Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Historical Insanity

Will the Election of 2020 be 1920 All Over Again?

Ironically, 2020 could be 1920 all over again in American presidential politics.Thus the US Presidential Election of 2020 could be a repeat of a campaign a century earlier.

To explain, many of the events in 1920  resemble those we see in 2020. In particular, the 1920 Presidential election followed America’s last pandemic the Spanish Flu of 1918. The biggest event of 2020 so far is the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Moreover, 1920 was a time of great technological and economic change. For instance, new technologies; such as movies and automobiles were wiping out entire industries in 1920. To explain, the automobile killed trolley cars and interurban rail, and movies killed Vaudeville and most live theater.

1920 vs. 2020

Today, online retailers are killing many brick-and-mortar stores such as Macy’s (NYSE: M). Moreover, streaming video is killing broadcast and network television and digital media is killing print media.

Notably, 1919 and 1920 saw an incredible level of labor unrest. For instance, over 365,000 workers participated in the Great Strike of 1919.

Impressively, strikes paralyzed America’s coal and steel industries in 1919. Moreover, a General Strike paralyzed the entire city of Seattle in February 1919.  

Impressively, strikes paralyzed America’s coal and steel industries in 1919. Moreover, a General Strike paralyzed the entire city of Seattle in February 1919.  

In comparison, the number of U.S. strikes grew by 257% in 2018 and 2019, MarketWatch claims. Meanwhile, strikes at Amazon and Instacart are rocking the new economy.

Finally, 1920 marked the beginning of an incredible economic boom in the Roaring Twenties. However, the decade began with an economy so bad some observers label it “The Forgotten Depression of 1920.”

Frighteningly, the World Trade Organization (WTO) alleges the Coronavirus Pandemic could trigger a “Second Great Depression.” For example, the WTO claims the economy could shrink by 32% during the pandemic.

1920 Politics in 2020 America

Interestingly, 2020’s politics echo those of 1920. In particular, many ordinary Americans are afraid radical change and disruptive politics.

Consequently, Republicans gained 24 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and six seats in the U.S. Senate in 1918. The fear and distrust created by disruptive and destructive presidency of Woodrow Wilson’s (D-New Jersey) drove many voters to the Republicans in 1918.

For example, Wilson and the Democratic Congress took America into World War I in defiance of popular opinion. Plus, Wilson’s war effort was a package of destructive, disruptive, and unpopular measures. Those measures included the draft, censorship, alliance with the British Empire, the suspension of Constitutional Rights, vicious anti-German propaganda, and clumsy nationalization of industries including railroads.

Is Trump Woodrow Wilson 2.0?

Voters threw the Democrats out in 1918 because they feared more radical measures. In particular, Americans were afraid Wilson was leading American into new wars.

Wilson had already sent U.S. troops to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War. Moreover, there were fears Wilson could dispatch troops to aid the British effort to conquer Turkey.

By 1919, Woodrow Wilson was an unpopular president whom many Americans viewed as dangerous and disruptive. Much as many modern Americans view Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) as a dangerous nut who disrupts the country.

In fall 1919, Wilson was so unpopular he had to tour the country and beg voters to support his pet project; the League of Nations. Voters and Republican U.S. Senators rejected the League, fearing it could entangle America in more wars.

The Fall of Woodrow Wilson

To promote the League, Wilson traveled across the country holding rallies similar to those Trump holds today. Poetically, Wilson collapsed of what they described as a near-fatal stroke at a rally in Pueblo, Colorado, on 2 October 1919.

After the stroke Wilson became a physical wreck confined to the White House and was incapable of governing. Instead, First Lady Edith Wilson illegally made presidential decisions.

To explain, they did not enact the 25th Amendment; which requires a disabled president to step aside until 1967. Hence, Vice President Thomas R. Marshall (D-Indiana) could not legally take Wilson’s place. Wilson refused to step aside for Marshall, because he feared the Vice President opposed his foreign policy.

Will 2020 be 1920 all over Again?

So far, the 2020 presidential race reminds me of the 1920 U.S. presidential contest.

Specifically, each major party nominated a lackluster third-rate presidential candidate whom leaders viewed as electable in 1920. The Republicans nominated Warren G. Harding a likable but corrupt, womanizing, and possibly alcoholic newspaperman from Ohio.

Similarly, the Democrats nominated Ohio Governor James M. Cox for President. Cox’s main qualification was that he had nothing to do with Wilson’s administration. Notably, both Cox and Harding were Ohio newspapermen.

The Triumph of Normalcy

Harding won the election and one of the biggest popular electoral votes in American history by running on a policy restoring “normalcy.” In reality, normalcy meant undoing all of Wilson’s unpopular policies.

As president, Harding dropped the efforts to enter the League of Nations and brought American troops home from Russia. In addition, Harding ended Wilson’s policies of suppressing civil liberties and imprisoning critics. Plus, Harding quickly disbanded Wilson’s massive war machine and restored the small regular Army of prewar days.

