Donald Trump is the Republicans’ FDR— And That’s a Very Good Thing

By | 2016-11-13T13:56:06+00:00 November 13th, 2016|
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FDR and the Forgotten ManSeventy years ago, the United States was in a seemingly interminable economic malaise. The Great Depression had affected everyone, particularly the middle class. What’s more, President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, seemed incapable of repairing the damage. As the crisis continued unabated, Hoover’s popularity, understandably, plummeted. With no end in sight, the country turned to a charismatic (though wheelchair-bound) Democrat named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Today, the United States mired in an extremely slow-growth economy with a monstrously large federal government depressing economic growth. In much the same way that FDR built the modern political order in response to an economic crisis, Donald J. Trump is capable of busting that shabby order apart and returning the country to the constitutional system that FDR abandoned for the sake, as he saw it, of avoiding further economic collapse.

Economics

Roosevelt was a Keynesian who believed that in order both to stimulate the economy and employ those who were unemployed, he needed vastly to increase government spending, thereby expanding the size of government exponentially. FDR’s election represented what political scientists call a “regime shift.” During the period from the Civil War until the Hoover Administration (1860-1932), Republicans would generally enjoy majority party status. However, with the Great Depression (and Hoover’s mismanagement of it), FDR was able to come into power and fundamentally transform the politics of America forever. FDR moved the country away from the mostly decentralized, individualistic government toward a highly centralized, collectivist state. In a much similar way, Trump represents another “regime shift” away from the predominant postwar liberalism and toward an entirely new way of running the country.

Trump will be inheriting a lot when he is sworn into office in January of 2017, notably a massively bloated federal government, coupled with a sputtering economy. These two things are linked. The expansive public sector is very expensive. The private sector must pay for these excesses in public spending. Such public spending rarely translates to real economic activity (apart from lining the pockets of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. and their crony capitalist employers), and it greatly drags down the economy.

Trump knows this. He has surrounded himself with people who believe this. He has indicated that he wants to have a sweeping first term full of bold, brash, conservative (you read that right “Never Trumpers”) initiatives. Donald Trump correctly assesses that, in order to revive the economy, he must drastically reduce the size of the federal government through tax cuts and (we hopes) significant spending cuts.

In this, Trump is FDR in reverse. In fact, in many ways, Donald Trump’s entire presidency is about to be a referendum on the tax-and-spend, Big Government legacy of FDR. Just as FDR’s answer to the greatest economic disaster in history was exponentially more government, DJT’s response is significantly less government.

It doesn’t end with economic policy, though.

Foreign Policy

When FDR assumed office, he rightly surmised that a Second World War was just around the corner. His predecessor, President Hoover, also understood that. However, while FDR was looking for any excuse to intervene on the side of the Allies, Hoover was parroting the preferred isolationist Republican foreign policy orthodoxy of that time (the checklist conservatism of its day).

After the war ended, FDR and his successors implemented a globalist vision for that world order that included such institutions as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and eventually, the World Trade Organization. FDR and postwar Democrats who succeeded him believed that the best way to avert another world war was through internationalism rather than isolationism.

Donald Trump looks around at the world as it is and perceives that much of the internationalism that became the hallowed orthodoxy of the West is, in fact, causing a great deal of global instability. The U.N. is feckless. Our NATO allies free ride. The Middle East is burning. Lastly, free trade (at least as it has been practiced in many instances) has been responsible for significant job losses in our country. Because of these things, Trump is skeptical of the U.N., opposes unthinking globalization, and wants to seriously reassess our relationship with NATO.

The Democratic Party loves big government solutions. This is not only true in domestic policy, but also in international relations. Thus, the Left (and most establishment Republicans) love the international institutions that FDR ushered in. Trump is categorically opposed to relying on these solutions. Rather than depend on international institutions that routinely take advantage of the United States, or that seek greater antagonism with nuclear powers such as Russia, Trump wants to assert greater American control over the process. This explains why he favors better, direct relations with serious American competitors, such as Russia and China. It is not because he is a Russian sleeper agent, as the Left suggested during the campaign (and that the FBI later proved was a false accusation). It’s not that Trump is clueless on foreign policy, as his opponents suggested throughout the campaign. Rather, he recognizes that the current order—the current Leftist regime in America—is harming us.

