Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision.
From 1790 to now, American midterm elections have functioned as an effective gauge of public opinion.
Despite southern secession, and the subsequent war of rebellion, President Lincoln viewed national elections as the indispensable foundation of a free government. There were dissenting voices calling for cancellation of the 1862 midterms due to the war, but Lincoln did not hold to that.
After two years in office, Lincoln needed to know where he stood with the people. The Republican Party kept majorities in Congress, but a significant shift among unhappy voters surfaced.
Democrats (those still in the Union) picked up 27 seats in the House. Though the Senate did remain in Republican hands, Lincoln understood the first two years of war had cost him plenty. Bloody defeats on the field of battle at Bull Run, the Peninsular Campaign, plus the massive casualties at Antietam had cost his administration.
In the Twentieth Century, the bi-election in 1934 delivered a powerful message of support to Franklin Roosevelt and his administration. Not only did the public approve of his New Deal, they added nine more members to the House majority, and an additional nine to the Senate. Clearly Roosevelt’s economic measures had grown in popularity across the stricken nation. Conversely, by 1938, Democrats lost 72 House seats with 81 gains for the GOP. FDR took those results to heart changing course on some of his policies.
Harry Truman, FDR’s successor inherited a more divided America. The Democrats had enjoyed nearly fourteen years in power, but Truman’s presidency faced a shifting change. In the midterm election of 1946 the GOP secured majorities in both the House and the Senate. Fifty-five seats changed hands in the lower chamber, and seated twelve more in the Senate. The public did not view Harry Truman in the same light as his predecessor.
There are other illustrative bi-elections to examine. For example, 1982, where the Democrats picked up 26 seats in the House, and seven in the Senate after two years of the Reagan Administration. And in 1994 Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” where the GOP picked up 54 House seats, and eights seats in the Senate. With that majority, Republicans worked to undermine the Clinton Administration.
The midterms do act as a barometer of America’s political winds. A great deal is to be learned by analyzing voter turnout and the winners and losers. Political Parties can find where they stand with the people, and adjust accordingly.
In that light this last 2022 midterm spoke volumes as well. In a most unlikely scenario, where inflation and high gas prices, plus low poll numbers for our sitting president, the public rejected the GOP’s crazy MAGA’s. Yes a hand full of seats did shift the House, but barely. The former guy has clearly worn out his welcome, and voters have had enough of that sideshow.
That he and his followers are oblivious to the temperament of the people makes no difference. The numbers don’t lie.
If this half-dozen, or so reelected extremists believe they have a mandate from the American people they are seriously mistaken. For next the two years the country will be forced to watch the same tiresome, noisy political antics they rejected at the polls.
You all are going to overplay your hands, and sink your party.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Newt Gingrich. He’s out of office and has time for your call.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has also penned two historical plays, “Clay” on the life of statesman, Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an exploration of racism and slavery in America.
Poking around the basement in my mom’s house I unearthed a framed black and white portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The picture had been in a stack with other effects from one set of grandparents or the other. Certain this pic would probably end up in a dumpster, I packed it in my suitcase and brought it home. Our 32nd President is on display among other WWII pieces I’ve collected over the years.
What was it about Roosevelt, and his times, that earned him wall space during the Depression and war years of the United States? Today the idea of commemorating a political leader with a wall display seems laughable.
So again, why did my grandparents include FDR in their home decor?
Admiration may be one reason. FDR appeared bigger than life. The man seemed to have it all, looks, money, and a pedigree that stemmed back to the early Dutch Patroons in America. His distant cousin, who also acted as his uncle-in-law, Theodore Roosevelt, still loomed large in American memory. That Franklin Roosevelt wished to serve his countrymen in a time of economic collapse felt assuring.
The laissez faire policies of previous administrations made common widespread fraud, especially on Wall Street.The 1920’s had been a heady time of speculation on the Dow, with banks making reckless loans on high risk investments. When the party came to a screeching halt in October of 1929, the sitting Republican President, Herbert Hoover, shouldered all the blame.
That fact raises another strength of President Roosevelt.The public trusted him. While autocracies generated “cults of personality,” Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler, this candidate earned his place promising America a “New Deal.” He assured the country they had not failed, the system had forsaken them, and as their new President he meant to correct those abuses.
The choice to hang Roosevelt’s portrait came from genuine respect. The people elected FDR because he meant to serve America.
This President brought energy and purpose to the Executive Branch reaching Americans personally in their daily lives. New Deal legislation quickly translated into action with legions of new programs all designed to get folks working again. The public felt a connection to the White House that perhaps hadn’t existed before that time. Mail arrived in a vast volume, most requesting a “hand up,” not a hand out. The correspondence frequently mentioned that any financial help would be repaid. Repaid.
