William Jennings Bryan

Donald Trump and William Jennings Bryan

 

Attempting to draw historical parallels is usually perilous, especially when the person doing so clearly does not understand the period he is seeking to draw a parallel with.  Such is the case with Arthur Levine in the New York Daily News:

On Election Day, the United States voted for the past over the future. In 1896, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, there was a comparable election. It was a time of transition in which clashing visions of America — one agrarian and waning and the other industrial and rising — battled for the soul of the nation. It was a period of dramatic demographic, economic and technological change, producing deep political and social divisions, growing concentrations of wealth and gridlock in government.

William Jennings Bryan, the defender of agrarian America, and William McKinley, the champion of industrialization, contested for the presidency. McKinley won.

In the 2016, presidential election, the reverse happened. Donald Trump, the contemporary Bryan, won.

The context is similar. Once again, America is in the midst of an economic, demographic, technological and global transformation as the country transitions from a national, analog industrial economy to a global, digital information economy.

As in 1896, the country is divided, pained and angry. The poor are poorer and the rich are richer. The number of have-nots is expanding and the number of haves is shrinking. The manufacturing and Industrial Age jobs, demanding no more than a high school diploma, that promised salaries, dreams and hopes sufficient to support a family, are vanishing.

In their stead, there are now knowledge-economy jobs, requiring the highest levels of education in history. The college education required to get those jobs leaves our children with massive student-loan debt.

At the same time, as in the previous transformation, the nation’s social institutions — government, education, media and the rest — appear to be part of the problem rather than the solution. Having been created for an Industrial Age, they are outdated and seem to be dysfunctional. They need to be redesigned for a global, digital, information economy.

As in 1896, the 2016 election gave Americans a choice of restoring what had been lost or building on the changes. It gave them a choice of attempting to repair the existing institutions or replacing them. The nation chose to restore the past and replace our leadership, electing for the first time a candidate who had never held political or military office. Continue reading

July 9, 1896: Cross of Gold

 

 

Continuing our look at convention acceptance speeches, the greatest of them was doubtless the Cross of Gold speech delivered on July 9, 1896.  Strictly speaking it was not an acceptance speech, but it might as well have been.  It catapulted dark horse candidate Bryan, the youngest nominee of any major party at age 36, into the Democratic nomination for president in 1896.  Perhaps the greatest American orator of his time, William Jennings Bryan was three times the nominee of the Democratic party, 1896, 1900 and 1908, losing each time.  It is a tribute to his hold on his party that he was put forward three times, as American parties are usually unforgiving to candidates who lose a Presidential race, with very few exceptions.  Bryan was an interesting mix of economic radicalism, pacifism and traditional religious fervor.  If he is remembered at all today, it is because of his role in the Scopes Monkey Trial, one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood legal battles in American history.  This does not do justice to the man.  He possessed a keen intellect, and even when he was wrong he never failed to make a convincing case for his position.

Bryan began the process by which the Democratic party, long the conservative party in this country on most issues, began a drift to the Left.  He also ensured that his party retained a strong presence in rural American, a presence that did not come to an end, at least for the time being, until Reagan.  In many ways Bryan, more than any other man, helped shape the Democratic party between the Civil War and the New Deal, and should be regarded as a precursor to FDR.  Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech gained him the Democratic nomination in 1896 and is one of the finest examples of American oratory, whatever one may think, and I do not think much of it, in regard to substance: Continue reading

60-40: The Party of Jackson Creates A Jacksonian Moment

By a vote of 60-40 early this morning in the Senate, the Democrats, with not a Republican vote, voted to cede power to the Republicans in 2010.  The Democrats thought they were voting to invoke cloture on the ObamaCare bill, but the consequences of the passage of this bill, assuming that it passes the House, will likely be to transform a bad year for the Democrats next year into an epoch shaping defeat.  As Jay Cost brilliantly notes here at RealClearPolitics:

“Make no mistake. This bill is so unpopular because it has all the characteristics that most Americans find so noxious about Washington.

It stinks of politics. Why is there such a rush to pass this bill now? It’s because the President of the United States recognizes that it is hurting his numbers, and he wants it off the agenda. It might not be ready to be passed. In fact, it’s obviously not ready! Yet that doesn’t matter. The President wants this out of the way by his State of the Union Address. This is nakedly self-interested political calculation by the President – nothing more and nothing less.

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