Gongol.com Archives: June 2024

Brian Gongol

June 22, 2024

The United States of America Unbending, unflinching purpose

Theodore Roosevelt only got to deliver one inaugural address as President. In that sole inaugural, Roosevelt urged on his fellow Americans: "There is no good reason why we should fear the future, but there is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding from ourselves the gravity of the problems before us nor fearing to approach these problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright." ■ Political apocalypticism is cheap and easy. It's the common root of "Burn it all down" and "This is the most important election in our lifetime", not to mention any number of other unhinged and unrestrained views. But it's neither new nor novel, nor are the conditions that some people believe offer justification for their extreme views. ■ Uncertainty is nothing new. Roosevelt served two terms, but had only one inaugural -- because his predecessor was assassinated. In fact, though he was only 42 when he became President, Roosevelt had lived through the assassinations of three Presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. ■ Rapid technological change is nothing new. We think that smartphones, electric cars, and reusable rockets are examples of dramatic change (and they are), but young President Roosevelt lived through the invention of the telephone (patented in 1876), the automobile (built in 1885), and the airplane (proven in 1903). Whatever the breakneck pace of change we experience today, it doesn't actually exceed what was happening then. Roosevelt even witnessed the introduction of municipal electricity (in 1882). ■ Economic change is nothing new. We've seen global financial panics and stock-market bubbles, but Roosevelt lived through a five-year great depression starting in 1873, long before the one we treat as the singular Great Depression today. And he'd lived through three other economic depressions, in 1884, 1890, and 1893. And all of those were worsened by a weak social safety net and the complete absence of a Federal Reserve System (founded in 1913). ■ Nor is dramatic cultural change anything new, either. We may have Spotify and Netflix at our disposal, but Roosevelt had lived to see the first recording devices for music and speech (1877) and the very first movies (1894). And that is to say nothing of the enormous social consequences of the long-overdue end of slavery in the South. ■ And yet, within 40 years of his inaugural address, the America over which Roosevelt presided would go on to victory in two world wars, unfathomable economic growth, and head-spinning technological change. That's what happens when you refuse to fear the future and face problems seriously, with an "unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright". There was no room for despair then, and there's no room for it now: Only a serious sense of resolve will do.

@briangongol on Twitter