FDR brought electric light to rural America, and chatted with the folks via the radio in his Fireside Chats. Bridges, schools, and other large engineering projects connected the nation as never before. It’s a sure thing your town or city still bears an imprint of FDR’s time in office.
So it is with gratitude that I have placed Franklin Delano Roosevelt on my wall. After all, it’s a family tradition.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. Chumbley has also authored two historical plays: “Clay” on the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” concerning the evolution of racism and slavery in America.
After the 1929 Market Crash, the world collapsed into nearly feudal isolation, and international trade quickly dried up. Like the rest of the world America focused inward, disillusioned by U.S. participation in WWI. Across the Pacific, the Japanese Empire, too, promoted a sphere of influence, sold to Asians under the moniker of a “Co-prosperity Sphere.” China, a vulnerable prize lay across the Sea of Japan, awaiting the wrath of Japanese aggression for land and resources.
Great Britain, too, struggled with a malaise of its own, as did the French–both nations saddled with debts extended by American banks during the war. Next to the new Soviet Union, Germany, struggled most of all, buried in war reparations the allies demanded from the vanquished.
As the financial fallout worldwide grew wildly unstable, regimes hunkered down and waited for better times.
The solution in that movement-elevate anti-democratic despots to power.
The Italians were the first, having produced a Fascist strongman, Benito Mussolini. He suppressed political diversity, harnessed economic efficiency, and soon, like the Japanese, pursued colonial inroads into Libya, and later the conquest of Ethiopia. Mussolini envisioned a return to the glory days of Rome.
Germany, soon flirted with fascism, as well. In a reaction to impossible debts, and of national pride, Adolf Hitler, a feckless dreamer, stood on beer hall tables, and passionately spoke of national betrayal, and the victimization of Germany. “Mein Kampf” the product of an earlier prison sentence, circled around much the same, blaming Bolsheviks, Capitalists, and Jews for the hated Armistice of 1918.
However, America, unlike the rest of the world, clung with all their might to the national system of Constitutional norms. At the same time Germany elected a Hitler in 1932, the U.S. found their champion in Franklin Roosevelt.
A popular Roosevelt Coalition steered those hard years holding the United States together. That’s not to say there weren’t kooks, to borrow Lindsay Graham’s phrase, but Americans faced the long haul together, knowing better days had to be ahead..
As FDR did not cause the Depression, Joe Biden did not precipitate the inept handling of Covid-19. Moreover, Biden’s policies did not cause Putin to invade the Ukraine, nor trigger the inflation rate, as financial matters are linear, impervious to election cycles. This new administration is not responsible for China’s economic reach, Britain’s Brexit debacle, Russia’s saber rattling, or global warming, let alone shortages of baby formula.
The utter incompetence of that last blowhard made the real mess. This moment, like FDR’s, will take more time to sort out and stabilize.
So, here is the question. Can Americans again remain bound to the framework of our Republic? Will today’s misinformed kooks forsake our financial, social, and political traditions and turn to petty retribution and tyranny?
Will we, as a nation, exchange our democracy for a strong man who insists he has all the answers?
That is the question of this historic moment.
Gail Chumbley is an author and history educator.
When I first began this essay it ripened to nearly five hundred words to share one idea. Why I am a life-long Democrat.
The original essay discussed the New Deal, the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, and how strengthening Labor Unions evoked a sense of common purpose; how the economy boomed, and the middle class flourished.
Now all I want to impart is that Ronald Reagan was wrong. Big government is not the problem. Big government checked by regulations works remarkably well.
I am a Democrat because with all its flaws, we stand equal in the eyes of Constitutional Law.* People made the Constitution, and we must preserve it. In general, States’ Rights is no more than a distraction perpetrated by selfish insiders who legislate their own interests. Residents are convinced through a wink and a nod, that the enemy (Big Government) must be defied, using catch phrases like “our values,” and “real conservative.”
In truth, the Federal Government can do more for all of us than any individual state, or any individual citizen can do for themselves. As I write, Idaho’s governor has asked for, and been granted federal funds for drought aid. Talk about biting the hand that feeds the State.
I am a Democrat because I’m inspired by the nobility of America’s past champions; the persistence of General George Washington, the compassion of Abraham Lincoln, the purpose of Alice Paul, and the articulate vision of Barack Obama. I am a Democrat because James Madison instructed us to create “A More Perfect Union.” Without that persistence, compassion, purpose, and vision America cannot continue as “the world’s last best hope,” as Lincoln also described us.
At bottom I am a Democrat because I know not one of us is perfect. We just keep trying.
*Just heard the headline regarding the reversing of the Roe decision. Time to gather 4,600,00 of my best friends (2017 Women’s March) and organize.
