Seventy-five years ago this morning, the United States was firmly isolationist. Widely disillusioned by the aftermath of the “War to End All Wars,” the American public turned its attention inward after WWI, first preoccupied with the financial glitter and gains of the Roaring 20s, then plunged into social introspection and cross-examination by the Great Depression. In 1941, America was deeply divided as to whether to rescue Europe again, however dire the situation there. Only the huge shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — jolted the nation from its isolationist stance.
Since that fateful day, the international landscape has been entirely reshaped, largely as a result of the hard-fought efforts by Roosevelt to create a new post-war world order: one that would link the world in an interconnected web of economic, political and social cooperation and prevent us from slipping back into the slumbers of isolationism. From FDR’s Fourth Inaugural Address:
“Today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons – at a fearful cost – and we shall profit by them. We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other Nations, far away… We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that, ‘The only way to have a friend is to be one.’”
And, in fact, the world we live in today is largely that of Roosevelt’s vision. But as of today, the 75th anniversary of the trigger for the North Atlantic Alliance, cracks have appeared and deepened in the shining façade. Public mistrust of trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — on both sides of the Atlantic — threaten to derail economic cooperation. Reluctance among some Americans to maintain NATO in light of sometimes lackadaisical European allies portends trouble for the military alliance, illiberal ideologies and anti-immigration populism are on the rise, and the related resurgence of isolationism in the United States menaces U.S. foreign relations.
Does America, and the West broadly, have the will to to maintain the post war order over the next 75 years? Or will something new, or old, replace it?
Interested in comparisons between Canada and the USA? Worried about inequality? Thinking of moving? Then don’t miss tonight’s lecture and reception at Adams House!
COMPARING INEQUALITY IN CANADA AND THE US
Tonight, Monday, November 21, 5-7 p.m in the Upper Common Room
Join Canadian students from across Harvard as we hear from Professor Krishna Pendakur, Harvard’s William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Professor Pendakur, who is visiting from Simon Fraser University, specializes in inequality economics. He will provide attendees with a comparative analysis of inequality in the United States and Canada, followed by reception to meet fellow Canadians and our friends across Harvard University. Wine and cheese will be served.
Talk and Reception hosted by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Canada Program and Canadian Students’ Associations of Harvard University
The event is public and open for all. Please RSVP on Facebook:
We geniuses in the news media spent only the last month telling you how Donald Trump was losing this election. We spent the last year telling you how the Republican Party was unraveling.
And here we are, with the Democrats in tatters. You might want to think twice about our Oscar and Super Bowl predictions.
Despite all the discussion of demographic forces that doomed the G.O.P., it will soon control the presidency as well as both chambers of Congress and two of every three governor’s offices. And that’s not just a function of James Comey, Julian Assange and misogyny. Democrats who believe so are dangerously mistaken.
Other factors conspired in the party’s debacle. One in particular haunts me. From the presidential race on down, Democrats adopted a strategy of inclusiveness that excluded a hefty share of Americans and consigned many to a “basket of deplorables” who aren’t all deplorable. Some are hurt. Some are confused. READ MORE HERE
To kick off our Beyond Tomorrow conference – scheduled this year as Adams House Winter Session programming, we’re taking our theme from FDR’s first inaugural address. This speech is most remembered for its famous phrase “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself! – in which the president boldly launched the Good Neighbor Policy for our neighbors to the South — a major theme of our 2017 programming.
Therefore, in this spirit of inclusivity please join our festive concert party featuring Mexican American folk rock troubadours Ronstadt Generations and Mexican folk ensemble Radio Jarocho as we look ahead in the spirit of building common ground. Delicious food and drink provided by our wonderful friends at the Mexican Consulate in Boston!
Franklin Roosevelt famously considered General Douglas MacArthur the most dangerous man in America. Huey Long was number two. What would he think of Donald Trump?
That got me thinking about what advice he might give us today. When Roosevelt wanted the American people to face a difficult challenge, he often asked them to look to the past to find strength in the endurance of our forebears and wisdom in the actions of past leaders. So, in the wake of our recent election, I turned to Roosevelt himself for some strength and wisdom.
Where, then, are the parallels for today? We face an uncertain future with an unproven president-elect whose campaign has stigmatized great swaths of the American public.
First of all, let us remember FDR’s charge to be wary of the hazards of fear.
Second, let us remember a comment from Woodrow Wilson that Roosevelt often repeated when things looked grim for progressive government. “It is only once in a generation that a people can be lifted above material things. That is why conservative government is in the saddle two-thirds of the time” (as quoted in James MacGregor Burns, TheLion and the Fox, 1956, p. 54). Perhaps progressive government in our generation had its moment with the Obama presidency and the pendulum has swung back to the country’s natural center.
But Roosevelt also said in the aftermath of a conservative backlash in 1938, “You have read that as a result of the balloting last November, the liberal forces in the United States are on their way to the cemetery—yet I ask you to remember that liberal forces in the United States have often been killed and buried, with the inevitable result that in short order they have come to life again with more strength than they had before” (Address at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, December 5, 1938).
We are deeply worried today about our populace, which seems hopelessly divided into separate and antagonistic camps. Roosevelt had something to say about that too, and in the aftermath of this election it is a warning that bears serious attention. In 1940, with Hitler’s conquest of Europe complete but for the elimination of Great Britain, the United States was deeply divided—more divided, the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote, than he ever again experienced in his long life.
War hovered over all, and the argument between interventionists and isolationists grew each week more savage and despairing. There have been a number of fierce national quarrels in my lifetime—over communism in the later Forties, over McCarthyism in the Fifties, over Vietnam in the Sixties—but none so tore apart families and friendships as the great debate of 1940–41. Though historians have dealt ably with the policy issues, justice has not been done to the searing personal impact in those angry days
[A Life in the Twentieth Century, p. 241].
While the attack on Pearl Harbor put an end to most national discord a year later, Roosevelt warned in his his 1940 Annual Message to Congress that internal conflict—which pits one group against another—is an open door to totalitarianism:
Doctrines that set group against group, faith against faith, race against race, class against class, fanning the fires of hatred in men too despondent, too desperate to think for themselves, were used as rabble-rousing slogans on which dictators could ride to power. And once in power they could saddle their tyrannies on whole nations and on their weaker neighbors.
Roosevelt was warning Americans to unite in the face of an external threat, but he was also speaking to a nation that was tearing itself apart. His deeper message was to strengthen democracy by uniting behind its values, which in 1940 as in 2016 require us to work together to use the tools of our democracy to preserve it.
Our times are not as desperate as those of 1933 or 1940. We are a nation that enjoys many blessings. We have serious challenges and we must meet them, but now is not the time for fear and dissention. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to strengthen our democracy, for what FDR said in 1940 must be reconfirmed in 2016. President-elect Trump used the tools of a demagogue to gain the presidency, but we must not allow the country to descend into autocracy.