A Historian’s Perspective on Bad Times in American History

I don’t think there’s really any disagreement about how pessimistic the majority of Americans are about the future. Currently, all the polls reveal that pessimism.  As I survey the scene—the spiritual/moral, political, and cultural aspects [what does that leave?]—I have grave concerns as well. I’d like to offer a historian’s perspective.

Since I teach American history, I have a more in-depth knowledge of what has transpired previously. I can imagine myself transported back into earlier eras and think about how I might have felt about current events at those times. Bad moral climates, disunity, and devastating government policies have cropped up throughout our history.

If my life had spanned the late colonial and revolutionary era, for instance, I would probably have been quite distressed over the state of affairs. The colonies had declared independence, and it was a thrilling prospect, but the progress of the war was anything but thrilling.

George Washington was often near despair over the inability of the Congress to pay his troops or provide for their needs. Thousands deserted during events such as Valley Forge. There was talk of meekly bowing to the British because all hopes for the future now appeared to be delusional. Even after achieving independence, the new states didn’t seem to want to work together; the entire national governmental structure was on the verge of collapse.

If I had experienced the 1790s, I would have been shocked by the vitriol that spewed forth daily in some of the newspapers, particularly those that accused Washington of wanting to set himself up as king. The French Revolution, which took place at that time, was one of the bloodiest episodes in all of history, and many in America were hailing it as a magnificent development. I would begin to question the wisdom of the electorate and wonder if this fledgling country could survive its first decade after the Constitution.

Later, during the War of 1812, our military defenses were so disorganized that the British actually burned Washington, DC, including the president’s house and the Capitol. Their troops were ravaging the countryside, destroying everything in their path without any effective countermeasures. What a low point for a nation.

Then there’s the Civil War and the decade that led to it. Passions were so heated in Congress that representatives started bringing their weapons with them into the House and Senate for protection. Slavery, by this time, had become entrenched. The Founding Fathers had hoped to eliminate it, but now the South was proclaiming it to be a positive good from God.

The nation split; more than 620,000 died in the war that followed, the highest tally for any American war. Bitterness remained for years afterward [you can still see its remnants today].

The Progressive Movement, after the turn of the twentieth century, introduced more government involvement in people’s lives and decided that the Constitution was an outdated document that had to be reinterpreted. Woodrow Wilson, a racist and a eugenicist, took the presidency. The eugenics movement sought to limit who could have children; only the “best” should reproduce. This movement formed the cornerstone of Nazi policies in Germany later.

Wilson moved the country down the path that led to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s—the fulfillment of progressive dreams as the government took charge of getting the nation out of the Great Depression. FDR’s policies were so dismally foolish that the Depression continued until WWII. If I had lived during those decades, I would have mourned the loss of Biblical principles and constitutional limitations. The reigning ideology tossed out the concept of the rule of law. Now, anything could happen.

I did live during the 1960s and 1970s. It was not pleasant. First was LBJ’s Great Society, which could be described as the New Deal on steroids, followed by the rancor of the Vietnam War, then Nixon’s Watergate fiasco, and finally, the debilitated presidencies of Ford and Carter. The economy was in the tank, the worst since the Great Depression. Along the way, we also concluded that innocent children in the womb could be murdered.

I say all of this to make this point: there have always been bad times. Quite often, those who believe in Biblical morality and constitutionalism have come to the edge of despair. Yet we are still here. There is still hope to turn things around. We survived the disunity of the Revolution and the Civil War. We overcame the disgrace of the burning of the nation’s capital. Calvin Coolidge reversed Woodrow Wilson’s policies and Jimmy Carter brought forth Ronald Reagan.

Will the disaster that is the Obama administration become a footnote in our history that will bring forth another resurgence of sanity, or have we turned a corner and lost our way forever? That page in our history has yet to be written. We are the ones who will write it. If we take our responsibility seriously, hope remains.

The Present Crisis

The intent of yesterday’s post was to ensure we understand that there have always been bad times in American history, and that we’ve been at the point of despair before. Our future as a nation is still open; the decisions we make now will determine our path.

Today I do want to emphasize the severity of our current problems, as a kind of counterpoint to yesterday’s hopeful thoughts. It’s important that we don’t put our heads in the sand, figuratively speaking. What are we facing right now, and how do these problems compare to previous ones? I’m going to provide what I consider to be the key list of issues with which we have to deal:

  • As a nation, we have never been this deep in debt. Credit agencies are threatening to lower America’s rating for dependability in paying our creditors. In just two and one-half years of the Obama administration, we’ve added $5 trillion in debt, rushing rapidly toward a grand total of $15 trillion. That means more than one-third of that debt has accumulated on Obama’s watch. Yet he doesn’t even seem to take it seriously. There’s no attempt on his part to cut back on the spending. Instead, he hopes to pass another stimulus and raise taxes.