Harry Truman understood the gravity of his duty right off. When FDR died in April, 1945, the newly installed Vice President got the word he was now president. And what a Herculean task he had before him. A world war to end, conferences abroad, shaping a new post-war world, and grappling with the human rights horrors in both Europe and in the Pacific. Add to all of that, he alone could order use of the newly completed Atomic Bomb.
On his White House desk, President Truman placed a sign, “The Buck Stops Here.” With that mission statement Harry Truman stepped up to his responsibilities despite the formidable challenges he faced.
Did Truman inherit the worst set of circumstances of any new president? Maybe? But it is open to debate.
America’s fourth President, James Madison, found himself in one god-awful mess. His predecessor, Thomas Jefferson had tanked the US economy by closing American ports to all English and French trade. Those two powerful rivals had been at war a long time, and made a practice of interfering with America’s neutrality and transatlantic shipping. Despite Jefferson’s actions the issue of seizing US ships and kidnapping sailors never stopped. By 1812 President Madison asked for a declaration of war against England that, in the end accomplished nothing but a burned out White House and defaced Capitol.
Following the lackluster administrations of Franklin Pierce, then James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln stepped into a firestorm of crisis. Divisions over the institution of slavery had reached critical mass, and Lincoln’s election was enough for Southern States to cut ties with the North. So hated was Lincoln, that his name did not appear on the ballot below the Mason-Dixon. And the fiery trial of war commenced.
The Election of 1932 became a referendum on Herbert Hoover, and the Republican presidents who had served since 1920. Poor Hoover happened to be in the White House when the economic music stopped, and the economy bottomed out. And that was that for Hoover. His name remained a pejorative until his death.
Franklin Roosevelt prevailed that 1932 election, in fact won in a landslide victory. Somehow Roosevelt maintained his confident smile though he, too, faced one hell of a national disaster.
In his inaugural address the new President reassured the public saying fear was all we had to fear. FDR then ordered a banking “holiday,” coating the dismal reality of bank failures in less menacing terms-a holiday. From his first hundred days the new President directed a bewildered Congress to approve his “New Deal.”
The coming of the Second World War shifted domestic policies to foreign threats as the world fell into autocratic disarray. FDR shifted his attention to the coming war. When President Roosevelt died suddenly, poor Harry Truman was in the hot seat. But that is where I want to end the history lesson.
If any new President has had a disaster to confront, it is Joe Biden. Without fanfare or showboating Biden, too, has stepped up to the difficulties testing our nation.
Much like Truman and Lincoln before, 46 is grappling with a world in chaos, and a divided people at home. In another ironic twist, like Madison, Biden witnessed, a second violent desecration of the US Capitol.
To his credit, though his predecessor left a long trail of rubble, Biden understands the traditional role of Chief Executive, while clearly many Americans have forgotten, or worse, rejected. Biden is addressing the issues testing our country, not only for those who elected him, but those who did not. An American President can do no less.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. She has completed her second play, “Wolf By The Ears.”
In 1938, old men aided by young volunteers, shuffled off of trains arriving from all points of the compass. For the most part these gents were in their early 90’s, and looked forward to comradeship and scheduled festivities.
Organizers had planned three full days of tours, music, and ceremony, complete with a flyover and fireworks. The Battle of Gettysburg’s 75th commemoration had begun.
There had been an earlier anniversary event, in 1913, but this time visitors knew this gathering would be the last. Those in attendance understood, as did the elderly guests of honor, that those who hadn’t fallen on that Pennsylvania battlefield in 1863, would soon join the brethren who had.
After this commemoration, the narrative would pass from eye witness accounts into America’s collective memory.
No longer wielding rifles, many maneuvered the grounds pushed about in wheel chairs, walkers, and canes. Old men brandished ear trumpets to catch the orations of the many visiting dignitaries. The men listened as President Franklin Roosevelt delivered remarks dedicating the Eternal Light Memorial, located near the “Bloody Angle.” Battlefield tours transported veterans, and well-wishers from Cemetery Hill, to Seminary Ridge, Little Round Top, the Devils Den, and finally the exposed fields of Picketts Charge.
There, at the stone fence, gray old men in blue, and others in gray and butternut, shook hands at the “high water mark” of the Confederacy. The original climax of a fateful third day offensive, signaling the eventual doom of the the Confederacy.
Ironically, left uninvited were the scores of African Americans who had harbored such hope for new lives after emancipation. Unfortunately, Reconstruction had ended with little to show for progress or Civil Rights. Instead Freedmen found a new enslavement, recognizable in every aspect, but iron chains.
Forty Acres and a Mule had never materialized, as promised by victorious Union commanders. Now relegated to tenant farming, Freedmen struggled in the same conditions as before, but now as sharecroppers. Stuck in a never-ending cycle of poverty, black farmers found insufficient harvests debited into the next season, and then the next, in an endless cycle of debt peonage.
