There must be a ‘real reckoning’ for Trump’s abuses if Biden wins: Princeton history professor

There must be a ‘real reckoning’ for Trump’s abuses if Biden wins: Princeton history professor
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden laugh together in the Oval Office, 1/22/09. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

As vehemently as far-right Republicans hated President Barack Obama when he was in office, the fact is that Obama had a decidedly centrist administration and often expressed his desire to work with Republicans along bipartisan lines. Former First Lady Michelle Obama has made it clear that despite her policy differences with President George W. Bush, she really likes him as a person. But Journalist Kevin M. Kruse, in a July 7 article for Vanity Fair, argues that President Obama was too nice for his own good — and stresses that if Obama’s former vice president, Joe Biden, defeats President Donald Trump in November, he shouldn’t make the same mistake.


“As Joe Biden looks ahead to the presidency,” Kruse asserts, “he should look back as well. When he first entered the White House, as Barack Obama’s vice president, Democrats faced a crisis nearly as large as the combined health and economic panics confronting them now. But back then, Obama’s team had little interest in holding accountable the individuals and institutions that created those problems. Whether it was Wall Street bankers or CIA torturers, Obama insisted he wanted to ‘turn the page’ and ‘look forward as opposed to looking backwards.’ A range of wrongdoers paid no price, and as a result, many went on to make the same mistakes again.”

Kruse adds that if Biden wins, there can be no closure for Democrats without a “reckoning.”

“If Democrats actually want to move on from the Trump era, they’ll first have to provide a real reckoning with the past,” Kruse emphasizes. “Not everything can be probed, of course. But a deep dive into the (Trump) Administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus and other crises, plus its wider pattern of incompetence and corruption, would be warranted.”

The Vanity Fair journalist argues that if Biden wins the election, he should look to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a role model. Biden is much more of a centrist than FDR was, but Kruse’s point is that if voters want a new post-Trump direction for the United States, Biden and Democrats in Congress will need to act like it.

“As historian Eric Rauchway has recently reminded us, FDR spent the 1932 campaign making the case for a drastic new direction,” Kruse notes. “But Roosevelt wasn’t alone. That same year, the Senate held hearings to uncover the causes of the crash. After ten months, though, the Committee on Banking and Currency had accomplished little. Two successive investigators were dismissed for lackluster work and a lack of results before a third one was hired in January 1933, with hopes he might be able to scrounge some sort of report out of the thin findings and help the Senate save face.”

Kruse goes on to point out that under FDR, there was a thorough investigation of Wall Street and the failed policies of the Herbert Hoover Administration. As a result, Kruse writes, “The American people, who had looked up to bankers in the 1920s, now called them ‘banksters’ — gangster-like figures up to no good.”

But after Barack Obama was sworn in as president in January 2009, Kruse adds, the “banksters” who caused the Great Recession were not held accountable in the way that FDR and his allies in Congress held the “banksters” who caused the Great Depression accountable — and that was because Obama “wanted to look forward.”

“This time around, Democrats should learn from Obama’s mistakes and Roosevelt’s successes,” Kruse advises. “Policies follow politics, and before any administration can ‘move forward,’ it first has to make clear what it’s moving forward from — and why. Leaders have to tell a story before they turn the page.”

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