Trump’s foreign policy, then, would be one of greater bilateral relations with powers like Russia and China. It would be one that, I believe, reinvigorates America’s ailing diplomatic functions. It would also be one that seeks to move foreign affairs out of the stuffy moralism of the United Nations and into the cold realism of traditional power politics. In other words, Trump is in the process of undoing the FDR-created foreign policy framework. He is, therefore, returning America back to the concepts and beliefs that governed it prior to FDR’s reign.

Governing

FDR, according to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., was an “imperial president.” The peremptory fashion in which FDR ran the country had rarely been experienced before his presidency (although other presidents, notably Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, certainly showcased such traits at various points in their presidencies).

At different times, FDR steamrolled Congress to get his pet projects passed. When Congress was no longer an obstacle, he threatened to pack the Supreme Court with friendly justices, after the Supreme Court challenged key components of the New Deal that they (rightly) viewed as unconstitutional. The mere threat of packing the court with an additional cohort of justices who would have been favorable to FDR’s policies seemed to put the Supreme Court in a more compliant mood. There was also the constant use of executive orders to implement FDR’s sweeping big government policies, bypassing the constitutional checks-and-balances entirely.

Trump is coming into power with a majority Republican Congress. This should only encourage him to act in a far more constitutional manner than any of his predecessors have. He is going to get to pick Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court (and possibly Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement as well). Trump is embracing a wholeheartedly Conservative governing agenda—which includes undoing his predecessor’s annoying style of governing with a “pen and phone.” In fact, the entire Trump political movement has been a reaction to what most people perceived as the lawlessness of the Obama Administration. Trump ran as the “law and order” candidate. He spoke often about his disgust with the systemic corruption of the political system. Trump says he would “drain the swamp by enacting serious lobbying reform.

The entire concept of an imperial presidency is a relatively modern phenomenon. FDR was the biggest practitioner of it. Successive Democrats followed suit. Some Republicans, particularly the likes of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, engaged in their own expansions of the federal government that would have made any leftist proud. However, Donald Trump is something different. Neither Nixon nor George W. Bush came into power when the economy was this bad. The American people were nowhere near as fed up with the business-as-usual antics of Washington, D.C. as they are now. Trump is the American people’s avenger: he is coming to right a wrong system.

Trumping the System

The situation that Donald Trump will enter is almost as dire as it was when FDR came to power. Just like FDR, Trump is going to have to implement sweeping policies. But there are crucial differences, too. When FDR assumed office, the economy was in free fall and the government was tiny (compared to today’s standards). When FDR left office, he had effectively created a welfare state with a massive military (without actually repairing the economy, as Burton W. Folson, Jr. detailed in New Deal or Raw Deal?). His successors in both parties kept expanding that government until, today, it accounts for 34 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Trump is coming into power in a low-growth economy with a bloated leviathan for a federal government. Just like FDR, Trump is going to have to fundamentally alter the status quo of Washington, D.C. in a way that none of his postwar predecessors could do. The old assumptions no longer hold. The election of Donald Trump, then, was not just another typical eight-year shift from Democrat to Republican. Oh no! It was a revolutionary regime shift away from centralized Leftism back toward decentralized liberty.

In that way, we should count our blessings that Trump is like FDR.

About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a former Republican Congressional staffer and national security expert who now runs The Weichert Report, www.theweichertreport.com, an online journal of geopolitics. He holds Master's degree in Statecraft & National Security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an Associate Member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in Political Science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
  • Uncle Max

    Good write-up, except, Trump, as a businessman, loathes big Government. FDR did not suffer that malady. I’d put Trump more in line with Teddy. A populist and trust-buster. Except the trusts Trump is going to bust will be the DC establishment and status quo. It’s a racket in DC and everyone knows it. Left and Right are all too willing to play the game. We’ll now see if Trump makes the few simple but radical changes necessary to undo 50 years of crud. He already took the biggest two steps… he voided the Bush and Clinton dynasties. .. and if you think about it for a bit,… that’s a big first step.

