The GOP of the 1920s Lives!

There is a striking similarity between the GOP of the 1920s and that of today. Indeed, today's GOP resembles no other as much as that of the 1920s. As a political movement dedicated to never changing, conservatism has succeeded admirably.

If the Republicans win the presidency next year, in addition to the executive branch they will control both houses of the legislative branch, as they did throughout the Roaring Twenties, that Republican heyday and the bender before the lethal hangover of the Great Depression.

The first of that decade's three Republican presidents was Warren G. Harding, an adulterer regularly ranked as the worst president by historians (at least, before George W. Bush). Harding was the granddaddy of all vacuous featherweight Republican candidates. And that was his own opinion of himself.

I don't think I'm big enough for the presidency," he confided to a friend. "I don't know what to do or where to turn... Somewhere there must be a book that tells all about it... But I don't know where the book is and maybe I couldn't read it if I found it!... My God, this is a hell of a place for a man like me to be.

It's easy to imagine the same thing eventually coming from President Trump.

Of course, the Republican Party, before all else, then as now, is the party of big business and the wealthy. The Treasury Secretary throughout that decade was Andrew W. Mellon who oversaw the process of steadily lowering taxes on the wealthy. Some of this giveaway to the "job-creators" went into stock market speculation.

Then as now, Republicans were obsessed with immigration and right away passed the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, which, with subsequent legislation, closed the gates on the classic era of immigration and imposed racist quotas designed to encourage Nordic and Anglo-Saxon immigration, and greatly reduce that of Slavs and Latins from Southern Europe. Then too, the fastest growing minority in the U.S. was Latinos, though there was no talk then about building a Great Wall of Hate along the southern border.

The War on Drugs is the current incarnation of their Prohibition. Universally recognized as a failure, Prohibition increased alcohol consumption among women and spawned organized crime. The War on Drugs has provided a profit motive for spreading drug use, and has been steroids for organized crime, which can now threaten the stability of governments.

Right in the middle of that decade was the Scopes Monkey Trial, broadcast live to the nation on the new-fangled technology of radio. The trial of a Tennessee biology teacher, John Scopes, for teaching evolution instead of creationism pitted the greatest liberal attorney of the era, Clarence Darrow, against the leading spokesman for fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan. When the story was adapted into a stage play and then a movie in the 1950s, evolution-versus-fundamentalism was a quaint long-dead controversy from the Old Days.

Today, this same boycott of science has metastasized into something more dangerous than creationism. On the issue of climate change, today's conservatives have left planet Earth, which we might all have to do if their policies aren't defeated. In this similarity, today's conservatives have outdone their 1920s counterparts. Today, there is not a single policy issue where the Republicans have science and/or the consensus of scientific experts on their side. Not one.

There are even more similarities between the GOP of the 1920s and that of today, but, of course, there are also many differences. However, these parallels jumped out at me while working on the Twenties chapter in volume two of A History of the U.S. in 20 Movies: an All-Movie History Course.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same." - Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr