FDR in time of crisis: Hard truths and inspiring lies

by Bob Schwartz

DJT is not FDR. Or Abraham Lincoln. Or any other crisis president. Or any other non-crisis president.

FDR faced not one but two monumental crises—the Great Depression and World War II.

In his First Inaugural Address, FDR uttered these famous words:

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

“Nothing to fear” was something of a lie. In the depth of the Depression, Americans had plenty to fear. There was the possibility that recovery might never come and that things would get even worse. There was the possibility, predicted by some, that Americans would actually revolt in desperation.

The lie was beneficent in a couple of ways. It was spoken in a context of hard truths that FDR wouldn’t and couldn’t deny because Americans were experiencing them first-hand. And it was clear that FDR was speaking from a place of competence, strength and empathy, so that the lie was, as some lies can be, inspiring.

In a time of crisis, hard truths and inspiring lies have a valuable place. Hidden truths and uninspiring, self-serving lies don’t.