There are some eerie similarities between Donald J. Trump (R-New York) and the 31st President Herbert Hoover (R-California). This frightens many people because the Great Depression began during Hoover’s presidency.
The disturbing parallels between Trump and Hoover include:
- Like Hoover, Trump has held only one elected office in his life – the Presidency. 1928 was the first time Hoover ran for public office, 2016 was the first time the Donald ran for office. Hoover did have some government experience serving as Secretary of Commerce, as an unofficial problem solver for the State Department in Europe during World War One, and as War Relief Administrator. Yet his experience in electoral office was nil.
- Like Trump, Hoover was a well-known celebrity long before he reached the presidency. The difference is that Hoover had a reputation as the “Great Humanitarian;” for helping stranded Americans get out of Europe and organizing efforts to feed the starving.
- Like Trump, Hoover was a famous businessman. Hoover made a large fortune as a mining engineer before going into “public service.” The difference is that Hoover was a completely self-made man; Trump is a third generation millionaire who inherited a large fortune, and a thriving company, from his father Fred.
- Another odd similarity is that Trump is the first GOP president since Hoover to come into office with a substantial Republican majority in Congress. Washington Post writer Dana Milabank pointed out that did not work out very well for Hoover.
- Hoover was tough on immigration like Trump. When the Depression began he cut the number of work visas to zero, The National Archives noted. Although he did not order the deportation of two million Mexican immigrants as some observers have claimed.
- Hoover was an opponent of free-trade just like Trump. Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930; which raised prices on 20,000 imported goods. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and is promising a trade war on steel.
- Hoover like Trump was a staunch advocate of public works. He was responsible for the building of the Hoover Dam and pushed for the construction of government-owned airports. Trump’s campaign promises included $1 trillion in infrastructure.
- Like Trump, Hoover had a reputation as a racist even though he had good relationships with individual African Americans. He launched the Republican Party’s “Lily White Policy;” which was designed to attract Southern votes by throwing out blacks, and expanded racism in the military, by disbanding historically all-black infantry units and forbidding African Americans from serving in the Air Corps. Yet Hoover’s wife Lou defied convention, and invited the wife of African American Republican Congressman Oscar DePriest to the White House.
- Unemployment numbers today in Trump’s first year in office are almost identical to those in Hoover’s first year. In 1929; the first year of Hoover’s term, the unemployment rate was 4.4%, Digital History noted. The unemployment rate in June 2017 was 4.4% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Hoover, like Trump saw the stock market rise to new high highs. The stock market had gone up 20% a year between 1922 and 1929. Then it lost 25% of its value in October and November 1929 and never really recovered until the 1950s. The value of the S&P 500 grew by 79.15% between 2012 and 2017. It gained 20.33% in value last year. Obviously Trump; like Hoover, has no control over the stock market but the similarity is bothersome.
- The 1920s, like 2010s, were a time of great income inequality. In 1928 the top one percent of Americans received 23.9% of all pretax income, Pew Research reported. By 2013, the wealthiest 1% of American households received 21.2% of all pretax income, Income Inequality reported. The level of income growth is also bothersome with wages for the top 1% growing by 138% since 1979 while those for the bottom 90% grew by 15% in the same period.
Is Trump Hoover 2.0?
There are of course some serious differences between Trump and Hoover.
Hoover was a sober, public spirited reformer while Trump is a flamboyant, larger than life celebrity entrepreneur. Trump is a passionate populist while Hoover was a cold-blooded progressive and a technocrat. Trump portrays himself as man of the people, while Hoover was an aloof elitist.
Unlike Trump, Hoover won by a large margin and could claim a popular mandate. In 1928 Hoover received 58.2% of the popular vote and 83.6% of the electoral vote, The American Presidency Project reported. In 2016 Trump won 46.1% of the popular vote and 56.5% of the electoral vote.
It should be noted that the economy was good in 1928 when compared to 2016. One difference is that most Americans in 1928 were sharing in the economic boom times, in 2016 a large percentage perhaps a majority were not. That might help Trump in 2020 because things will not get worse for most voters even if the economy heads south.
Another difference was that most voters blamed the Democrats; correctly, in 1928 for a very unpopular and unnecessary war – World War I. The election of 1928 was just 10 years after the armistice that ended the Great War – in which 53,402 Americans had died in the trenches for no reason.
Hopefully the similarities between Trump and Hoover are superficial. Whenever historians make a list of “our worst presidents” Herbert Hoover’s name almost always appears and sometimes comes close to the top.