History Echoing in Our Hallway
While the whirlwind of the Impeachment Inquiry swirls around us, it might be interesting (and instructive?) to time-travel back almost a century, to look at the Harding/Coolidge Administrations (1921-1929) and take note of the parallels to our current Administration. To set the context, Warren Gameliel Harding, a Republican, was nominated on the 10th ballot during the 1920 party convention and defeated the Democratic nominee, James M. Cox. The Democrats had held the Presidency from 1913 through 1921, with Woodrow Wilson at the helm. Harding had promised “a return to normalcy” (a word his campaign had created, I believe) and campaigned from his front porch in Marion, Ohio. He was the first seated U.S. Senator to ascend to the Presidency (there’s a Jeopardy fact for you!). Harding appointed some noteworthy Cabinet members (Herbert Hoover, Andrew Mellon, and Charles Evans Hughes) but also several who ultimately ran afoul of the Law (Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, Attorney General Harry Daugherty). In fact, Harding’s administration is remembered most for scandal, historically (including an extramarital affair!), and for its extreme laissez-faire approach to foreign and domestic policy. The parallels we might find interesting (and instructive?) to what we are witnessing today are related to tariffs, immigration, “socialism,” race, economics, and foreign policy. In other words, almost every aspect of Harding’s (and later Coolidge’s) administration(s) provide what historian Barbara Tuchman once called “a distant mirror.”
As a Republican in the 1920’s Harding (and Coolidge) had some clear goals we can recognize. “The undisputed goal of the Harding administration was to use governmental powers to assist American business and industry to prosper — a trend that had begun during World War I and accelerated during the New Era of the 1920s . In September 1922, Harding enthusiastically signed the Fordney–McCumber Tariff Act. The protectionist legislation . . . The act increased the tariff rates contained in the previous Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act of 1913, to the highest level in the nation's history. Harding became concerned when the agriculture business suffered economic hardship from the high tariffs . . . The high tariffs established under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover have historically been viewed as a contributing factor to the Wall Street Crash of 1929.” (wiki)
Indeed, “As part of Harding's belief in limiting the government's role in the economy, he sought to undercut the power of the regulatory agencies that had been created or strengthened during the Progressive Era. Among the agencies in existence when Harding came to office were the Federal Reserve (charged with regulating banks), the Interstate Commerce Commission (charged with regulating railroads) and the Federal Trade Commission (charged with regulating other business activities, especially trusts). Harding staffed the agencies with individuals sympathetic to business concerns and hostile to regulation.” (wiki – italics, mine) Certainly we are seeing the same basic actions occurring today, not only to benefit business but at the expense of our environment!
We are currently hearing a great deal about the Democratic Party being driven by “socialists” (despite most people not really understanding what a “socialist” is). The use of the term “socialist” and “communist” has been used as a political scare term since the Harding and Coolidge Administrations. This began during Wilson’s administration when the Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, began “raids” to root out (and deport!) “socialists” and “communists.” This concept, the “Red Scare” --- often used for political leverage to disparage opponents --- was resurrected by Joe McCarty in the early 1950’s and later exercised by Nixon and other Republicans, including the current occupant of the White House, who is demonizing Democratic candidates as “socialists” on an almost daily basis. Echoes in the hallway.
Regarding immigration we can see our current situation is very similar to what we saw happen in the United States in the 1920s. Here’s what you could read in Wikipedia:
The Per Centum Act of 1921, signed by Harding on May 19, 1921, reduced the numbers of immigrants to 3 percent of a country's represented population based on the 1910 Census. The act, which had been vetoed by President Wilson in the previous Congress, also allowed unauthorized immigrants to be deported.
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act was a United States federal law that prevented immigration from Asia, set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, and provided funding and an enforcement mechanism to carry out the longstanding ban on other immigrants.
(The Act) set a total immigration quota of 165,000 for countries outside the Western Hemisphere, an 80% reduction from the pre- World War I average. Quotas for specific countries were based on 2% of the U.S. population from that country as recorded in 1890. As a result, populations poorly represented in 1890 were prevented from immigrating in proportionate numbers—especially affecting Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles and other Slavs. According to the U.S. (N.B. The Palmer Raids preceded the Immigration Act of 1924, which also targeted Southern European and Eastern Europe immigrants on not just political grounds but also mostly ethnic and racial grounds.)
The current Administration’s demonizing of Muslim-Americans, and attempted ban on all Muslim immigrants, as well as the hideous Southern Border Wall policies are not very far from those 1920s strictures. Hallway echoes.
The final parallel we’ll listen to echoing down that historical hallway has to do with RACISM. Above and beyond the underlying racism of the current administration’s immigration and border policies (not to mention invoking disdain for “shithole” countries), we have heard that there were “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville--- when one of those “sides” was comprised of self-professed White Nationalist Nazis! Back in the 1920s “Harding also disappointed black supporters by not abolishing segregation in federal offices, and through his failure to comment publicly on the Ku Klux Klan.” (wiki) In fact, during the 1920s the KKK flourished under the Harding and Coolidge administrations. According to Wikipedia:
Beginning in 1921, it (the KKK) adopted a modern business system of using full-time paid recruiters and appealed to new members as a fraternal organization, of which many examples were flourishing at the time. At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation's eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men.
The second KKK preached "One Hundred Percent Americanism" and demanded the purification of politics, calling for strict morality and better enforcement of Prohibition. Its official rhetoric focused on the threat of the Catholic Church, using anti-Catholicism and nativism. Its appeal was directed exclusively at white Protestants; it opposed Jews, blacks, Catholics, and newly arriving Southern and Eastern European immigrants such as Italians, Russians, and Lithuanians, many of whom were Jewish or Catholics themselves
Certainly we have seen the current President endorse his brand of “100% Americanism” (“Make America Great Again;” “Keep America Great”). The recent revelations of Stephen Miller’s White Nationalist emails clearly illustrate the tenor of the advice Trump is receiving on a daily basis. All things being equal, if you listen carefully, stretching your ability to go back a century, you can hear the Harding/Coolidge legacy echoing in the hallway and, while our economy is rolling along (defying years of Boom/Bust cycles), we can only hope that this Administration does not end on the same note as theirs --- a cascading crash into economic chaos.