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June 7, 2017


Trump is not the first who promised reform if elected, but unlike FDR, who also promised reform, he has to date delivered only some meaningless and ceremonial presidential directives with great flourish for television which do not have the force of law, even though his party has a majority in both houses of Congress. Combative by nature, he has shown that he will change foreign policy and insult anyone of any party via bullying tweets in exercises of third grade sandbox politics. He is insensitive to a fault with his pushing aside of a prime minister on his recent European trip, his long handshake with the newly-elected president of France, Macron, and who can forget his mimicking of a disabled reporter during his campaign?

So what “reforms” can he claim to have made as we are deep into his second “Hundred Days?” Try zilch. None. He promised to “shake up Washington” (later restated as “draining the swamp”), but with his Goldman Sachs cabinet and other agency heads who are opposed to the purpose and mission of their respective agencies, and with his childish leadership in reversing and setting policy, we should, as one commentator recently noted, get used to the idea that the Republicans have no policy. There are no anchors; we are rudderless, leaderless.

No one can be certain of our foreign policy (if any) what with Trump’s brash putdowns of NATO, his divisive tweets on friends and foes in the Middle East, trade war protectionist views, his apparent adulation for Putin (who he calls a “strong leader”), his support of a healthcare bill which is not a healthcare bill but an enormous giveaway of hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts to the already rich while gutting benefits to the old and sick that were enjoyed under Obamacare. Finally, and this is a first in American history, Trump comes to office under the cloud of a federal investigation into his conflicts of interests and possible collusion with Russian efforts to interfere in his favor in our recent election.

Compare Trump’s record to that of FDR. Roosevelt came to power during the depths of The Great Depression, a period in which we nearly lost our democracy. I am old enough to recall MovieTone newsreels in the Thirties in which there were Nazi and communist marches in New York City in which swastikas and hammer and sickles were on the shoulder patches of the marchers and on their flags. We were on the edge of revolution or downfall as a viable nation state, or both, and the New York City marches (among other symptoms) were proof that political vacuums are susceptible to being filled by radical and usually authoritarian movements. (See Hitler and Germany’s resentment of reparations to the French in the Treaty of Versailles and postwar hyperinflation as pretexts for authoritarian takeover by the Nazi party.)

Roosevelt upon assuming control in 1933 identified the major problem that had caused the Depression, to wit: Wall Street bankers and stock markets gone wild during the previous Coolidge/Hoover laissez faire administrations. In short order and with the belief that the government should not passively stand by while watching such economic carnage, carnage which included thousands of bank closings from (as Elizabeth Warren notes in her new book, This Fight is our Fight), “wild speculation and the stock market crash which nearly destroyed our economy.”

Roosevelt, perhaps unlike the authoritarian Trump under the influence of his self-professed Leninist adviser, Bannon, who favors “deconstruction of the administrative state,” did not permanently shut down Wall Street or nationalize the banks (as Iceland did during the recent Bush’s Great Recession). He instead endorsed capitalism, but in a form that worked for all the people and not just the greed merchants of Wall Street banks and the stock market. He quickly established the FDIC, the federal guarantee of depositors’ funds, and this ended the bank runs. He also (via the Glass- Steagall Act) separated commercial from investment banking so that banks could not gamble with depositors’ money (an Act that was later and tragically repealed and which led to Bush’s Great Recession with the resulting bailouts, mortgage frauds etc.), and finally, he established the SEC to police the stock market and strengthened the anti-trust division of the Attorney General to prevent collusion and other non-competitive activities. His crowning and later achievement, of course, was the Social Security Act of 1935, the (in my opinion) greatest piece of social legislation ever.

He is my favorite president of all time, and I will never forget how on the Saturday before Election Day in 1936 (in which he carried 46 of the then 48 states and in a discussion of the moneyed interests’ disdain for his policies), he said: “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.” This man had both principles and policies and was willing to go to the mat for them. What a president!

Roosevelt was a man of action, a president who got things done and one who governed with a view of what was good for people as well as business. Result? Decades of prosperity, regulations that worked, building of a middle class like never before via wage equality, etc.

In comparing his presidency with (so far) that of Trump, I think such a comparison would be like comparing me with Albert Einstein on the subject of physics. There is no comparison.      GERALD       E



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