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FDR Still Speaks Across the Ages, Trumping Trump’s Brand

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FDR Still Speaks Across the Ages, Trumping Trump’s Brand

Franklin D. Roosevelt FDR 1944 Reelection poster

WASHINGTON — The president spoke a personal word: “I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust.”

The simple beauty of the words, spoken in Depression darkness, still shine bright, as they did in a fireside chat that millions of Americans heard on the radio. The line is chiseled in stone at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial near the Jefferson Memorial. Roosevelt loved the Jefferson temple built on his watch.

Close your eyes. Breathe deep. Imagine hearing sweetness and light in a clearing far from the mucky, swampy 2016 presidential contest. Those words were uttered in my father’s Wisconsin boyhood, a link to Roosevelt’s grand spirit. My father was born in the winter of 1933, when the sunny Roosevelt was first sworn in to right the ship, tossed by the economy’s waves into rocky shoals.

My grandmother Marie, a tiny blue-eyed nurse who married a Germanic doctor, always listened to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reassuring jaunty voice. My grandfather, a Republican who planned to move to Madison’s posh Maple Bluff when times got better, opposed her political religion.

But the New Deal turned out to be her best friend when the doctor died suddenly, leaving her a widow with four children. It was weeks before Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War II. The world kept knocking on their door on Spooner Street, but somehow the widow — and the president — kept it safe. Her oldest son, my father, said Roosevelt was the father figure in his household — kind, wise and, yes, trusted.

Now try to pretend Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, doesn’t plan to put his name in gold on the gleaming house that belongs to all of us. The real estate mogul has swooped up and splashed his name all over the post office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, a short walk toward the Capitol. But that was just the start of a much longer Monopoly game.

The White House will be great for his gaudy, glitzy brand. Isn’t that pretty much what it’s all about? In case you missed “The Apprentice,” the NBC reality show orchestrated by Trump, it’s a useful blueprint for his campaign. The media missed this clue. Give Trump this: He’s one shrewd dude, with a “peasant’s cunning.”

Trump is most adept at mocking women: lately, his presumed opponent Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren and a Republican governor, Susana Martinez of New Mexico. He’s betting on taking away their dignity. The Roosevelts, Franklin and Eleanor, advanced the dignity of the individual — the disenfranchised most of all. Roosevelt was first to have an outstanding woman in his circle, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins. The last thing he’d ever do is gloat about this great wealth.

In the same fireside chat, the president spoke soberly about setbacks:

“But I know that many of you have lost your jobs or have seen your friends or members of your families lose their jobs, and I do not propose that the government shall pretend not to see these things.”

Roosevelt is not stoking anger, but offering comfort and resolve as a man with a plan.

Climate change has hit more than weather patterns. Our body politic is much more volatile.

Even now, the bright lights don’t fully grasp Trump’s Jacksonian power with discontented masses of men. Michael Kinsley, esteemed author and journalist, says Trump is a character out of the humorist Mark Twain. No, he’s darker than that, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s more modern classic, “The Great Gatsby.”

Then came the day the voice was gone. So many had listened to Roosevelt like their lives depended on it. On that day in April 1945, my father had a paper route delivering the Capital Times. When he passed by the Rosenberg home, where his best friend Leon lived, Mrs. Rosenberg wept over the terrible news. The Russian-Jewish immigrant family loved Roosevelt no less than Marie.

At 12, my father felt like he lost a father all over again. Marie raised four children and went back to work. They never had to leave the house on Spooner Street.

My friend Amy and I bicycled by the water on a spring day and stopped, arrested by the sheer power of Roosevelt’s presence in those words.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.

Photo: A 1944 reelection poster for Franklin D. Roosevelt



  1. Dominick Vila May 27, 2016

    Putting the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Donald Trump in the same sentence is downright offensive. I was too young to understand all the nuances in the speeches delivered by FDR, but I still remember the silence and attention of all the elders as they sat or stood by the radio at a neighbor’s apartment listening to his speeches. Political affiliation was irrelevant. The President was talking and everyone listened respectfully and eagerly to every word he uttered, at a time when despair and fear of the future prevailed.
    Trying to compare what happened then, and what we endured, to what is happening today, when interminable lines at Disney, cruise ships at booked to capacity, and people insist on buying houses with bathrooms the size of a ballroom, and beautiful kitchens they don’t plan to use, is beyond absurd.
    Yes, we have economic, fiscal, and social problems, but electing a charlatan, dismantling the social fabric that helped create the largest middle class in our history, and dismantling what has cost so many sacrifices to create is not the answer. Dramatic changes in paradigm satisfy those who do not think of the consequences of their actions, and how they affect the rest of the population. The only way to implement solutions that have a positive effect on society and our security, is to do it gradually and carefully. Leave shooting from the hip to the John Wayne movies, it does not work well in real life.

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  2. FireBaron May 27, 2016

    Why is it the people most drawn to the rhetoric espoused by Trump are those most likely to receive no benefit from it?
    – For those people who have lost their jobs due to H1B Visa recipients replacing them – Trump pretty much exclusively hires H1B folks for his properties in the US.
    – For those people who have lost their jobs due to manufacturers outsourcing their labor overseas – most of the schlock that bears Trump’s brand is made by those very same outsourced locations. As President, he has no authority to force companies to move jobs back to the States. Right now, the only way those companies would do so is if they were able to get away with offering the same wages (less than $5 per day) and benefits (i.e. none) to American workers that they do to Chinese, Indonesian, Pakistani and Vietnamese laborers).
    – For people who believe we should deport all “illegal immigrants”, what happens when they decide to start deporting or enclaving others? Who will stand up for South Asians when they are forced into a Ghetto? Who will stand up for Hispanics when they are forced into a Ghetto? Oh, and remember, a Ghetto merely referred to a walled enclosure in a city. Originally, it was where the Jews were forced to live. I guess that means that Jews and Muslims will be the next into these.
    – As for mob rule that he so enjoys, the other day an 11-year old boy was beaten by a classmate who screamed “Kill the Jew! Kill the Jew!” and it didn’t stop until a member of the school administration came up and stopped it. WWDD? What would Donald do? He would probably say “Kids will be kids,” and claim to offer legal support to the family. From what I gather, none of the legal fees he has promised to help folks arrested for beating up people at his rallies has come through.
    – He has alienated our allies. Right now, the US/NATO presence in Europe is the only thing that has kept Russia’s ambitious expansionism confined to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. If the US pulled out, how long would it be before the rest of the Ukraine, the Baltic States, Moldava, and the former Eastern Bloc states fell back under Vladimir Vladimirovich’s control? He wants to pull our troops out of South Korea and Japan. Right now, fear of total annihilation is the only thing keeping Kim in North Korea, and restricts China to Sabre-rattling and island building.
    Do we really need this poseur? No.

  3. dtgraham May 27, 2016

    A very great man. One of the all time great world leaders in history, any era. No, not Trump. The other guy.

  4. Sanders would have followed the trail FDR blazed.
    Instead…we have…ugh…Hillary.
    Who can best be described as Diet Republican.





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