Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Donald Trump is no Herbert Hoover

Apr 1, 2020

Donald Trump is no Herbert Hoover

tags: Great Depression,Herbert Hoover,Donald Trump

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

This author and historian has previously published articles comparing President Donald Trump to former Presidents Richard Nixon (2017, 2018) and Ronald Reagan (2016), as well as Presidential candidates Barry Goldwater (2016) and George Wallace (2017).  In all five articles, it was made clear that, despite the faults and shortcomings of all four men, they were all superior by comparison to Donald Trump.

The same can now be applied to any comparison of Donald Trump, with the Great Depression President, Herbert Hoover (1929-1933).  Some observers have begun to look at the economic collapse in 1929 and the coming of the Great Depression, at a tumultuous time at the end of March 2020, as our economy and our health care system are in free fall, and sense that Donald Trump is another Herbert Hoover, which, sadly, makes Hoover, already condemned by many in history as a villain, look even worse than he should.

So let us look at the life and career of the 31st President. Born to unfortunate circumstances in a rural community in Iowa, and orphaned by the age of ten, he was taken into a relative’s home in Oregon having learned what unfortunate circumstances many people face through no fault of their own. Hoover went on to Stanford University as a very bright, intelligent and motivated student, and pursued a career in geology and mining engineering. He went on to success over the next two decades, spending much of his work life in Australia, China, and Russia.  By the age of 40 he was a multimillionaire, and dedicated himself to public service.

Hoover became engaged in promoting relief for war-torn Belgium after the German invasion of August 1914 began the Great War. He developed a reputation as a humanitarian, devoting himself to those victims of war who were starving and in need of support.  Based on that involvement, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson asked Hoover to lead the US Food Administration in 1917, ensuring that the food needs of the nation were met in wartime.  Besides the domestic efforts, much food was also provided to the Allies fighting alongside US soldiers in 1917-1918.  When the war ended, Hoover headed the American Relief Administration, providing food aid to central and eastern Europe in the aftermath of the war, including assistance given to the defeated Germans, and even to the Soviet Union, where people faced starvation during the civil war between the Bolshevik government and its opponents. Hoover generally refused to play politics when dealing with starving populations and likely saved millions of lives that way.

Hoover had also served Wilson as an adviser at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, and was rumored to be a potential Democratic Presidential candidate in 1920, despite having no elected experience, since his business and social service career had been so impressive. Both parties admired him, and Republican President Warren G. Harding named Hoover Secretary of Commerce, an office he retained for eight years under Calvin Coolidge, who succeeded Harding in the White House in 1923.  Hoover would gain a reputation as one of the most outstanding cabinet officers in American history, shaping Commerce into one of the most influential departments of the decade. 

Hoover helped to develop radio broadcasting, aviation, and the highway system, which encouraged the rapid growth of the automobile and related industries, contributing to great economic growth during the 1920s.  Then, the Mississippi River flood of 1927 brought him more attention as he marshalled relief efforts, while President Coolidge mostly sat on the sidelines. Hoover’s profile already overshadowed Coolidge’s when the latter announced he would not run for President again in 1928.

So Hoover had a substantial record of public service, in addition to his successful business career, when he announced for President in 1928.

Hoover’s misfortune was to inherit economic policies of Coolidge and the Republican Party, which would be totally inadequate to deal with the depression following the stock market crash of October 1929.  Believing in laissez faire economics, Hoover was slow to react to the growing unemployment crisis and bankruptcy of many businesses, generally meeting with businessmen and publicly assuring Americans that “prosperity is around the corner.” This was not the case.  Losing control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 1930 made life much more difficult, and Hoover finally agreed to abandon laissez faire as the 1932 election was on the horizon.  

Hoover implemented a limited federal public works program and led the passage of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to assist efforts to keep many corporations and businesses in operation, but the effort was much too little and too late.  And the Smoot Hawley Tariff of 1930, which many economists begged the President to veto, only worsened the economic conditions, so Hoover was faced with failure, despite his impressive earlier credentials. The routing of the Bonus Army of World War I veterans in Washington in the summer of 1932, led by General Douglas MacArthur (an overreaction not ordered by Hoover) ultimately doomed the President’s chances for reelection.

Herbert Hoover was dogged for the rest of his life for his failures in the Great Depression, and he would be a lifelong critic of his former friend and successor in the White House, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Hoover came to be perceived as a bitter old man, but despite this, and his low ranking in Presidential polls of historians and political scientists, it is still totally unfair to compare him to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump did not have a distinguished business career as Hoover had, but instead multiple bankruptcies.

Donald Trump had never done humanitarian work or served in any government agency as Hoover did in several positions, and with brilliance.

Donald Trump did not serve as a cabinet member for any President, while Hoover was a distinguished, and arguably great, cabinet member for eight years.

Donald Trump did not run for President in a dignified manner as Herbert Hoover did, and Hoover never went out of his way to attack his critics in the horrible way Trump has done since his Presidential announcement in June 2015.

Donald Trump never offered to serve for a President for the public good, as Herbert Hoover served President Harry Truman after World War II, heading the Hoover Commission to promote a more efficient federal bureaucracy, after his earlier work with Woodrow Wilson.

Donald Trump never spent any time on charity or assistance in an emergency, while Hoover engaged in a lot of both activities, based on his commitment to his Quaker faith. Instead, Donald Trump has utilized his connections to right wing evangelical Christians to promote only his own advancement and their divisive social agenda.

Donald Trump has constantly demonstrated his massive narcissism and lack of concern for those less fortunate, while Herbert Hoover led a life dedicated to public service; many conservatives have even criticized Hoover as a “progressive” developer of programs that were later kept and expanded by his successor.

Donald Trump has demonstrated his total lack of common decency throughout his life, while Herbert Hoover, despite his failures in the Presidency, was never perceived as personally nasty and mean spirited.

So, in conclusion, Donald Trump is no Herbert Hoover, and Hoover does not deserve to be compared to him in any sense.  The same as saying Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon; no Ronald Reagan; no Barry Goldwater; and no George Wallace.

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