The Supreme Court’s 1896 ruling in Plessy V Ferguson legalized segregation by insisting any negative correlation attached to feelings of inferiority lived only in the minds of Blacks. Separate water fountains, parks, transportation, and schools worked just fine for the elderly veterans from the North and South.
The moral force of the Civil War had died as thoroughly as the nearly 7-million who perished upon the scattered battlefields.Those veterans who reunited in 1938 Pennsylvania found white identity and brotherhood far outranked any new birth of freedom envisioned by President Lincoln 75 years earlier.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle. Ms Chumbley recently completed her second stage play, “Wolf By The Ears.”
On October 30, 1938, radio listeners tuned into Mercury Theater on the Air, a CBS radio program. The broadcast, scripted and narrated by actor Orson Welles, dramatically detailed a moment by moment invasion of Earth by Martians. To the folks who tuned in late to the program the events were construed as real, that indeed the planet had been attacked, followed with authentic panic erupting onto American streets.
Welles, and Mercury Theater producers intended the script to sound like breaking news, and real it had been received. Bedlam broke out, threaded through with stories of injury, and of suicides. The whole episode left Welles and his producers with a lot of explaining to do.
The following day, CBS Radio and young Welles, (23 at the time) made an on-air apology for the chaos. Eventually the story died down, relegated to an interesting moment of Depression-era America.
Much like October, 1938, mass hysteria has again let-loose upon the country. Only this time the alarm, and distraction is by design, jolting anew on a 24-hour news cycle. Cannibals, sex trafficking politicians, lizard people among royal families of Europe, and poisonous contrails find gullible believers who hang on every fearful word.
And the heaviest assault is lobbed directly at main stream media.
How? Don’t believe any of what you see and hear, unless endorsed by the Right-wing echo chamber. In a real world of Covid, climate change, and other pressing issues, the blaring noise of the propaganda machine has sabotaged progress creating more avoidable problems.
Unlike Orson Welles, the profitable rot pumped continually through cable, books and the internet is disseminated without a self conscience blush, let alone any apologies for damages done and lives lost. American consumption of news has degraded far below any sort of accuracy or structured analysis.
Sadly, a large segment of society cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. Consider those who died consuming ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and even bleach. Misinformation and fear is lethal.
As the unvaccinated “do their own research,” and die, the insanity refuels every second across media platforms. Makes one long again for a time when truth and responsibility mattered, and mass-hysteria with all its dangers was to be avoided.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. In addition Gail has also penned two stage plays, “Clay” on the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” examining the normalization of racism in America.
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Dear Helen and Chum
I’ve neglected you since publishing your story, and I regret my doubt-inspired silence.
The delight of researching the both of you, made clear that you lived more life than I’ll ever see in mine. Risk, peril, glamor, and ambition. You put yourselves out there, and is the best story, ever.
I wrote those books wracked through with feelings of inadequacy. Possessing little experience as a writer, I took on both volumes largely on my own and finished them, impatiently pushing the story out to the world, mistakes and all.
Still, I’m not sorry to have narrated your journeys, it’s the most kick ass true story I’ve ever encountered.
Fear and confusion froze this greenhorn in her tracks. I am guilty of getting in the way of sharing your adventures, and reliving your forever love story. Forgive me. I presumed this 20th century saga belonged to me, but that is not so. Truly, there would have been no books at all, without your daring and triumphs to inspire me.
These books were not a mistake.
Chum, you squared your shoulders, took a deep breath and strapped into that cockpit, forging a career of monumental consequence. The victor of the 1933 Darkness Derby, you braved the night skies over a sleeping America. Flying your mighty Waco aircraft, you touched down at Roosevelt Field where Lindbergh and Earhart began their storied flights. Later, in defense of democracy, you piloted US invasion orders through a dangerous South Pacific typhoon, tossed and slammed by up and down drafts, to complete your mission.
And to you sweet Helen, though we never met in this life, you inspired the entire effort. It was that first visit to your Miami home when something stirred inside me. A unexpected inspiration. Remember that black and white glossy? The portrait of a sultry platinum blonde? You know the one. Chum had it up in his room until the end.
That photo triggered a spark, a slow burning fire I could not ignore. This story had to be shared. The European tours, dancing, dinner with Maurice Chevalier, cruises across the Atlantic on the SS I’le de France, vaudeville with comedians Jans & Whalen. Then off to Rio de Janeiro you sailed, opening at the Copa Cabana. And after your marriage to Chum, and the war broke out you took up ice skating, performing nightly for Sonja Henie’s productions at Rockefeller Center. My God! What a life.
“River of January” is done, as is the sequel, “River of January: Figure Eight.” Preserved in the pages is magic, whether in the sky, on the sea, under the footlights, and revolving across shimmering ice. This story crackles with your energy.
This won’t be neglected any longer. I’m getting out of your way.
With Love, and Eternal Admiration,
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.