Living in Society

Next Act: Protecting the Commons

First Snowfall
First Snowfall

The president-elect made stunning cabinet picks in the 30 days since the general election. I don’t like any of them.

As political institutions re-tool, it’s clear millionaires and billionaires will be the primary beneficiaries of Trump’s administration. He won the election so it’s his right to name a team and set an agenda.

As my colleagues at the home, farm and auto supply store said often in recent weeks, “the election is over.”

Who knew it would be the agenda of the Republican party of Warren G. Harding and his return to normalcy that elected Trump?

“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing,” Harding said during a speech in Boston May 14, 1920. “Not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”

Harding’s view was nothing was the matter with world civilization after World War I that couldn’t be fixed by returning to “normalcy.” Trump’s campaign slogan, “make America great again” is reminiscent, if not derived from this.

“The world needs to be reminded that all human ills are not curable by legislation,” Harding said, “and that quantity of statutory enactment and excess of government offer no substitute for quality of citizenship.”

There is a lot to unpack in the Harding – Coolidge – Hoover era, which we now know gave us four-term President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was an unintended consequence of Andrew Mellon’s execution of Harding’s plan for a prompt and thorough revision of the tax system, an emergency tariff act, readjustment of war taxes, and creation of a federal budget system. Mellon’s long tenure and contribution to policy resulted in the Great Depression. His failures gave us FDR.

Whether the stress on western civilization after World War II was more or less than after World War I is hard to say. Republicans sought to overturn everything FDR stood for and enacted into law, then and now. With Trump they see a chance to turn back progressive reforms dating back to that era.

“The people were demanding a return to ways of prewar living — Harding’s ‘normalcy,'” Herbert Hoover wrote in his memoir. “But in reality, after such a convulsion, there could be no complete return to the past. Moreover, the social sense of our people, livened by the war, was demanding change in many directions.”

Enter Trump’s cabinet, comprised of elite citizens, each of whom appears to have disdain for the office to which they were appointed. They intend to unravel government as we currently think of it, leaving the rest of us behind.

There will be no making America great again under President Donald Trump for reasons similar to what drove the failure of Republicans during the Harding – Coolidge – Hoover era.

Now, more than at any time in my lifetime, the resources and energy of citizens are needed to protect the commons from the new hoard of marauders until the worm turns and progressives gain power again.

That day will come. I hope it doesn’t take the same 12 years after World War I to produce a new, progressive era.

One reply on “Next Act: Protecting the Commons”

A great number of parallels are drawn here. Whether we are facing era that will attempt to push back the clock more than a century could be a bit of a stretch. Still, the nature of the emerging administration is so seismically unprecedented (should I say unpresidented) that perhaps the political history of the last century is the only compass we have to the near and mid future. Much has changed in the world and in the U.S. politically and demographically in the last century especially regarding the environment and climate that has brought “us” so close to great planetary tipping points. I suppose, while the past can be instructive and intriguing, we have launched ourselves headlong into chaotic uncertainty. The future is bringing a new powerful reach for an explicit authoritarian militarized corporate global order that “thinks” it can be stable and sustainable–not a rollback to “normalcy,” No matter what, the earth, itself, with its own physical and biological laws will abide. The earth itself, will instruct the “new order” that you cannot speed into an icy curve. Civilization, however, is likely at another of its own points-of-no-return and committed to a scenario that will not end well.


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