Hard Truths

As an admirer of FDR's presidency, I was shocked to come across a recent essay entitled, "New President, Same Old Deal: The Parallels Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Donald J. Trump" by Ameer Hasan Loggins. I found the idea of direct parallels between FDR and Trump to be a stretch, but Loggins makes a number of strong points about the historical reality of The New Deal, a reality that is often left out of certain narratives. The reality that FDR's "Forgotten Man" was, with few exceptions, limited to whites.

In responding to a recent Washington Post poll ranking Roosevelt third among presidents, Hassan writes, 

"I assume that the Washington Post did not conduct this survey within a pool of Americans versed in FDR’s anti-Black political ways. If they did, it may have been exposed that FDR worked with Southern segregationist Dixiecrats, turning a blind eye to their upholding of Jim Crow apartheid, a system so nefariously pervasive that many Christian ministers taught that Black folks were cursed and predestined to be slaves of whites by way of God through the Hamitic Hypothesis. Jim Crow ideology was so flagitiously ubiquitous that, at every social institutional level, it reinforced the belief that Black people were innately intellectually, culturally, spiritually, and moralistically inferior to whites. Or possibly, it would have come up that FDR appointed Alabama Senator Hugo Lafayette Black, a publicly known member of the Ku Klux Klan, to the Supreme Court in 1937. Maybe the Post would have found out that, in 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed James F. Byrnes, a former US senator from South Carolina and staunch segregationist who believed that lynching Black people was necessary “in order to hold in check the Negro in the South,” to the US Supreme Court.

It’s apparent that FDR was not looking out for every “forgotten man,” woman, and child “at the bottom of the economic pyramid,” as he promised, which can be explicitly seen via the redlining and his silence on the upholding of Jim Crow in exchange for political backing of the old New Deal."

I quote this at length because it's wonderfully presented and a powerful example of the great challenges we come across in reading about the presidency and our larger national history. No matter the president, there will always be something problematic in his past. Not simply because they were all humans and, therefore, flawed people, but because our past is a deeply problematic one filled with hard truths that we must confront. It's our job to confront them so we can understand our history. It's not about denigrating American greatness, but about recognizing the facts that have made us who we are as a country, warts and all. 

I hope you'll all take the time to read the entire piece: