Hey, FDR Was a Fascist Too!
by Jacob G. Hornberger
It’s the latest rage among American leftists to point out that Donald Trump has fascist proclivities. A recent example is Robert Reich, who was secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. In an article yesterday on Raw Story, Reich states “Trump has finally reached a point where parallels between his presidential campaign and the fascists of the first half of the 20th century — lurid figures such as Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Oswald Mosley, and Francisco Franco — are too evident to overlook.”
Reich isn’t the only one. Former Mexican President Vincente Fox also called Trump a fascist. Current Mexican President Enrique Pena Calderon said that Trump’s “strident” rhetoric is how “Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in.”
In another article yesterday, this one in the Los Angeles Times, reporter Patt Morrison states:
Well, there’s language and there’s style and manner that has echoes of the fascism of Europe in the 1920s and ’30s. There’s the claim that the United States is in decline and needs a strong leader. And that was at the heart of what Mussolini and Hitler promised. They offered a recipe for revival: nationalism, aggressive foreign policy, attacks on the enemies inside and out without much regard for due process, an obsession with decline and with enemies like Jew or socialists, foreigners — those are the echoes of that today.
But in their attacks on Trump, those on the left conveniently forget a discomforting fact: Their hero and icon — the man they (as well as conservatives) have extolled and glorified for some 80 years — President Franklin D. Roosevelt — was himself a fascist.
Oh, sure, it’s true that much of FDR’s New Deal was socialist, such as the federal pension plan — Social Security — that he permanently foisted onto the American people.
But let’s not omit the other half of the story: Roosevelt also embraced economic fascism, especially in his efforts to get America out of the Great Depression.
The best example was FDR’s National Industrial Recovery Act, a fascist program that would have fit perfectly in Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Under the NIRA, federal officials organized private American businesses, industries, and corporations into giant cartels that established “codes of fair competition,” which set prices, wages, and production in their particular sectors, all enforced by federal force. More than 500 codes of “fair practice” were developed.
Not surprisingly, FDR put a military man, retired Hugh Johnson, to run this fascist program. Johnson had graduated from West Point, made the military his career, and ultimately reached the rank of General. According to Wikipedia,
One author claims Johnson looked on Italian Fascist corporatism as a kind of model. He distributed copies of a fascist tract called “The Corporate State” by one of Mussolini’s favorite economists, including giving one to Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and asking her to give copies to her Cabinet.
To encourage compliance with the NIRA, FDR and Johnson adopted a symbol that could have come straight out of Mussolini’s playbook: the “Blue Eagle.” In what is undoubtedly one of the creepiest federal campaigns in U.S. history — one that would have made Mussolini proud, U.S. officials “encouraged” U.S. businessmen to post the Blue Eagle symbol in their storefront windows in a show of solidarity with the federal government. Any business that refused to do so was immediately denounced and ostracized for its lack of “patriotism.”
In 1935, thanks to justices who were still fighting to retain America’s founding constitutional principles, the U.S. Supreme Court declared FDR’s NIRA unconstitutional. They rightfully pointed out that such a scheme had no place in America’s constitutional order.
Let’s not forget Hitler: He led Germany out of the Great Depression with a fascist program based on massive spending on public works, government-business partnerships, government management of the economy, and building up Germany’s military-industrial complex.
Sound familiar? It should because that was FDR’s economic program too.
As late as 1937, great leader Winston Churchill had nothing but praise for the leadership skill of Germany’s great leader:
One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as admirable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.
While we are on the subject of Nazi Germany, perhaps it would be instructive to post the following planks from the Nazi Party platform and ask whether any of the presidential candidates, Democrat or Republican, disagree with them.
We ask that the government undertake the obligation above all of providing citizens with adequate opportunity for employment and earning a living. The activities of the individual must not be allowed to clash with the interests of the community, but must take place within its confines and be for the good of all. Therefore, we demand: an end to the power of the financial interests. We demand profit sharing in big business. We demand a broad extension of care for the aged. We demand … the greatest possible consideration of small business in the purchases of the national, state, and municipal governments. In order to make possible to every capable and industrious [citizen] the attainment of higher education and thus the achievement of a post of leadership, the government must provide an all-around enlargement of our system of public education…. We demand the education at government expense of gifted children of poor parents…. The government must undertake the improvement of public health — by protecting mother and child, by prohibiting child labor — by the greatest possible support for all clubs concerned with the physical education of youth. We combat the … materialistic spirit within and without us, and are convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only proceed from within on the foundation of “The Common Good Before the Individual Good.”
Perhaps we should also remind ourselves of the letter that Hitler sent Roosevelt through U.S. Ambassador Thomas Dodd:
The Reich chancellor requests Mr. Dodd to present his greetings to President Roosevelt. He congratulates the president upon his heroic effort in the interest of the American people. The president’s successful struggle against economic distress is being followed by the entire German people with interest and admiration. The Reich chancellor is in accord with the president that the virtues of sense of duty, readiness for sacrifice, and discipline must be the supreme rule of the whole nation. This moral demand, which the president is addressing to every single citizen, is only the quintessence of German philosophy of the state, expressed in the motto “The public weal before the private gain.”
For anyone who would like to further explore the parallels between FDR’s New Deal and Mussolini’s fascism and, for that matter, with Hitler’s national socialism, I highly recommend a book entitled Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.
The left definitely has a point about Trump’s fascist proclivities but let’s face it: The accusation doesn’t apply only to Trump but also to conservatives in general.
Don’t conservatives favor government-business partnerships? Don’t they favor government management of the economy? Don’t they claim that their presidential candidates can manage the economy better than the Democrat candidates? Don’t they favor economic regulation? Don’t they favor public works? Don’t they extol the Interstate Highway System, which was modeled on Hitler’s Autobahn system?
Indeed, don’t conservatives favor replacing FDR’s socialist Social Security system with a fascist one — one in which the government forces people to invest part of their income into government-approved retirement accounts? Don’t they extol and glorify the fascist retirement plan brought to Chile by fascist Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who himself extolled and glorified Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco? Don’t conservatives also favor mandatory health savings accounts, whereby the government manipulates or coerces people into establishing medical IRAs?
For that matter, let’s not forget the Department of Labor, which Robert Reich headed and which conservatives have long embraced as a permanent part of America’s governmental system. It would be difficult to find a better model of economic fascism than the Department of Labor, given its control over private American businesses.
Let’s face it: Fascism has a glorious history among both Democrats and Republicans, so long as it’s called “reforming” or “saving” free enterprise. All the hubbub over Donald Trump’s fascism is personal, not ideological.