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Written by Barry Kowal   
May 16, 2020 at 01:58 PM
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Trump's Presidency:We've been here before,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 still has not 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 in a speech opposing US involvement in World War I.

When Harding took office he appointed the ridiculously wealthy banker Andrew
Mellon as secretary of the Treasury.The two made good on campaign promises for
cutting taxes for the rich,passing legislation that would cut taxes for the richest 
Americans from 73% in 1921 to 25% in 1925.Another hallmark of Harding's presidency was 
the Emergency Quota Act which capped the number of immigrants that would be allowed into 
the United States from any given country annually at 3% of the number of residents 
from that same country living in the United States as of the 1910 census. The measure was
designed to restrict immigration from Italy and Eastern Europe while continuing to
allow mass immigration from Western Europe.Harding also had the opportunity to appoint
four US Supreme Court Justices, locking in a conservative majority for years.

  The point of recalling the terrible political moment
we faced in 1920 is not to present the argument that 
Trump's presidency will "not be that bad," or that
 "everything will be okay." It is that bad and everything 
is not going to be okay.

   Millions of people were devastated by Harding's policies and things didn't
get better when he died in office in 1923. Harding's policies contributed directly
or indirectly-to the "Great Depression", rise of the Nazis in Germany, and the
current immigration crisis. In the coming years we face the real threat that
millions of our neighbors will be deported,that we will see an escalation in 
racist policing in our communities and that we will see a terrifying escalation
 of fossil fuel extraction accelerating the already unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Faced with four years of a Donald Trump administration many in the American left
have embraced a type of depression-induced nihilism committing to fighting 
defensive battles and trying to weather the storm until he can be unseated by a new
administration. While this reaction is understandable in such a terrifying time,
backtracking and turning inward will only expand the scope and influence of a Trump

Social movements don;t grow because they have the support of the state; they
grow when they can present an alternative narrative to the status quo and a
coherent theory of change for improving people's material conditions.In the face of an 
aggressive opponent in Harding,working people didn't back down.In April of 1922,500,000 
coal miners went on strike over wage cuts in the midst of a temporary downturn in the 
economy. Then in July 400,000 railroad workers went on strike opposing a 12% pay cut.Both
strikes produced mixed results but they held the line against a new wave of concessionary 

   Communists,socialists and anarchists continued to organize openly and underground 
throughout the 1920's and the work they did helped to lay the groundwork for major 
unionizing drives in the the 1930's.By 1933, just 10 years after Harding died in office,
Franklin D. Roosevelt started signing new deal legislation into law,establishing 
a federal minimum wage,Social Security,federal labor law and implementing a myriad of 
other progressive reforms.In the coming years millions of workers would organize into
unions and transform the economy turning blue collar jobs into family sustaining occupations.

    The political moment that working class people faced in 1920 was terrifying but
history did not end in 1920.Within 10 years of Harding's death the USA found
 themselves in the midst of the era of the most progressive political change in
American history.The political moment the USA is facing today is terrifying,but it
is also not the end of history.Together Americans can keep fighting through the
Trump administration,taking bold action and making aggressive demands.The citizens
of the USA can not only hold back the most egregious of Trump's proposals;the
Americans can continue to build a powerful peoples movement for social,economic and
racial justice in the USA.

Last Updated ( May 16, 2020 at 04:56 PM )

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