  • Sean

    FDR’s Folly – by Jim Powell. Great book.

    Repubs don’t need to undo all of Obama’s legacy, we have 85 years of leftward drift to correct.

  • odys

    Good article but then again in many ways it is just speculation. Oh, and FDR did not implement anything after WW2.

    • Historybuff

      And I have never read anything about FDR that implied he entered office anticipating a WW2. I think the author is stretching this claim.
      HB

      • Maybe in 1940; certainly not in 1932.

        • Historybuff

          Agreed.

          I do think in 1940 he was ahead of the isolationist Republicans…
          HB

  • Historybuff

    Don’t know that I see much factual observation here… more wishful hype and hyperbola.

    One area that mr Weichert addressed…
    “In fact, the entire Trump political movement has been a reaction to what most people perceived as the lawlessness of the Obama Administration.”

    Mr.weichert glosses over the fact that mr trump is himself a lawless person… and his well-recorded history shows that. This month trump is due in court on his latest scam… unless he chooses to settle out of court as he has in so many cases, using his money to by settlement.

    No, I see mostly hype here… FDR was a honest man that people could believe in – trump is a media figure that can only ‘project’ decency and goodness… not actually be it.
    HB

    • Michelle Palmateer

      Did you know FDR or are you just parroting Americas historical writings of FDR? Our recording of history usually isn’t very accurate. You must know Trump then. No? Oh I get it. You are a disenfranchised Hillary supporter who can’t get over themselves or their candidates loss to a superior candidate. Di you see in the news today how Trump has convinced Ford to reverse their recent decision to move some manufacturing to Mexico? Hillary would have never even attempted to do that.

  • FredFilopek

    How will huge tax breaks for the wealthy ensure they will invest in our economy? Why wouldn’t they take this huge amount and give it to their stockholders and ceos.Where is there a increased demand for factory products . Why would they invest in our country when they can pay low wages in Asia?

  • Someone8915

    Its all going down, worldwide, matters not, this is the time of the end, it will not get better.

  • Jesaja

    Mr Trump has promised to build a lot of roads and bridges – sounds like Keynsianism to me. Where does he get the money from when he’s cutting taxes? How will the blue-collar worker feel when the tax cuts ones again favors those with high-income? If Mr Trump want to ditch the international institutions like Nato och EU – where does he think he’s gonna get allies? China – seriously? They’re an authoritarian state, so is Russia increasingly. It would be very wise for the U.S. to keep the bonds with the EU. Economically, and geopolitically U.S. will need these allies in the future. This “national security expert” would find himself in a very insecure world if he had his wish.

    • Chris706

      And this complete lack of understanding is why you lost.

  • longlance

    Roosevelt surrounded himself with Communists. Trump is surrounding himself with back-biters and swamp creatures. Which is worse?

    • Chris706

      “Swamp creatures.” LOL.

      I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Trump has shown a willingness to change key people on a moment’s notice if they fail to produce.

  • Sergey

    To bloat bureaucracy up is a much easier task than curb it down.

    • Chris706

      That was true, before Obama redefined prosecutorial discretion. Now it is easy, if one has the courage to use the tool.

  • C. Edmund Wright

    I hope this rosy kool aid colored assessment of Trump’s sudden conservatism is right. There are a couple of major flaws with the author’s assumptions though. First, this great roll back of centralized control had almost nothing to do with how Trump campaigned. For 40 years before that, it was not what Trump believed and publicly advocated. He didn’t tell Ford and Carrier to stay here because he was going to roll back government and union power – he threatened to use the jack boot of government power to punish them here. Sorry, he did. And his fans loved it.

