“Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American Dream. I’ve spent my entire life and business looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world. That is now what I want to do for our country.
Tremendous potential. I’ve gotten to know our country so well — tremendous potential. It’s going to be a beautiful thing. Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”
– President Elect, Donald Trump Victory Speech Excerpt, November 9, 2016
The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes presents a “new” look at the great Depression.
The idea of ‘the forgotten man’ has a storied history in politics – it’s a concept that was used widely during the Great Depression and first introduced to the public conscious by Franklin D. Roosevelt in a 1932 radio address. The expression, when used by Roosevelt, was meant to represent the people on the bottom of the so-called ‘economic ladder’. Trump insinuates that same feeling in his victory address; which is the understanding of that phrase that most American’s also share.
Most American’s share this view of the phrase – except for Amity Shlaes, author of THE FORGOTTEN MAN A NEW HISTORY OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION. This is a book that was published in 2007 and became widely popular* as people tried to interpret what the recession of the following year; 2008, meant. Shlaes understanding of what ‘the forgotten man’ is is summed up in a quote by William Graham Sumner of Yale University from 1883 which she quotes at the beginning of the book:
“As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or in the better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X. . . . What I want to do is look up C, I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. . . .
He works, he votes, generally he prays – but he always pays. . . .”
When I got this book, admittedly I did not know it’s importance in the current political realm. I purchased this book believing – from what I understood of the summary and of the phrase ‘the forgotten man’ that this book would be a compilation of sorts of stories of people who struggled to get by during the Great Depression. What I got instead is a critique of the New Deal and how many of Roosevelt’s policies hurt the bottom line of rich corporate overlords.
I’ve considered DNFing this book (DNF = ‘Did Not Finish’) as the first two chapters are a mess. Shlaes writing is, simply put, atrocious. She spends nearly 70 pages just name-dropping rich business men of the 1920’s and so without making any sort of recognizable point. Her editor (if she even had one) really dropped the ball here. Some of her praise comes across as border-line worship of these people who, quite simply, brutalized their own workers in the name of profit.
As I considered giving up on this book that I began over a week ago, I noticed it started to get heavy attention once again in the media. For example, Media Monarchy just did a short talk about this very book – among other sources and this rejuvenated my interest, so I pressed on.
After the mess of the introduction and chapters 1 and 2 of this book, I just finished chapter 3 and am happy to say that Shlaes writing is becoming more coherent. The point that I was craving that she’d make in the first and second chapters is beginning to formulate now. I see the reason why people are dusting off their old copies of this book.
Although Roosevelt spoke of the people on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, I’m beginning to believe that Trump is referring to the same “forgotten man” that Shlaes is in her book – the wealthy business person who is being put in a ‘disadvantage’ due to policies and regulations set in place by a powerful Government. Trump is looking out for “C” and not “X” and his past 100 days (roughly) in office have reflected this as he rolls back numerous regulations put in place over the past several years to help remedy the 2008 recession.
As of right now, I plan on pressing on with this book. I just began chapter 4 – which is page 105. Considering it took me a week to get this far, perhaps next weekend I’ll be able to write another post covering the next 100 or so pages.
*I have the text version – I realize that not too long ago this book was made into a graphic novel. I do not have that and, admittedly, am not interested in getting it.