As Biden Prepares To Take Office, FDR's Presidential Transition Offers LessonsHistorians in the News
tags: Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, 2020 Election, presidential transition
When President-elect Joe Biden addressed the nation Monday evening, he said the word "democracy" nine times. He accused President Trump of "an unprecedented assault on our democracy," declared that "democracy prevailed" and in his final words said: "May God protect our troops and all those who stand watch over our democracy."
The speech came after the Electoral College confirmed his election victory, a result unchanged by weeks of court challenges. It also pointed to a larger theme of his coming presidency.
Biden has vowed to rescue democratic institutions from partisan dysfunction. He has pledged to be the president for all Americans — a population that includes Americans who voted for Donald Trump because they felt the system was failing, and also Americans who felt Trump was a symptom of its failure.
How might Biden restore faith in that system? He may be able to draw some lessons from a president Biden often says he wants to emulate: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Biden, his staff and his surrogates have publicly compared their challenge to those facing FDR, when the 32nd president assumed office. This moment, Biden said on CNN on December 4, was "not unlike what happened in 1932," the year of FDR's election in the middle of the Great Depression. Then, as now, Biden said, many Americans have "real anxiety" about their place in a changing economy.
FDR historian Robert Dallek says that Roosevelt himself saw his challenge as a fight for democracy.
Dallek notes that "in the early 1930s, you had a rising crescendo" of authoritarianism as countries around the world struggled with economic collapse. Adolf Hitler rose to power in previously democratic Germany. The Soviet Union seemed like "a model for how to deal with economic difficulties" with a state-controlled economy.
"There was a lot of sentiment that maybe this was what the United States needed to do and to move on from democracy," Dallek says, "but Roosevelt would never go there."
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