Thursday, April 9, 2015

Imitating the Elite

I was exactly three months old when FDR gave a speech of which I reproduce a segment here. I found the speech easily when I searched Google with the key words “Roosevelt hatred.” Herewith that fragment:

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.
     [Franklin D. Roosevelt, October 31, 1936, at Madison Square Garden, link]

I made that search in the first place because, looking back, I was looking for another president of the United States who had been as genuinely hated by a subset of the U.S. public as President Obama. I knew that FDR had been so hated. Between 1936 and today, only a few things have changed. One is that we did not have any long breadlines during the recent Great Recession. Another is that FDR, no doubt because of those very real breadlines in his time, had full congressional support; hence “Government” was not split into warring sides; therefore he could right the wrongs that had caused the Great Depression. Finally, Obama is black; and in our time poverty affects ethnic minorities more than whites. To update the speech, we need only remove one word and add another. Remove breadlines and add, right after class antagonism, the word racism.

One cannot know anything with certainty where vast collectives are involved, but it seems clear enough to me that the recent upsurge of cases around aberrant cops killing blacks has its roots in examples being given at very high levels of government, namely barely disguised contempt for a black President by leaders in the U.S. Congress. I know, I know. It’s all about policy differences. But if the highest office is not visibly respected, the ordinary people, especially those who lack the necessary sensitivity—because they did not get it in their childhood—can certainly draw the wrong conclusions. And then the darkest angels of our nature will act in violent ways—when no one is watching.

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