Hence, 1920 was a complete rejection of the Progressive policies of first two decades of the 20th Century. Additionally, the 1920 presidential election was a complete rejection of Wilson’s radical nationalism and militarism by the American people.

One of the Most Successful Presidential Candidates in American History

Harding’s “Return to Normalcy,” was one of the most successful campaign strategies in American presidential history.

For instance, Cox only received 26.17% of the popular vote and 126 Electoral College votes. Thus, Harding won with the large percentage of the popular vote in American presidential history.

Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing

In comparison, Harding won 404 Electoral College Votes and every sate outside the “Solid South” in 1920. The only reason Southerners voted Democrat in 1920 was anger over the Civil War. To clarify, in 1920 most Southerners blamed the Republican Party for the Civil War.

Hence, Harding was one of the most successful presidential candidates in American history. However, we forget Harding’s 1920 triumph today because of his involvement in the Teapot Dome Scandal.

Is Joe Biden Warren G. Harding 2.0?

Interestingly, one candidate who seems to understand Harding’s 1920 success is Joe Biden (D-Delaware).

To explain, Biden is running on a platform of returning to Pre-Trump normalcy. In particular, Biden promises to undo all of Trump’s unpopular policies and return dignity to the White House. Similarly, Harden promised to undo all of Wilson’s policies and restore the limited government of the late 19th Century.

Additionally, Biden makes explicit appeals to the victims of Trump’s policies such as African Americans and Hispanics. Likewise, Harding made strong appeals to groups Wilson’s police state terrorized; including African Americans, German Americans, Irish Americans, workers, socialists, and young men living in fear of the draft.

Notably, one of Harding’s most dramatic acts as President was to pardon Socialist Party Presidential Candidate Eugene V. Debs (S-Indiana) prison. Wilson’s administration had imprisoned Debs because of the Socialist leader’s opposition to World War I. Hypocritically, Wilson did not imprison wealthy conservative critics of the war, including newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. 

Restoring normalcy paid off handsomely for Harding in 1920. A century later the same policy could work for Biden in 2020.

I think the madness and melodrama of the past few years has exhausted Americans. Today, I believe many Americans blame Trump for the madness and exhaustion. Just as Americans blamed Wilson for the lunacy and chaos in 1920.

How Biden Understands American Political Reality 

I think Biden grasps this reality, but America’s pundit class and many political strategists do not.

Biden came from behind to win an impressive series of victories in the Democratic presidential primaries. Before Super Tuesday 2020, most pundits; including me, had written Biden off. Since Super Tuesday, Biden has been unbeatable.

I believe Biden won by appealing to a Silent Majority of conservative older voters who want a return to normalcy. Notably, Biden rejects popular and disruptive radical policies such as the Basic Income and Medicare for All. Such conservatism offends leftists and younger voters, but it has a strong appeal to older voters.

Biden’s Risky Gamble on Normalcy

However, I think Biden’s gamble on normalcy is a huge risk that could lead to disaster. To explain, I believe normalcy will only pay off if a specific set of circumstances occurs.

First, the economy needs to recover fast from coronavirus. I believe a fast recovery is unlikely because the economy was on shaky ground before COVID-19. For instance, many American families were economically insecure before the pandemic. In additionally, the markets are unstable and today’s prosperity is built on real estate and stock bubbles that could burst anytime.

Second, the coronavirus will subside quickly and leave no lasting impact on the American psyche. Experts project the COVID-19 pandemic will peak on 15 April 2020 but continue until July, NPR reports. Dr. Anthony Fauci; the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, anticipates another coronavirus outbreak in the fall, Forbes reports.

Why Joe Biden will be a Failed President

Under those circumstances, I think the coronavirus disruption will continue for several months or two years and dramatically change American society.

Consequently, popular attitudes and expectations will change dramatically. As a result, people will need scapegoats, and Donald J. Trump and Joe Biden are perfect scapegoats. Remember, the mob blamed Woodrow Wilson for the chaos of 1919 and destroyed him.

Third, there will be no other catastrophic events such as coronavirus. Personally, I believe more pandemics, and weather and drought catastrophes caused by Global Warming. Another Summer of Drought and a wave of destructive fires such as those in California in 2018, for instance.

Hence, a Return to Normalcy is a destructive illusion that will destroy any politician who embraces it. Therefore, I predict Joe Biden will win the 2020 Presidential Election and go down in history as a failed President.

To explain, I think Biden is temperamentally and psychologically incapable of providing the leadership America needs to survive the coming chaos. Additionally, I think Biden’s administration will be a carnival of corruption that will end in disaster.

Notably,  the Teapot Dome Scandal destroyed Harding’s reputation after his death in 1923. Teapot Dome did not hurt Republicans, because Harding’s successor was the squeaky clean Calvin Coolidge (R-Massachusetts). Hence, the qualities that made Harding attractive to weary voters made him incapable of dealing with the changing landscape of 1920s America.

In the final analysis, 1920 could teach us a lot about the 2020 presidential election. Unfortunately, the only person who seems to grasp the parallels is Joe Biden.