Trump Updates FDR’s 'Forgotten Man' Theme

During the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, Donald Trump greeted his supporters and well-wishers at the Hilton Hotel in New York City after it was announced that he had won the presidency. During his remarks he referred to the forgotten man who is no longer forgotten. In doing so, he provided a clue to his political identity that has eluded the commentators.

It is interesting to this writer that his expression “forgotten man” is a term identified with the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was first used by FDR to define his vision in a radio speech given on April 7, 1932. Let’s look at the parallels between that speech and the Trump persona offered during the campaign.

FDR in this radio address said, “[I am not going to] speak merely as a Democrat myself. The present condition of our national affairs is too serious to be viewed through partisan eyes for partisan purposes.” DJT repeatedly describes himself as leading a movement. This movement transcends so-called partisan politics.

FDR referred to his participation in WWI which was “ten million men equipped with physical needs and sustained by the realization that behind them were the united efforts of 110,000,000 human beings. It was a great plan because it was built from bottom to top and not from top to bottom.” Similarly, DJT has condemned the elitist stance of the Democrats who want to govern with a top-down, we-know-what’s-best-for-you attitude. Thus, they consistently enlarge government and remove liberties through regulations and “dumb trade agreements” under the so-called principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” (but in reality a “father knows best” philosophy where the federal government is “father”).

Trump is accused by his opponents as being too negative with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, with its implication that we have fallen from greatness, and that the hope and success that formerly resided within these borders is no longer there. FDR noted with parallel negativity that “the Nation faces today a more grave emergency than in 1917.” How negative is that? Even though we were in the Great Depression to say things were worse than after a war where millions were killed or died could be seen as a pretty negative statement.

However, FDR’s central point appeared about half-way through his speech. He said, “These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power… that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Compare this with Trump’s reference to the forgotten man, and also with his emphasis on election night as well as throughout his campaign that he intends to rebuild our inner cities and the American infrastructure. One cannot hear these words without an almost reflexive thought about the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Public Works Administration under the New Deal.

FDR called the public’s attention to a particular sector of the economy that was suffering: the small farms of the agricultural sector. He said, “How much do the shallow thinkers realize, for example, that approximately one-half of our whole population, fifty or sixty million people, earn their living by farming or in small towns…. They have today lost their purchasing power.” Trump has also focused on one sector of the economy as the key to understanding our sinking growth rate: the manufacturing sector, which has atrophied over the past 40-50 years under both the Democrats and the Republicans.

For FDR, the result of farm poverty is that “The result of this loss of purchasing power is that many other millions of people engaged in industry in the cities cannot sell industrial products to the farming half of the Nation.” For Trump, the decline of manufacturing has meant increased dependence on foreign countries, more people needing food stamps and governmental benefits of all kinds (a loss of individual self-sufficiency), and a flat or even negative GDP growth rate that is getting worse, not better. Trump says he wants to reverse this trend of shipping manufacturing jobs abroad, and possibly provide incentives that bring back some of those jobs that were shipped abroad.

Trump, like FDR in his 1932 speech, also puts considerable emphasis on trade policy. FDR condemned the existing law governing trade policy at that time, the Smoot-Hawley Act with its high tariffs. He said, “This country during the past few years, culminating with the Hawley-Smoot Tariff in 1929, has compelled the world to build tariff fences so high that world trade is decreasing to the vanishing point.” Trump’s view of trade is just the opposite. He believes the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, although he is not denying the value of “free trade.” Rather, he sees an unfairness in our multilateral free trade system that is unjustly and unnecessarily impoverishing the “forgotten man” (many citizens who are being boiled alive in a cauldron of currency and trade manipulation). Like FDR, he understands that the forgotten man cannot be “remembered” apart from dealing with the trade dimension of the economy.

FDR stressed the restoration and uplifting of the farm sector and the towns dependent on that sector. Trump emphasizes the uplifting of the manufacturing sector and the millions of people, both whites and ethnic minorities, who have not transitioned to the supposedly new “service economy.” FDR suggested a rethinking and revamping of our trade policy with a view to stimulating growth and with it the economic viability of the forgotten man and woman. And lastly, FDR proposed relief for the small banks and institutions. Similarly, Trump is proposing deregulation whereby the regulatory burden on small businesses, including smaller banks, will be reduced. Like FDR, Trump does not want to see only bailouts of the major investment banking firms, the largest commercial banks, and vast companies like AIG. He sees the failure of the bailouts and the Stimulus Act of 2008 to help Main Street, to help those most hurting in a weakened economy. 

