In the 1930s and 1940s, Americans’ politics was polarizing, ugly. Then, as now, toxic bullies exploited genuine anxieties and Washington’s disconnectedness to legitimize voices once considered too fanatic, and ultimately anti-American in their bigotry despite their “America First” rhetoric.
Back then, decency triumphed. Influential leaders at critical moments rejected the haters, even when they agreed on certain issues. Who knows what will happen now.
We can learn from Madison Square Garden’s huge “America First” rally on May 23, 1941, opposing American intervention in the growing World War. The leading isolationists, from right to left, from the celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh to the socialist firebrand Norman Thomas, blasted Franklin Roosevelt, warning about an unprepared America stumbling into another European war. A liberal columnist from The New Republic, passionately isolationist, John T. Flynn, rose to speak.