainted martyr, "a rising tide lifts all boats," so you will enjoy the restoration of our freedoms as well as those of us who labored in vain to stop your cohort's assault on them.

Harry Eagar said...

It could have been worse, but not much. It could have been Scott Des Jarlais.

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] Comparisons are interesting, but Trump really is sui generis.

Exactly what I was going to type, until I saw I was too late.

Me too, and apart from fearing chaos, I think a lot these days about an issue you have raised in the past, which is federalism.

In the weeks since the election, the left has suddenly rediscovered the value of federalism, and they are on their way to finding out that the Constitution, stringently read, is far more valuable than the parchment it is written on.

Just as they are wishing they hadn't been saddled with the astonishingly stupid Harry Reid and his nuclear option.

What they (in this case; conservatives are just as guilty when the tables are turned) is that federalism, the Constitution and the Electoral College are all viewpoint neutral. They favor no party above another. Which makes messing with them for partisan advantage extremely stupid.

Harry Eagar said...

Dratvthat 14th Amendment anyway!

Hey Skipper said...

Harry, I don't know what meds you have gone off, but get back on them. Please.