    If, as the author insists, Trump has surrounded himself with a lot of great conservatives, then it is Trump who moved to join the never Trumpers and reluctant Trumpers, not the other way around. As a reluctant Trump voter, that would suit me just fine, and I hope it does happen. Still, it would be out of character for Trump to do this, thus I think it’s dangerous to assume.

    • Chris706

      Don’t speculate, read the contract: https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/_landings/contract/O-TRU-102316-Contractv02.pdf

      Either he will follow it or he won’t. We will find out soon enough.

      BTW, I find the NeverTrumpers to be far less conservative than Trump, based on who they supported in the past.

      • C. Edmund Wright

        The contract, announced Oct 22nd, was a turning point in the campaign. That and the brilliant speech at the hotel opening four days later. Without those two events, I don’t think he wins.
        But I certainly will speculate…..that’s part of what I do. And I must tell you, that the last 18 days of the campaign did not much resemble the first 18 months – let alone the previous 40 years. I hope the last 18 days are the most accurate reflection. I think it’s very foolish to assume that though.

  • IssacNewton

    I still wonder if the organization of the pre-Depression (perhaps pre-WWI) regime is economically stable. The centralized administrative state of FDR (and WWI) was used in an attempt to deal with the boom and bust cycles of capitalism. When we were an agrarian nation if things got hard you could always move back to the family farm. This is no longer the case. I love small government and free markets, but I do no want to (if possible) re-introduce economic instability. The economic literature of Depression period appears to be mainly Keynesian or a minority position of rabid free-marketers. It appears that the New Deal did not help the economy recover, but massive Government expenditure for WWII did. Although, the rapid growth of the US economy after 1945 was built around massive reductions in government expenditures. There is a nice paper on the size of government and economic growth (each 10% of GNP devoted to government reduces growth by 1%). See: http://journalistsresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Govt-Size-and-Growth.pdf

    It would be nice to see a a few more balanced assessments and make sure we are well positioned to deal with instability and that we can protect the basic needs of individuals and their families without breaking the Tax payer’s back. Most of the blue-collar Trump supporters love Social Security and Medicaid and these are over 50% of the Federal budget (and growing). They are after stability. Being an entrepreneur is basically all about experiencing and responding to failure. Most people do not want that in their lives; although we may be all forced to move in this direction. What is the best mix public and private organizations to produce an effective economy? Still, American is more than an economy we are civic polity with evolving common cultural norms.

    Trump did not win the popular vote and the pendulum eventually swings in the other direction. We need change, but we also need to define and take care of the security needs of ourselves and all of our fellow citizens.

  • Dave781

    FDR was first elected in 1932 which was 84 years ago, not 70 years ago as the author claimed. Keynes had not yet written his book about the Keynesian theory, so FDR could not have been a Keynesian. Hitler had not yet come to power so FDR could not have foreseen WWII. And of course he died in 1945 so he did not do anything after the war.

    Does anyone proofread this nonsense?

  • old_redneck

    This article has GOT to be a joke. FDR had a lifetime of public service; Trump has a lifetime of failure, denigrating anyone who disagrees with him, scams, bankruptcies . . . US banks refuse to lend money to him because of his record of failure.

    Then, there are the factual errors in the ridiculous article. For one example — FDR was elected in 1932. His ideas of public service were formed years before. Keynes’ magnum opus was published in 1936.

    “. . . lawlessness of the Obama administration . . .” That ends it. Flush!!!

  • David Myers

    LOL – Think you have been sucking at the teat for a bit too long.

  • Charles Debo

    LOL Trump is no FDR. Just look at the first 100 days. FDR: 15 major legislative acts passed through Congress and signed… Trump: 0 acts passed and signed.
    FDR did what he would say he would do. How is that Trump labeling China as a currency manipulator he said he would do the first 100 days going? Or any of his other 100 day promises Trump rattled off at his Gettysburg address. There is miles of difference between the two Presidents and to state they are in the same ball park is like saying Trump won the popular vote.