I clearly remember stories I heard as a kid from my older relatives about living through the Great Depression. The over-arching lesson I took from those accounts was this: unless you lived through it, you couldn’t truly understand what it was like.
When I think of what life was like in the “Dirty 30s,” one image always comes to mind: Dorothea Lang’s “Migrant Mother,” taken in California in 1936 of Florence Thompson, a widow, with two of her seven kids huddled around her. Her look, complete with the 1,000-yard stare often associated with combat veterans, captures the quiet panic of a parent who cannot provide enough for her children. That look is also one of the fear and hopelessness of a victim of the economic system that betrayed her. She looked middle-aged 1936, but she was all of 32.
As of April 24th, close to 50,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and 27 million have lost their jobs. On top of our catastrophe, we are sorely missing something Florence Thompson’s generation had: the reassurance of a President to a shell-shocked nation that he felt the suffering of millions and was doing all he and his administration could to alleviate that suffering.
Our very best Presidents, Republican and Democrat, have had the combination of a deep sense of empathy born out personal tribulation and supreme confidence to lead our country through dark times. Right now, ours has neither of those qualities so many desperately need.
I’m Andrew Nelson, and that’s my perspective.