  • We are going to burst through our debt ceiling in August unless we cut spending. But what solution do the Democrats offer? Keep raising the ceiling. It doesn’t work for governments any more than it does for individuals and families.

The logic used by the administration is fascinating:

  • The ideology behind Obama’s policies is more socialistic than anything proposed by FDR or LBJ. He has taken over one-sixth of the economy by ramming through a very unpopular and unconstitutional healthcare bill.
  • We are stuck in a recession that has similarities to the Great Depression. The housing market has now been declared worse than what we experienced in the 1930s. Obama’s socialist policies have undercut the free market, ruined small business, and kept unemployment high.
  • On the education front, he has taken steps to end school voucher programs, such as the one that was working well in Washington, DC, forcing poor children into awful government schools where they will learn virtually nothing. He is in the pocket of the educational establishment, which is more attuned to maintaining its stranglehold on education than achieving results. The NEA, in particular, has a political agenda perfectly in line with Obama’s ideology. Any attempt by conservatives to change this broken system is met with hysteria and hyperbole.

  • Culturally, we have degenerated to a place unparalleled in our history. Over fifty million unborn children have been murdered since 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision. Homosexuality, which was always considered a perversion of God’s gift of sex, is now being touted as a laudable lifestyle, no longer a choice but simply a genetic difference. Last week, New York’s legislature, pushed by Democrat Governor Cuomo and acquiesced in by enough Republicans, made homosexual marriage legal. The Rubicon has been crossed. Marriage itself is being trivialized and degraded. We have broken with Christian belief and tradition to our detriment.

  • The homosexual advance has become so dominant that it is difficult to watch television without finding a sympathetic homosexual character on a program. It’s an all-out assault on basic Biblical morality.
  • Speaking of morality, our political leaders have fallen short at a record pace lately. I don’t need to review all of the scandals; you know them. Anthony Weiner has become a classic symbol of all that is wrong with our moral compass.

  • When we turn to foreign policy, we see the United States practically laughed at in most of the world, the takedown of bin Laden being the exception to the rule. Few in other nations, friend or foe, take Obama seriously. He has become Israel’s worst nightmare. He’s now expanding that bad dream by sitting down and talking with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, operating on the illusion that they have renounced violence. What a fantasy world! Both are dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the overthrow of Western civilization. This is a travesty of the highest order.

Have I forgotten anything really important? Possibly. I’m sure some of you could add to the list. Taken all together, this set of problems may signal the worst crisis we have ever faced as a nation. We could be on the verge of falling apart completely, morally and politically.

An essential part of the solution is to rid ourselves of the current political leadership, but that’s only a part of the solution. There is a more foundational need. That’s my subject for tomorrow.

A Historian’s Perspective on Bad Times in American History

I don’t think there’s really any disagreement about how pessimistic the majority of Americans are about the future. Currently, all the polls reveal that pessimism.  As I survey the scene—the spiritual/moral, political, and cultural aspects [what does that leave?]—I have grave concerns as well. I plan to expound on those concerns in tomorrow’s post. But for now, I’d like to offer a historian’s perspective.

Since I teach American history, I have a more in-depth knowledge of what has transpired previously. I can imagine myself transported back into earlier eras and think about how I might have felt about current events at those times. Bad moral climates, disunity, and devastating government policies have cropped up throughout our history.

If my life had spanned the late colonial and revolutionary era, for instance, I would probably have been quite distressed over the state of affairs. The colonies had declared independence, and it was a thrilling prospect, but the progress of the war was anything but thrilling. George Washington was often near despair over the inability of the Congress to pay his troops or provide for their needs. Thousands deserted during events such as Valley Forge. There was talk of meekly bowing to the British because all hopes for the future now appeared to be delusional. Even after achieving independence, the new states didn’t seem to want to work together; the entire national governmental structure was on the verge of collapse.

If I had experienced the 1790s, I would have been shocked by the vitriol that spewed forth daily in the newspapers, particularly those who accused Washington of wanting to set himself up as king. The French Revolution, which took place at that time, was one of the bloodiest episodes in all of history, and many in America were hailing it as a magnificant development. I would begin to question the wisdom of the electorate and wonder if this fledgling country could survive its first decade after the Constitution.

Later, during the War of 1812, our military defenses were so disorganized that the British actually burned Washington, DC, including the president’s house and the Capitol. Their troops were ravaging the countryside, destroying everything in their path without any effective countermeasures. What a low point for a nation.

