The more things change…

Speaking of change, how about a socially distanced Santa (above)? So 2020…

Heather Cox Richardson gave an interesting history lesson in her blog post yesterday. I would have thought that the political situation today was unprecedented, but it turns out that something like Trump and the Republicans has happened before.

“We have been in a spot much like this before. In 1884, Americans turned against the Republican Party because it had abandoned its support for ordinary Americans in favor of the industrial leaders who put money into Republican lawmakers’ political war chests, as well as into their pockets. Voters put Democrat Grover Cleveland into the White House, the first Democrat to hold the presidency since James Buchanan was elected in 1856. 

Horrified, the Republicans flooded the country with stories of how Democrats were socialists who would attack the rich by ending the legislation that protected businesses. If Democrats continued to control the government, Republicans said, they would destroy America. In 1888, they suppressed Democratic votes and created modern political financing as they hit up businessmen for major donations. Despite their best efforts, voters reelected Cleveland by about 100,000 votes, but Republicans managed to eke out a win for their candidate, Benjamin Harrison, in the Electoral College. Harrison promised a “BUSINESSMAN’S ADMINISTRATION,” and indeed, in office, he and his men did all they could to cement the Republican Party into power so it could continue to defend business (among other things, they added six new states to the Union to pack the Electoral College).

But voters still didn’t like the Republicans’ platform, which seemed more and more to funnel money from hardworking Americans upward into the pockets of those men who were increasingly portrayed as robber barons. In 1892, they voted for Cleveland in such numbers they couldn’t be overridden in the Electoral College. Voters also put Democrats in charge of Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

And that is the moment I cannot help thinking about today. Faced with a legitimately elected Democratic government, Republican leaders deliberately sabotaged the country. They swamped the media with warnings that Democrats would destroy the economy and that men should pull their capital out of stocks and industries. Foreign capital should, they said, go home or face disaster. Money began to flow out of the country and stocks faltered. When financiers begged the Harrison administration to shore up the markets in the face of the growing panic, administration officials told them their job was only to keep the country afloat until the day of Cleveland’s inauguration. 

They didn’t quite make it. The economy collapsed about ten days before Cleveland took the oath of office, saddling the new president with the Panic of 1893 and very few ways to combat it. Republicans had deliberately sabotaged the country in order to discredit Cleveland, then demanded he honor the demands of financiers to stabilize the economy. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Cleveland tried to work with moneyed interests to combat the depression and promptly split his own party. The country roiled as out-of-work Americans despaired, some of them marching on Washington, D.C., to demand the government do something to address their plight. 

The Republicans went into the 1894 midterm elections blaming the Democrats for the crisis in the country. They won the midterms in what remains the largest seat swing in the history of the House of Representatives. Then they claimed that, with Republicans back in power, the economy was now safe. They papered the country with media announcing that the panic was over and people should reinvest. The panic was over, and a Republican president won in 1896, once again insisting the Democrats were socialists, but this time adding that the past four years had proved the Democrats could not run the economy.

There is no excuse for the silence of Republican lawmakers as their president attacks our democracy. But there might be a precedent.”


Quoted passage from Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters From An American”

We have short memories in this country. It’s good to learn the lessons from the past, lest we repeat our mistakes.