The political calculation behind Trump’s latest reality-TV display had historical overtones, dating back to the white-backlash “law and order” demagogy that helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968. In the Rose Garden, Trump proclaimed, “I am your president of law and order,” at the very minute that police cleared the way for his arrival in Lafayette Square by attacking law-abiding demonstrators with tear gas and sting-ball grenades. Having appropriated Nixon’s tag line, Trump then tried to one-up him with his Bible-toting God-and-country theatrics. Politics receded back into pathology.
Trump badly misjudged the moment. Nixon proclaimed “law and order” in 1968 to challenge the beleaguered incumbent administration of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, and he was able to sustain himself in office as the law-and-order president until his own lawlessness in the Watergate scandal brought him down. Nixon also encased his rougher rhetoric in appeals to national unity, promising to end the divisions under his responsible leadership, distinguishing himself from the arch-segregationist third-party candidate, former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace. Trump, however, is himself the beleaguered incumbent president, trying, with spectacular viciousness, to distract the public from the colossal catastrophes of his own making. And Trump dispenses with themes of unity, content to intensify social hatreds for his own political benefit, and winds up sounding less like Nixon and more like Wallace.
The situation gradually deteriorated. On July 28th, Hoover ordered the encampments removed. Violent skirmishes broke out when police attempted to evict protesters from federal buildings slated for demolition. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Army chief of staff, convinced that the protests had become a Communist uprising, assembled a massive show of force. Supported by cavalry, tanks, and tear gas, MacArthur’s troops overwhelmed the protesters and torched the shantytown, “amidst scenes reminiscent of the mopping up of a town in the World War,” The New York Times reported. In the day’s melee, two Army veterans were shot and killed, and the infant child of another vet reportedly died from the effects of the tear gas.
Hoover, although dismayed, raised no objection, and in time came to echo the storyline about Communist subversion. Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Roosevelt greeted reports of the bedlam by remarking to his adviser and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, “Well, Felix, this elects me.”
Donald Trump bears little resemblance to the learned, self-made President Herbert Hoover. Honored as the Great Engineer, Hoover was best known prior to his presidency for his humanitarian work, first in support of starving Europeans and Russians during and after World War I, and later, as secretary of commerce under presidents Harding and Coolidge. A reformer of sorts, Hoover’s downfall was his unwavering devotion to policies rooted in the old Republican dogmas of rugged individualism and limited government that sputtered in the face of the Great Depression.
Still, there are remarkable similarities between 1932 and 2020. Like the Hoover White House, the Trump administration showed scant sympathy for the protesters’ grievances. Like the Hoover White House, the Trump administration raised the specter of dangerous radicals — the president named “professional anarchists” and Antifa as instigators of the violence. Above all, in a tense election year, unfolding amid unprecedented social and economic dislocation, Trump, like Hoover, chose to deal with his adversaries with resistance and then repression, dramatized by a display of disproportionate force.
From that point forward, a radicalizing dynamic overtook Republican national politics. Constituencies that the traditional GOP had tried to absorb to build its post-1960s majority — conservative white Southerners, including, more broadly, white evangelical Christians — became the party’s heart and soul. Establishment Republican leaders vying for the presidency — Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney — had to appease an ever-hardening right-wing base, centered in what has become the solidly Republican white South. When those leaders lost — as they did twice to Bill Clinton and twice to Barack Obama — the base despaired of anything resembling conventional conservative politics. The one GOP victor, George W. Bush, did win over the party base, thanks in part to his Svengali, Karl Rove, and in part to the patriotic surge that followed the attacks of 9/11. But Bush disastrously invaded Iraq, and he ended his presidency with the start of the Great Recession and the birth of the radical Tea Party, which went on to hound President Obama at every turn.
By 2016, after eight years of Obama, the Republican Party amounted to an assembly of distinct political interests, each claiming a sliver of the Reaganite legacy. And down the escalator of Trump Tower rode Donald Trump, who for all of his obvious vices was cunning enough to comprehend how the most active Republican voters had come to despise normal politicians who called themselves conservatives. Better than anyone, the many-times-bankrupt New York real-estate tycoon and outsider showman knew how to exploit that alienation, not by tempering the party’s base but inflaming it, with appeals that not only sounded racist and violent, but actually were racist and violent — not to mention misogynist, nativist, and anti-Semitic. After more than 50 years of Republicans soothing the ego of their right-wing white base with code words and dog whistles, Trump unleashed its id — an easy enough task, as it was his id as well.
After three years of unrelieved chaos, in which disregard for the rule of law finally led to his impeachment after an attempt to coerce a foreign power into a political dirt-for-cash deal, Trump’s incompetence as well as his meanness has brought the nation to the worst crisis in its history since the Civil War — a disastrous trifecta of killer contagion, economic collapse, and threats of unleashing martial law or worse on the citizenry, with intimations of race war. Trump’s popularity was sagging at least as badly as Herbert Hoover’s in the summer of 1932 — and that was before Trump’s disastrous moment in Lafayette Square.
There is more information at the link above. This is a great read for anyone who loves history and wants to understand why things have played out as they have and what it may mean for the future. I used a lot of clips, but if you want the context of those clips, I really suggest taking a few minutes to read the article. Hugs