During the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, Donald Trump greeted his supporters and well-wishers at the Hilton Hotel in New York City after it was announced that he had won the presidency. During his remarks he referred to the forgotten man who is no longer forgotten. In doing so, he provided a clue to his political identity that has eluded the commentators.

It is interesting to this writer that his expression “forgotten man” is a term identified with the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was first used by FDR to define his vision in a radio speech given on April 7, 1932. Let’s look at the parallels between that speech and the Trump persona offered during the campaign.

FDR in this radio address said, “[I am not going to] speak merely as a Democrat myself. The present condition of our national affairs is too serious to be viewed through partisan eyes for partisan purposes.” DJT repeatedly describes himself as leading a movement. This movement transcends so-called partisan politics.

FDR referred to his participation in WWI which was “ten million men equipped with physical needs and sustained by the realization that behind them were the united efforts of 110,000,000 human beings. It was a great plan because it was built from bottom to top and not from top to bottom.” Similarly, DJT has condemned the elitist stance of the Democrats who want to govern with a top-down, we-know-what’s-best-for-you attitude. Thus, they consistently enlarge government and remove liberties through regulations and “dumb trade agreements” under the so-called principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” (but in reality a “father knows best” philosophy where the federal government is “father”).

Trump is accused by his opponents as being too negative with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, with its implication that we have fallen from greatness, and that the hope and success that formerly resided within these borders is no longer there. FDR noted with parallel negativity that “the Nation faces today a more grave emergency than in 1917.” How negative is that? Even though we were in the Great Depression to say things were worse than after a war where millions were killed or died could be seen as a pretty negative statement.

However, FDR’s central point appeared about half-way through his speech. He said, “These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power… that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Compare this with Trump’s reference to the forgotten man, and also with his emphasis on election night as well as throughout his campaign that he intends to rebuild our inner cities and the American infrastructure. One cannot hear these words without an almost reflexive thought about the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Public Works Administration under the New Deal.

FDR called the public’s attention to a particular sector of the economy that was suffering: the small farms of the agricultural sector. He said, “How much do the shallow thinkers realize, for example, that approximately one-half of our whole population, fifty or sixty million people, earn their living by farming or in small towns…. They have today lost their purchasing power.” Trump has also focused on one sector of the economy as the key to understanding our sinking growth rate: the manufacturing sector, which has atrophied over the past 40-50 years under both the Democrats and the Republicans.

For FDR, the result of farm poverty is that “The result of this loss of purchasing power is that many other millions of people engaged in industry in the cities cannot sell industrial products to the farming half of the Nation.” For Trump, the decline of manufacturing has meant increased dependence on foreign countries, more people needing food stamps and governmental benefits of all kinds (a loss of individual self-sufficiency), and a flat or even negative GDP growth rate that is getting worse, not better. Trump says he wants to reverse this trend of shipping manufacturing jobs abroad, and possibly provide incentives that bring back some of those jobs that were shipped abroad.

Trump, like FDR in his 1932 speech, also puts considerable emphasis on trade policy. FDR condemned the existing law governing trade policy at that time, the Smoot-Hawley Act with its high tariffs. He said, “This country during the past few years, culminating with the Hawley-Smoot Tariff in 1929, has compelled the world to build tariff fences so high that world trade is decreasing to the vanishing point.” Trump’s view of trade is just the opposite. He believes the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, although he is not denying the value of “free trade.” Rather, he sees an unfairness in our multilateral free trade system that is unjustly and unnecessarily impoverishing the “forgotten man” (many citizens who are being boiled alive in a cauldron of currency and trade manipulation). Like FDR, he understands that the forgotten man cannot be “remembered” apart from dealing with the trade dimension of the economy.

FDR stressed the restoration and uplifting of the farm sector and the towns dependent on that sector. Trump emphasizes the uplifting of the manufacturing sector and the millions of people, both whites and ethnic minorities, who have not transitioned to the supposedly new “service economy.” FDR suggested a rethinking and revamping of our trade policy with a view to stimulating growth and with it the economic viability of the forgotten man and woman. And lastly, FDR proposed relief for the small banks and institutions. Similarly, Trump is proposing deregulation whereby the regulatory burden on small businesses, including smaller banks, will be reduced. Like FDR, Trump does not want to see only bailouts of the major investment banking firms, the largest commercial banks, and vast companies like AIG. He sees the failure of the bailouts and the Stimulus Act of 2008 to help Main Street, to help those most hurting in a weakened economy.