We should always look to our past to gain wisdom and insight into our political future in America.
The election of 1920 was a lackluster election, America was tying up the loose ends of WWI, the Progressive Era was coming to a close, and our economy was uncertain, if anything.
But the remarkable thing about the 1920 election was Warren Harding’s campaigning spiel. It wasn’t about making America great again or fighting for you; instead, it was a calm call for a ‘Return to Normalcy.’
Harding believed that the war had ‘tainted’ people’s thinking about America’s place on the world stage, that far too many were willing to enter into a new era of America throwing around its political and military clout. He summed up his platform with:
America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.
And it worked.
Harding won over 60 percent of the popular vote and a landslide in the Electoral College (404-127).
And while people might say times were different back then, we must remember the time of civil unrest they were living in–with terrorist bombings a common place event as the anarchism movement struck against the the banks and the wealthy, huge organized protests filled the streets of Chicago and other cities, and a wave of Irish immigrants aroused nativist feelings throughout America.
We tend to think of the problems of immigration to be modern ones, but even the so-called ‘hyphenated American’ problem goes back to the era of the 1920 campaign, and with disastrous political effect:
I want to say—I cannot say too often—any man who carries a hyphen about with him [i.e., a hyphenated American] carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready. –Woodrow Wilson, 1919
The Irish immigrants were once a safe bloc for the Democratic Party, but the rampant insults, refusal to support a free Ireland, and the expectation of full amalgamation made most abandon the Democrats in favor of Harding’s call for normalcy.
In America today, we need a country that has returned to normalcy, the things that have always made us great: strong, equitable trading relationships, a foreign policy based on diplomacy, and an ever expanding culture formed by the contributions of all Americans.
During the next presidency, how we deal with the changing demographics in America, the global war on terrorism, and our economic turmoil at home will all be the standard by which we are judged as a free country.
Making America ‘normal’ is simply having the faith that we can and will address all of our nation’s problems in a manner we can be proud of–that we are the exemplar nation, the so-called ‘city on a hill.’
Because ‘normal’ in America is when we address changes in our society in a calm, democratic manner.