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Prophetic warnings against fascism and Democratic Party’s history of blocking progressives

Prophetic warnings against fascism and Democratic Party’s history of blocking progressives

Prophetic warnings against fascism and Democratic Party’s history of blocking progressives
September 06
11:06 2020

The 1944 Democratic National Convention erupted in cheers as Henry A. Wallace was renominated as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president. With all the delegate’s votes tallied Wallace had won with 429 votes to the runner-up and then U.S Senator from Missouri Harry S. Truman’s 319 votes. The other 426 voters were split between seven other candidates. Jubilee filled the air as the Chicago Stadium’s PA system was commandeered in celebration to play the native Iowan’s campaign song “Iowa! That’s where the tall corn grows.” 

The celebration was squashed by southern Democratic Party bosses who despised Wallace for his progressive platform calling for desegregation.

During a radio address, Wallace deplored segregation in the south when he declared, “I say our failure to live by the Constitution, our failure to abolish segregation strikes at the roots of America.”

Wanting to prevent Wallace the nomination for his strong desegregation stances the party seized the stage of the convention hall and halted the election. This gave party bosses enough time to make backroom deals and by the next day of the convention, they had coalesced around Harry S. Truman. An entire political machine transformed Wallace’s victory into a defeat resulting in 105 votes cast for Wallace and 1,031 votes for Truman. Party bosses stole the election and secured the vice presidency, which allowed Truman to become president after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death from a lifetime battle with polio. 

Wallace initially served on FDR’s cabinet as secretary of agriculture where he worked tirelessly to combat the ecological catastrophe of the Dust Bowl. An original new dealer who often was declared an enemy by segregationists and corrupt members of his own party because of his boldly progressive platform calling for the desegregation of public schools, strengthening unions, and the creation of a national health insurance program. All of which was forward-thinking especially for a man born in Iowa during 1888. 

What got Wallace in the most trouble with wealthy elites was his prophetic warning and staunch hatred for fascism. Wallace characterized American fascists as “…one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.” 

Strong declarations against fascism during a time when the United States was fighting Nazism abroad skyrocketed Wallace’s popularity and broadened his base to workers of all creeds, which would inspire him to run third-party in the 1948 presidential election. Wallace ran as the candidate for the newly formed Progressive Party and hoped to redeem himself by beating Truman. Wallace won 2.3 percent of the nationwide popular vote and his record as vice president remains overshadowed by his failed presidential bid. 

The significance of Wallace’s story reflects on how the establishment of the Democratic Party has historically worked to keep progressives out of office. This can be shown during the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries on March 2, 2020, the day before Super Tuesday. Former candidates Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg all endorsed Joe Biden on the same day, at a time when Bernie Sanders had a 28.5 percent lead over Biden’s 20 percent. Super Tuesday swung in Biden’s favor and the entire primary followed.

It has been reported that President Barack Obama had called O’Rourke, Klobuchar and Buttigieg to personally request that they endorse Biden. Just like the party bosses that denied Wallace the nomination in 1944, the Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party’s problems rallying around a candidate other than Trump in 2016, consolidated around one candidate to thwart off the risk of a progressive from winning the nomination. The parallel continues as Wallace famously delivered a message of unification in favor of a Roosevelt-Truman ticket similar to Sanders when he suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden.

Sanders concluded that Trump was such a dangerous threat to democracy that he had to endorse Biden. Sanders’ concerns surrounding the rise of authoritarianism echoes Wallace’s warning against fascism during his time and reflects the growing fears of Americans who observe as the current president engages in the actions of a despot. 

When Fox News asked if Trump lost his reelection would he accept the results which he answered, “I’m not going to just say yes? I’m not going to say no.” 

When a president refuses to accept the results of a free election and caters to nationalistic fevers, then that president is flirting with fascism. This blatantly open despotism has galvanized anti-fascist groups against Trump. 

The name “Antifa” is borrowed from the 1930s group Antifaschistische Aktion which was formed with the objective of halting Nazism’s spread in Germany. Antifaschistische Aktion was forced to dissolve by Hitler when he rose to power and declared the group a danger to the state. The original Antifa’s termination and the Trump administration’s attempt to classify the modern Antifa movement as a threat to law and order are eerily similar to one another.

During the same time as Antifaschistische Aktion’s fight against Hitler, Wallace strongly cautioned against fascism at home. “If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States.”

The 33rd Vice President’s words serve as a prophetic warning against the current rise of fascism in the United States and his clash with the Democratic Party’s establishment remains incredibly relevant sixty years later. Wallace’s legacy of bold progressivism, anti-racist and anti-fascist politics endures on.

Featured Illustration by Austin Banzon

About Author

Brett Davis

Brett Davis

Columnist on The North Texas Daily's opinion section since 2020. His stories focus on politics and point out hypocrisy. He is a current undergraduate student at UNT majoring in political science and history. Also, he is the vice president of UNT College Democrats and a student relations coordinator for SGA. In 2019, Davis graduated from Central Texas College with an A.A. in interdisciplinary studies.

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