Grim Periods in US History Inspire Optimism for 2020

Avatar of Liko Smith-Doo

It may seem like this is the worst time in all of history to live in the US, and although that argument could be made, it is important to remember that our country has gotten through a lot of extremely trying situations. It is impossible to dictate what the absolute worst point in US history was, however here are three times the US looked as though it just might break. 

The first Red Scare in the US saw human rights suspended, people ostracized for their political opinions, and the widespread acceptance of police brutality. This kicked off in 1917 after the Russian Revolution successfully overthrew the monarchy and established the USSR. Emboldened by the overthrow of the Czar, labor strikes and union organization increased exponentially across the US, causing the media to vilify it as an attempt by immigrants and radicals to destroy America and its way of life. Unsurprisingly, most of the media outlets were controlled by the same tycoons and monopolists who benefited from the abuse that many of these union organizers were protesting against. The fear and hate that spread like plague across America quite literally exploded in 1919, when anarchists simultaneously set off nine bombs targeting law enforcement and political buildings. In response to this, J. Edgar Hoover — the leader of the bureau of investigation, precursor to the FBI — carried out a series of unwarranted and unconstitutional raids across the US in which suspected anarchists and communists were arrested and often subjected to various forms of both psychological and mental torture by Hoover’s officers. If there is one thing we can learn from this disastrous episode in American history, it’s that we must never pick ideology over kindness, as that has shown itself to be a slippery slope that descends into violence and the obstruction of our human rights. 

The Great Depression, from 1929 to 1939, was the result of decades of economic deregulation, people taking loans with money they were never going to have, and a century of inequality and class strife boiling over. It was a period of time that saw the largest economic downturn in American history, with unemployment rising to 24 percent, and massive drought and famine falling over the midwest. This continued until the start of WWII, in which we sold weapons to both sides as a way to rebuild our economy before relations soured with the Axis and lend-lease went into effect. This era, although not easy, highlighted our government at its best; proactive, kind, and compassionate to what the people of the country needed. 

There is no time in the history of the US in which the fundamental systems of the nation have been challenged to the degree of the Civil War. At the time, it was the culmination of America’s legacy of slavery and the cultural divide it created. In hindsight, it highlights how our country was and still is very flawed, but has the capacity to rise above its darkness and become a greater nation. It was a conflict of such monstrous proportions that the union threatened to break apart entirely. Despite the trials, tribulations, and killings — recent death tolls are estimated around 750,000, the equivalent of 7.5 million today — we pulled through and began the long, hard road to eradicating racial injustice. 

As a country, we got through these devastating and changemaking moments and came out even better. We can definitely get through COVID-19, Trump, and this period in American history as a whole if we remember that things will get better.