The famous activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., once said: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history”. I completely agree with this idea because the truth is that not only did events in history define our society and the ways we think and live, they also shape the political culture of our nation. In the same way, when the New Deal came out from 1933 to 1936, it transformed the American political culture.
For example, let’s look at two of the most important programs of the New Deal, the Social Security Act (SSA) and the Wagner Act. In 1935, the Social Security Act was created to provide supports for unemployed workers and old-age insurance (Dr. Gonzalez’s, 11/07/19). This was a very big surprise for Americans, especially the elderly since they can now actually feel a sense of safety and assurance because the federal government will provide for them in their old age after retirement as long as they paid social security while they worked. This transformed the American political culture because, never before, the connection between the federal government and its people is this strong, but now it started to show a more direct focus on everyone, especially the less unfortunate ones. Through the program, the government provided a sort of safety net, which protected people from unemployment, disability, poverty, and old age (Oakes, pg. 698). This was the opposite of the time before the Great Depression when there was no backup plans or direct federal support, which was part of the cause of the depression. With the creation of the SSA, the government began to take more responsibility for the people’s economic security, and at the same time allowing people the freedom they always have, with which they can use to decide whether they want the government’s help or not (Oakes, pg. 705).
Besides the SSA, in the same year of 1935, the National Labor Relations Act, commonly known as the Wagner Act, was also put in action. This program’s purpose was to strengthen, support, and enforce worker’s basic rights such as unionize and bargaining (Dr. Gonzalez’s, 11/07/19). Before this, labor unions were already a thing that workers knew about, however, not many dared to join because it did not look good in the eyes of employers, and most importantly, there wasn’t anything that stood behind and backed up these unions. By using this program, the government made it very clear that it stood by the workers, supported them, and guaranteed that their rights are being respected. This was a shift in the American political culture because, in the past, the government was sometimes against labor unions and even sent troops to oppose them, but now the government officially recognized them, stood with them, and were willing to defend them against unfair treatments from businesses. In just 11 years from 1933, union memberships went from 3 million to 14 million, which was equivalent to 30% of the whole workforce being in unions at the time (Dr. Gonzalez’s, 11/07/19). Before, the government cared about the economy, but it seemed like they only cared about the rich part of it, instead of the major part, which was workers. Via the program, FDR made America saw the fact that workers are pretty much the backbone of the economy and made up most parts of productivity and consumers, and that meant that the government should care more about workers and give them more power both economically and politically. Again, with the cause of the Great Depression, this tragic event happened because people, mostly made up of workers and their families, ran out of money to buy things, which led to overproduction. But to prevent this in the future, the government used the Wagner Act to grant workers the right to organize and speak their minds along with other improvements such as limited hours and better wages (Oakes, pg. 705-706). This made America a better place for workers, where the federal government put in efforts to protect them and started taking more responsibilities when production, workers’ rights and conditions went downhill.
Even though the New Deal wasn’t what got America out of the Great Depression, it still played a big part in changing the way Americans think, the way government works, and American political culture, and it also improved the connection between the people and the leaders, which proved to be essential in every situation.