On Jan. 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered one of his most famous speeches, “The Four Freedoms.” The purpose of his speech was to prepare a skeptical nation to enter the most horrible war in human history. We would fight on the side of democracy and against authoritarian rule.
Eleven months later, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Army bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor and Congress declared war on the Axis Powers.
FDR understood that to rouse a nation to war required that men and women know what they are fighting for, and he made clear that we would fight for democracy. I quote here from his speech:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
What a difference 78 years make. FDR proposed that we all work together to fashion a world where everyone is free to express themselves, worship in their way, live free from want and free from fear. Today, we live with a U.S. president who has nothing to sell but fear and division. Nothing.
As the 2020 election nears, be prepared for President Donald Trump to deepen any already existing divisions in the nation and begin a new war. It is likely that he will embark on this path while simultaneously looting the nation’s wealth and ignoring any real problems we face as a species.
Recently, the president has ratcheted up his divisive rhetoric on immigration, reproductive choice, climate change, the integrity of our elections, and the place of racial, religious, and sexual minorities in this nation.
We can expect a divisive campaign, with vulgar name calling, overt and veiled appeals to white supremacy and patriarchy, and the kind of simpleminded and false patriotism that is always the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Trump resorts to divisiveness because he has nothing to sell that unites us. Under his leadership there has been an uptick in the share of the national wealth controlled by the super rich while the national debt has skyrocketed as a result of tax policy and deregulation designed to benefit the wealthy. Under his leadership children and parents seeking asylum have been separated, a man credibly accused of sexual assault was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and the U.S. has reversed course on addressing the very real and urgent crisis of climate change.
According to the Mueller Report, then-candidate Trump was well aware that the Russians intervened in the 2016 elections on his behalf, and he remained silent about what he knew. Inexplicably, this silence in the face of foreign interference in our elections was not enough to charge the president with a crime, and so recently he claimed, on camera, that he would take such foreign intelligence again and remain silent about it in the cause of his re-election.
And if this were not enough, his misguided withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Agreement, combined with bellicose threats, are moving the U.S. toward a war posture in the Gulf once again, this time with a much larger nation, Iran. It is abundantly clear that the Trump administration is charting a path to war with Iran, from which there may be no way to turn back.
In May of 2018, Trump withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal and imposed sanctions that are now having a significant impact on the Iranian economy. Last month, after enduring sanctions for one year while complying with the terms of the agreement, Iran announced that it would soon exceed agreed upon levels of stockpiled nuclear material and may begin enriching that material to higher levels. Trump has said that he would go to war to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, which was exactly that the Iran Deal as designed to prevent.
More recently, the president declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Troops have been moved to the Gulf region specifically to address the Iranian threat. Last week we were told that Iran attacked two oil tankers. On June 20, it was reported that Iran downed a U.S. military drone, and on June 21, the president recalled an air attack on Iran after agreeing to launch it. Currently the Trump team is hinting that it can go to war with Iran under the Authorization of Military Forces law passed in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, some 18 years ago. We are poised for a war perfectly timed for a re-election bid.
Meanwhile, on June 18, Trump kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida. To a packed Amway Arena, his rambling speech was filled with bombast, bragging, and swipes at Hillary Clinton. These were well received by the almost exclusively white audience. There were the usual attacks on immigrants, complete with a promise to build the wall (but this time he did not ask who would pay for it), on Democrats and their “witch hunts,” and on the “fake news” media. Buckle up Minnesota, the next 17 months are going to be a rough ride.
Trump is a showman, a master salesman. Imagine if instead of selling fear, he sold freedom from fear. Imagine if instead of selling division, he sold democracy.
Jeff Kolnick, Ph.D., is a professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)