Living in Society

Coolidge Revisited


It saddens me to return to the Coolidge administration for guidance about the role of the press in contemporary times.

“The chief business of the American people is business,” President Calvin Coolidge said during a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on Jan. 17, 1925.

“There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public,” he said, speaking of the relationship between newspapers and their business interests. “Whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise.”

Everyone who believes there is no cause for alarm about the role of the corporate media during the recent election stand on your head.

“I could not truly criticize the vast importance of the counting room,” Coolidge said. “But my ultimate faith I would place in the high idealism of the editorial room of the American newspaper.”

How many editorial rooms are there today? What the heck is an editorial room? Anyone?

Coolidge’s lack of criticism of the counting room, in this speech and throughout his administration, contributed to the stock market crash and the Great Depression.

“According to a Brookings Institution report in 1928, more than half of American families remained near or below the poverty level from 1923 to 1929,” Steven Oftinoski wrote in his biography of Calvin Coolidge. “Coolidge’s failure to put restraints on business and industry or to regulate the stock market certainly contributed to the 1929 market crash.”

“The administration took the narrow interest of business groups to be the national interests, and the result was catastrophe,” historian William Leuchtenberg wrote.

To say newspapers, and by extension the corporate media, are corrupt is to misunderstand the basic relationship between the press and business. They were just doing their job during the 2016 election, which in the post-Reagan society is to make money.

Ronald Reagan thought well of Coolidge.

“One of the rooms in the White House that benefited from Nancy’s good taste was the Oval Office, which got some new paint, a new floor, and new carpeting,” Ronald Reagan wrote in his autobiography An American Life. “I did my part by hanging up a picture of Calvin Coolidge in the Cabinet Room. I’d always thought of Coolidge as one of our most underrated presidents.”

What will President Donald Trump think?

Considering the birtherism he engendered and other criticisms laid on President Obama he seems likely re-decorate the Oval Office to purge evidence of his predecessor.

More important, he has pledged to lower tax rates and listen to business interests. Will trickle down tax policy work again as some claim it did during the Coolidge administration when he lowered taxes and paid down the country’s debt from World War I? I doubt it.

As my colleagues at the home, farm and auto supply store say, Trump hasn’t been president for one day yet. Nonetheless, the scent of Coolidge permeates his transition.

Will Trump be the next Coolidge with a little Reagan added?

I’m not holding my breath for the corporate media to report it, so I’d better just write it myself.