Then there’s the Civil War and the decade that led to it. Passions were so heated in Congress that representatives started bringing their weapons with them into the House and Senate for protection. Slavery, by this time, had become entrenched. The Founding Fathers had hoped to eliminate it, but now the South was proclaiming it to be a positive good from God. The nation split; more than 620,000 died in the war that followed, the highest tally for any American war. Bitterness remained for years afterward [you can still see its remnants today].

The Progressive Movement, after the turn of the twentieth century, introduced more government involvement in people’s lives and decided that the Constitution was an outdated document that had to be reinterpreted. Woodrow Wilson, a racist and a eugenicist, took the presidency. The eugenics movement sought to limit who could have children; only the “best” should reproduce. This movement formed the cornerstone of Nazi policies in Germany later.

Wilson moved the country down the path that led to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s—the fulfillment of progressive dreams as the government took charge of getting the nation out of the Great Depression. FDR’s policies were so dismally foolish that the Depression continued until WWII. If I had lived during those decades, I would have mourned the loss of Biblical principles and constitutional limitations. The reigning ideology tossed out the concept of the rule of law. Now, anything could happen.

I did live during the 1960s and 1970s. It was not pleasant. First was LBJ’s Great Society, which could be described as the New Deal on steroids, followed by the rancor of the Vietnam War, then Nixon’s Watergate fiasco, and finally, the debilitated presidencies of Ford and Carter. The economy was in the tank, the worst since the Great Depression. Along the way, we also concluded that innocent children in the womb could be murdered.

I say all of this to make this point: there have always been bad times. Quite often, those who believe in Biblical morality and constitutionalism have come to the edge of despair. Yet we are still here. There is still hope to turn things around. We survived the disunity of the Revolution and the Civil War. We overcame the disgrace of the burning of the nation’s capital. Calvin Coolidge reversed Woodrow Wilson’s policies and Jimmy Carter brought forth Ronald Reagan.

Will the disaster that is the Obama administration become a footnote in our history or have we turned a corner and lost our way forever? That page in our history has yet to be written. We are the ones who will write it. If we take our responsibility seriously, hope remains.

Presidential Dictatorship

There was a time in the 20th century when it appeared that a president was setting up a virtual one-man/one-party rule. That time was the 1930s; the president was Franklin Roosevelt.

He took office in the midst of the Great Depression and immediately began signing bill after bill to ostensibly take care of the disastrous economy. Many of the bills he signed had new agencies attached to them. They were called his Alphabet Agencies, and his New Deal marked a radical departure from traditional constitutional government.

Critics warned that this socialist direction would not pull the economy out of the doldrums but keep the nation entrenched in its financial pit. All these programs would simply tie up the resources of the nation and forestall recovery.

FDR alienated the business community with his actions, but he didn’t care. He was providing government money to those in need, thereby assuring his reelection. When he won an overwhelming victory in 1936, he determined to take total control of all three branches of the federal government.

The Supreme Court had been a thorn in his side, judging two of his programs unconstitutional. So now FDR had a plan to fill the Court with extra judges who would rule according to his vision of the future. Opponents called it the Court-Packing Plan. By it, he hoped to control all Supreme Court decisions and squash any attempt to declare his programs unconstitutional. One cartoonist at the time pictured it this way:

Roosevelt’s brash attempt to centralize all government power in himself backfired. Members of his own Democratic party couldn’t go along with it—it was just too brazen, too blatant. They balked.

As a result, the more conservative Democrats abandoned him on many of his proposals and joined the Republican opposition. The vaunted New Deal came to a halt. Although the country was saddled with what already had passed Congress, few new initiatives passed and we escaped presidential dictatorship.

FDR’s policies, by the way, never ended the Depression. In 1937, a new round of economic woes hit—a recession within an ongoing depression. Unemployment rates skyrocketed again. By 1939, even his own Treasury Secretary admitted that nothing they had done had made the economy better.

Perceptions, though, are sometimes different.

Since FDR was a good communicator, and since a lot of people received government aid, a significant portion of the population believed that his policies were successful, despite the actual numbers. Even today, we hear the mantra, repeated ad nauseum: Roosevelt brought us out of the Depression.

Perception and reality are often at odds.

Now we have a new New Deal. Barack Obama has consciously promoted himself as the new FDR. The underhanded manner in which he forced through government control of healthcare is indicative of his desire to create presidential dictatorship once again. Keep in mind not one Republican in Congress voted for this bill. It’s one-party rule.

Meanwhile, millions of adoring fans believe that Obama will grant their every wish.

They are in for a huge letdown—that is, if they can ever face reality. The wizard is impotent. He is a little man with no actual power. He succeeds by trickery and glibness alone.

FDR fell short of his ambition for presidential dictatorship. I pray that the new budding presidential dictator will run into a similar brick wall—for all our sakes.