Trump’s Presidency: It’s Been this Bad Before
Almost 100 years ago the US elected Warren G. Harding, a man widely remembered as the worst US president in history
As much of the country begins to come to terms with Donald Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 presidential election fear and fatalistic rhetoric have taken root in the public dialogue. Trump’s brand of racism, authoritarianism and unfettered capitalism is something that is, thankfully, without parallel in the current mainstream political dialogue in the United States.
The current political moment, however, is not without precedent.
In 1920 Republican Warren G. Harding was elected the 29th President of the United States. In the years leading up to his election the country had been worked into a nationalist, racist fervor. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and in the face of a growing anti-capitalist movement in the US, Congress passed the Immigration Act, the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act to undermine and outlaw subversive organizing. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer was rounding up radicals in the Palmer Raids aimed at breaking up left wing resistance in the United States. Fueled by the success of the 1915 film “Birth of a Nation” the Ku Klux Klan was growing at a rapid pace and had built a national reach.
At the onset of the campaign he was considered a long-shot candidate, even for the Republican Party nomination. As other more mainstream candidates battled for the nomination the convention was deadlocked. As the process played on Harding’s support grew and by the 10th ballot he won the support of the majority of his party’s delegates and became the Republican nominee for presidency.
In the general election Harding’s campaign slogan promised the “return to normalcy.” While Harding was reminding Americans of simpler times before the First World War, Trump’s promise to “make America great again” is eerily reminiscent of this notion. Throughout the campaign Harding railed against the idea of US involvement in the league of nations; demanded large tariffs against trading partners; and called for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Harding won in a decisive victory against Democrat James M. Cox and Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs. At the time, Debs was serving a 10 year prison sentence for violating the Espionage Act…