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“Voices of Protest” by Alan Brinkley Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2021

The great depression was a watershed in American history in many respects. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies entirely transformed the range and working of the federal government by means of social initiatives, which were, geared to revamp the economy in shambles. A reorganization of the banking system, limitations on the stock market, an increase in the volume of bureaucracy, and the patronizing of social security were a few of the projects undertaken by his government to change the economic landscape of the country. However, the measures taken by the government did not produce the intended results, and the slump continued until the Second World War began. The war was instrumental in proving jobs to millions who had been jobless for quite a period of time.

Roosevelt and his councilors were not the only people engaged in digging out the panacea of an ailing economy. Several of the social movements opposing the mainstream political parties also promised Americans to get them rid of their economic problems. Historian, Alan Brinkley has analyzed two of the major movements in his book “voice of protest’ “By Huey Long, Father Coughlin”. The first one hundred and a half pages are littered with a synopsis of life and times of different activities of Louisiana politician Huey Long and Catholic personality and radio associated Charles Coughlin. If anybody already knows these personalities enough, one can move onto other parts of the book to find out something really significant.

Brinkley elaborates Long’s initial life in Louisiana country with a history of revolutionary dissidents dating back to the times of populism. The author argues that this background helped Long to develop his taste for the common man, he delineated his rise to the position of prominence in the form of the governorship of Louisiana and his ultimate entry into the United States senate. Long had not clean hands and he ran his state like boss running a company. He continued doing it all along even when he stayed in Washington. Hueys’ political machine managed every official job in the state from top to the very down positions. He used his power in such a way to stay in power and he exploited it in all possible manners. When the time of his proposal by senator came, he was very keen on the presidency. His wishes went alongside him into the graves when an assassin opened fire on him and caused his unfortunate death. It happened in the year 1935.

Charles Coughlin was raised in Canada and ultimately came on the side of the priesthood. When his church was in dire need of finance to pay off the loans, he initiated a small radio initiative on WJR in Detroit. In the beginning, the program was comprised of brief sermons. When the depression began, it soon acquired political tones. His voice galvanized many and a lot of people thronged to listen to it and thus audience swelled over the course of time. The donations started coming in and he planned to expand the scope of his program. The whole radio network was launched and it all seemed like a big virtual empire. By the middle of 30s, he was one of the most influential figures in American society. He was the man who was focused by millions and he used to come as a guest frequently at the Roosevelt White House. The priest and the president soon found themselves divided on the issues and later retaliated by building the National Union for Social Justice and its political branch the union party that was aimed at removing the president from his seat. He failed in his endeavors and became increasingly unpopular.

Brinkley has deftly handled the analysis of the two movements and has convincingly explained the method of collecting a huge audience by the two most prominent personalities of those times. The author builds the case that depression exposed the vulnerabilities of the policies that were being pursued last so many decades. The centralization drive was detrimental to the conventional American ideas about the significance of localized society. When a stock market crash in New York happened, people became concerned with big business and the power concentration in the hands of a few who were far away. Long and Coughlin capitalized on these fears and offered people the promises which became endeared to them. They promised people that power to individuals and local communities would be restored. Their promises could not be materialized because the governments’ own drive to tackle the depression had gone far too long and could not be reversed merely by demonstration of will.

The author also perfectly argues that the ideas of the two men were at variance with each other. There were contradictions between the two and they both lacked a common program of action. In their endeavor to revamp a conventional life, magnifying locality, and the individual, both outlined mega government schemes as means to get their ends. The bid to transform Share Our Wealth and the National Union for Social Justice into massive political organizations did not meet the targets because of the concentration on localization and the failure on behalf of these two men to face the central issue of the problems they assaulted, which was the economic centralization. The rest of the book combs the organization and the workers of the organizations, some of the other alternative programs operating in those times. It also looks at the question of whether the two personalities were fascists in America.

There are some problems with the book that is why it cannot be taken, in it is entirety. The book does not appreciate the positive aspects of these movements. These movements brought millions of people into American political life and kept them well engaged with the political developments. This reality is omitted in the book. It was the pressure of these movements that the president was forced to pass some pieces of legislation as was intended by the movements. Social security is one such measure for example, which was wrung from the Roosevelt government. However, despite all this, the book by Alan Brinkley is a valuable asset and those who are interested in 20th century American history must read the book to have insights into the depression and the methods prescribed by the government to deal with it. The alternative set of solutions by the two important personalities failed to miss the target and this book is quite efficient in telling how it all happened. This voice of protest is highly recommended for those who have taste for reforms, economy, governance, politics, and other important national issues impinging on the destiny of the nation.

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