The Ripon Forum

Volume 53, No. 6

November 2019

The Fury of an Aroused Democracy and the False Furies of Today

By on November 22, 2019


I have found myself reading and writing a lot about Dwight D. Eisenhower in recent months. In part, that’s because this has been a year in which we marked the anniversaries of two events that Eisenhower helped shape.

In June, we marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, Eisenhower was the architect of the Normandy landing – the General who commanded the troops, approved the invasion, and was ready to accept lone responsibility for the risky and massive undertaking had it failed.

And then in July, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. NASA was established during Ike’s presidency, and the race to catch and surpass the Soviet Union in satellite and rocket technology following the launch of Sputnik was largely accomplished before he left office. So, while JFK is rightly credited with kick-starting the space program with his bold challenge to land a man on the Moon, it was Eisenhower who started the space program and got things off the ground.

The other reason I have been reading more about Eisenhower is that my family and I visited Normandy in August. It is impossible to visit Normandy without being reminded of what it means to be an American, and what America has meant to the world. If a house in Normandy had a French flag flying outside, we found that it probably had an American flag flying outside, as well. Lining the streets of Bayeux, Port-en-Bessin and many of the other cities and towns we visited were light posts with posters bearing the black and white photos of American soldiers. Printed on each poster was the soldier’s name and military unit, along with the words, “WWII HEROES.”

Eisenhower described America’s entrance into WWII as “the fury of an aroused democracy.”

Standing on the cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc or on the sands of Omaha Beach, it is also impossible not to think of the bravery of these heroes who risked and sacrificed their lives, and the Allied armada that delivered them ashore.  In all, over 156,000 troops, nearly 7,000 ships and landing craft, and over 3,000 aircraft and gliders descended on the Normandy coast that June morning.  The historian Stephen Ambrose described the scene in his magnificent book, D-Day.  “At first light,” Ambrose wrote, “the bombers were overhead and an incredible number of ships began to appear on the horizon.  Small craft, small ships, big ships … an endless fleet.  Heavy warships cruised along as if passing for review.” 

In the book, Ambrose also recounts how Eisenhower described America’s entrance into WWII.  Ike called it “the fury of an aroused democracy.”  It was in Normandy, Ambrose wrote, that America and the other Western democracies “made their fury manifest.” As Ambrose also makes clear, the fury unleashed that June morning was not just the result of military planning and preparation.  It was also the result of political leadership and industrial might that came together in a collective and focused way to meet and ultimately defeat the greatest threat the free world had ever faced.

“In 1939,” Ambrose writes, “the United States produced 800 military airplanes. When President Franklin Roosevelt called for the production of 4,000 airplanes per month, people thought he was crazy.  But by 1942, the United States was producing 4,000 a month, and by the end of 1943, 8,000 per month.  There were similar all-but-unbelievable great leaps forward in the production of tanks, ships, landing craft, rifles, and other weapons.”  Ambrose concludes: “What made D-Day possible was the never-ending flow of weapons from American factories…[and] the cooperation of business, labor, and government in the United States and the United Kingdom, all summed up in the single word ‘teamwork.’’’ 

Seventy-five years later, we clearly are not facing a threat as grave and immediate as the combined force of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  But we do face an increasing array of challenges that will not only threaten our health, security, and well-being, but will also require the same sort of collective effort and teamwork if they are going to be overcome.  The Atlantic Council spelled out a number of these challenges last month when it released “Global Risks 2035 Update,” a report, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering writes in the foreword, that “calls our attention to the biggest threats that can no longer be ducked by decision makers.”  

These threats include an uncertain economic outlook and a national debt that is growing larger with each passing day.  “Despite the Trump administration’s confidence,” the report contends, “the U.S. economy has been settling into a lower band of average annual growth—closer to 2.0-2.2 percent—rather than the more than 3 percent that the president is counting on. Meanwhile, the annual deficit is rising at record speed. Under even the most optimistic forecast, federal debt rises to a dangerous level of over 118 percent of GDP in 2038. Alternative scenarios—which some experts believe may be more realistic—show even larger annual deficits and overall debt up to as much as 165 percent of GDP by 2038.”

Globally, the report argues, the challenges facing the United States are just as daunting and perhaps even more complex.  “We must recognize that the old historical rhythm that laid the foundations of the Western liberal order has come to an end,” the report argues.  “The world now faces momentous challenges with climate change, the return of state-on-state conflict and an end to social cohesion with increasing levels of inequality.  Without a political, intellectual and, some say, spiritual renaissance that addresses and deals with the big existential tests facing humanity, we will not be able to move together into the future.”

Looked at another way, the report argues that what America needs — and what the world needs — is another effort similar to that which was undertaken at Normandy; a collective endeavor that would channel all of our energy and resources into meeting the greatest challenges of our time. Unfortunately, given the state of America’s current political environment, it is hard to imagine that such a co-operative effort will happen anytime soon. Indeed, instead of the fury of an aroused democracy, what the world sees today in America is a country consumed by false furies.

Instead of the fury of an aroused democracy, what the world sees today in America is a country consumed by false furies.

What is even more unfortunate is that so many of these furies are being fueled by the President of the United States. Make no mistake — we live in an outrage culture, with people taking offense at someone or something every hour of every day of the year. But Donald Trump holds the Oval Office, the most important bully pulpit in the world. He also has nearly 70 million followers on Twitter, more than Fox, CNN, and MSNBC combined. And how is he using this outsized reach and authority? From questioning the size of the crowd at his inauguration to attacking the late Senator and war hero John McCain to claiming a hurricane was going to hit the state of Alabama when in fact that was not the case, the sad fact is that President Trump has done more to divert America’s attention from the real problems we face than any President in recent history.

In part as a result, he is now on the verge of becoming the third President in U.S. history to be impeached. The other result is that the positive things he has accomplished — and he does have an impressive list of accomplishments, from unemployment being at a 50-year low to the stock market soaring to an all-time high — are being obscured. But, of course, the real tragedy is that America is being unnecessarily distracted from the threats we face down the road.

“We need to get ahead of the curve in making innovative changes,” Ambassador Pickering writes in the Atlantic Council report. “The challenge is whether we can mobilize the will and the funding, the brains and the brawn, to do that.”

In other words, can we channel the fury of our democracy? We know the course Eisenhower followed. The question is if we are capable of following a similar course today.

Lou Zickar serves as Editor of The Ripon Forum.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Comments are closed.