Biden Following In FDR Footsteps While Trump Snuggles Up To Dictators

Heather Cox Richardson

Authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary visited former president Trump in Florida on Friday, and on Sunday, Orbán assured Hungarian state media that Trump “will not give a penny in the Ukraine-Russia war. Therefore, the war will end, because it is obvious that Ukraine can not stand on its own feet.” Russian state media gloated at the news, and that Trump’s MAGA allies in Congress are already helping him end support for Ukraine. 

President Joe Biden and a strong majority of lawmakers in both chambers of Congress, as well as defense officials, support appropriating more aid to Ukraine, believing its defense is crucial to America’s national security. Today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin once again called such aid “critical.” 

The Senate passed a national security supplemental bill early in the morning on February 13, by a strong bipartisan vote of 70 to 29. The bill would be expected to pass the House, but House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), a Trump loyalist, refuses to bring it up for a vote. 

Trump loyalists have been obstructing aid to Ukraine since President Joe Biden asked for it in October 2023. Their insistence that they would not address the national security needs of the U.S. in Ukraine until they were addressed at the border now sure looks like a smokescreen to help Russian president Vladimir Putin take Ukraine, a plan that would explain why Trump urged Republicans to kill the national security supplemental bill even when it included a strong border component that favored Republican positions. 

It appears as though Trump is deliberately undermining the national security of the United States.

In excerpts from his forthcoming book that appeared on the CNN website today, journalist Jim Sciutto reported conversations with Trump’s second chief of staff, General John Kelly, and Trump’s third national security advisor, John Bolton, in which the men recounted Trump’s fondness for dictators. “He views himself as a big guy,” Bolton told Sciutto. “He likes dealing with other big guys, and big guys like Erdogan in Turkey get to put people in jail and you don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. He kind of likes that.” “He’s not a tough guy by any means, but in fact quite the opposite,” Kelly said. “But that’s how he envisions himself.”

Kelly noted that Trump praised Hitler and what he thought was the loyalty of Hitler’s generals (some of whom actually tried to assassinate him), but both Kelly and Bolton noted that he “most consistently lavished praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Certainly, Trump prizes loyalty to himself: today Alex Isenstadt of Politicoreported a “bloodbath” at the Republican National Committee as the incoming Trump loyalists are pushing out more than 60 RNC officials and staffers to make sure everyone is “aligned” with Trump. 

An exclusive interview today by Katelyn Polantz, Kaitlan Collins, and Jeremy Herb of CNN revealed that Brian Butler, who worked at Mar-a-Lago for twenty years, has come forward to give the public the same information he told to investigators looking into Trump’s theft of classified documents. On June 3, 2022, the day Trump and his family were scheduled to fly to New Jersey for the summer, Trump’s aide Walt Nauta asked Butler if he could borrow a car from the Mar-a-Lago car service, although Butler and his valets usually handled getting the Trump family luggage onto the plane. June 3 was the same day Trump and his lawyer were meeting with officials from the Department of Justice at Mar-a-Lago to arrange for Trump to turn over national security documents. 

Butler loaded a vehicle with the luggage, then met Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira—at the time a close friend of Butler—driving a vehicle loaded with bankers boxes, at the West Palm Beach airport. Butler says he didn’t know the bankers boxes contained anything unusual, and he helped Nauta load the plane with the boxes as well as the luggage. “They were the boxes that were in the indictment, the white bankers boxes. That’s what I remember loading,” Butler added.

Butler was also present during conversations about hiding evidence from federal authorities. 

While Trump opposes aid to Ukraine, President Joe Biden pushed for it once again when he released his fiscal year 2025 budget today. (There is overlap this year between funding fiscal year 2024 and fiscal year 2025 because House Republicans have been unable to agree to last year’s appropriations bills. Those are supposed to be done before October 1, when the new fiscal year starts.)

In addition to funding for Ukraine, the president’s $7.3 trillion budget covers Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans’ benefits, all of which are mandatory, and expands investment in health care, child care, and housing. Biden would pay for all this—and reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over the next ten years—with higher taxes on those making more than $400,000 a year and on corporations. 

In his defense of the middle class as the engine of economic growth and his declaration that the days of trickle-down economics are over, Biden sounds much like Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt did when he ushered in the New Deal in the 1930s. In that era, Roosevelt and his Democratic allies replaced a government that worked for men of property with one that worked for ordinary Americans.

There were other echoes of the FDR administration today as Trump’s undermining of aid to Ukraine has become clear. Ukraine stands between an aggressive Russian dictator and a democratic Europe.  

In the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. had to decide whether to turn away from those standing against dictators like Hitler, or to stand behind them. There was a strong isolationist impulse in the United States. Some people resented that war industries had made fortunes supplying the devastating weaponry of World War I. Others believed that Hitler’s advance in Europe was a distraction from Asia, where their business interests were entwined. Congress passed laws to keep the U.S. from entanglement in Europe until Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Then Congress allowed other nations to buy munitions from the U.S. so long as they carried them away in their own ships.  

The following year, FDR promised the American people he would not send troops into “any foreign wars.” But in July 1940, newly-appointed British prime minister Winston Churchill asked the U.S. for direct help after Britain lost eleven destroyers in ten days to the German Navy. Roosevelt exchanged 50 destroyers for 99-year leases on certain British bases, but that would not be enough. He asked Congress to provide military aid.

On this date in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law “An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States.” The new law gave the president wide-ranging authority to sell, give, lease, or lend war supplies to “any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.”

The law defined “war supplies” generously: they ranged from aircraft and boats to guns and tools, to information and technical designs, to food and supplies. The law also gave the president authority to authorize U.S. companies to manufacture such war supplies for other countries whose defense was important to the United States.

This law is the one we know as the Lend-Lease Act, and it was central to the ability of the Allied Powers—those standing against Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito—to fight off the Axis Powers who were trying to take over the globe in the 1940s. By the time the law ended on September 20, 1945, supplies worth more than $50 billion in 1940 dollars—equivalent to more than $770 billion today—had gone to the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France, China, and other allies. 

Four days after he signed the Lend-Lease Act into law, on March 15, 1941, FDR told journalists at the White House Correspondents’ Association, “The big news story of this week is this: The world has been told that we, as a united Nation, realize the danger that confronts us—and that to meet that danger, our democracy has gone into action.”

FDR noted the “superb morale” of the British, who he said were “completely clear in their minds about the one essential fact—that they would rather die…free…than live as slaves.” He continued: “The British people and their Grecian allies need ships. From America, they will get ships. They need planes. From America, they will get planes. From America they need food. From America, they will get food. They need tanks and guns and ammunition and supplies of all kinds. From America, they will get tanks and guns and ammunition and supplies of all kinds….

“And so our country is going to be what our people have proclaimed it must be—the arsenal of democracy…. Never, in all our history, have Americans faced a job so well worth while.”

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