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The Power of Words: Lessons from History and the State of Our Democracy

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FDR's Legacy: The New Deal and the Power of Words

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, it is important to reflect on the study of history and the lessons it teaches us. One President who understood the power of words more than many others was Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). He famously packaged his plan to support farmers, the unemployed, youth, and the elderly as "The New Deal." In 1933, he defined his policies as the "3 R’s – Relief, Recovery, Reform," promising action and change.

Defiance and Clarity: FDR's Stand Against His Enemies

In the face of opposition in 1936, FDR chose his words carefully to defend his policies. Standing tall and defiantly at Madison Square Garden, he declared, "They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred." FDR understood the power of words to rally support and convey his determination.

A Vision for Equality: FDR's Second Bill of Rights

FDR's words continued to resonate eight years later when he proposed a "second Bill of Rights" in 1944. He argued that the original Bill of Rights was inadequate to ensure true equality and proposed a new basis of security and prosperity for all, regardless of their background. FDR's vision of progress and universalism echoes the ideas of philosopher Susan Neiman in her book "Left Is Not Woke."

Eleanor Roosevelt's Impact: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt played a crucial role in guiding the creation of the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." This declaration remains aspirational, with no country fully achieving all the rights enumerated. This Thanksgiving, it is important to reflect on the inclusive definition of health embedded in the declaration, which emphasizes complete well-being beyond the absence of disease.

A Troubling Reality: Maternal and Infant Health in America

While reflecting on our democracy's health, it is essential to address the challenges facing maternal and infant health in America. The March of Dimes recently reported that the U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth, with a 3% increase in infant mortality in 2022. Racial disparities are also evident, with higher rates of premature births among Black babies compared to White babies.

Tribalism and Society's Divide: Expert Insights

Experts warn that tribalism goes beyond political partisanship and permeates society's assumptions about history, geography, economics, and religion. Fintan O'Toole, an expert on "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, raises alarms about the deepening sense of victimhood and revenge driving tribalism. He argues that tribalism erodes loyalty to democratic institutions and values, creating a monochrome view of the world.

The Erosion of Justice and the Vacuum of Power

Moral philosopher Susan Neiman highlights the abandonment of universalism and the erosion of justice in today's society. She warns that when justice is eroded, power takes its place, often leading to oppression. The March of Dimes report exemplifies this power dynamic, where women and people of color are the targets of Trump and his followers.

As we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the power of words and the lessons of history. Let us strive for a society that values justice, progress, and the well-being of all its members.