by Akim Reinhardt
There is a minor American myth about shame and regret. It goes like this.
In the years following Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation amid scandal and disgrace, polls found that fewer Americans admitted to having voted for him than actually did. Apparently many former Nixon voters now realized the error of their ways and were embarrassed to admit ever having pulled the lever for him.
Everything about this story is false, and the truth of it is worse. Nixon’s loyal supporters stood by him the entire way, despite his crimes. His popularity did not retreat behind a wave of shame; it was merely muted by the national embarrassment of his resignation.
What does this tell us about today’s Trump supporters? Partisan divisions are much worse now than they were during the mid-1970s, so Trump voters’ fierce loyalty to this sexist, racist charlatan is unsurprising. But in explaining why, we tend to focus on the Cult of Trump, as if he has special qualities that give him some magical hold over his supporters. True, in many ways Trump is a unique politician in American history. Yet given our history, it seems likelier that his supporters’ undying devotion is less about the spells Trump casts, and more about the constancy of American political partisanship.
Indeed, the difference between Trump’s and Nixon’s loyal supporters might be more about decibel count than sentiment. And so by looking back at the steadfast support Richard Nixon maintained right through his resignation, we can better understand the misguided loyalty keeping Trump’s reelection campaign afloat. Read more »
by Akim Reinhardt
Much has been made of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most loathed presidential candidates since the birth of polling. Each of them has managed to alienate roughly half the country. About a quarter of Americans despise both of them. They make Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney look beloved.
There has been a lot of focus on why these two candidates are so widely reviled. Simple partisanship doesn't seem to adequately explain it; fewer than a third of American view either of them favorably.
The Washington Post and ABC News tell us that Clinton-haters typically see her as a corrupt, untrustworthy flip-flopper, while Trump-haters hate too many things about him to list here, but it largely boils down to him being perceived as an inexperienced hatemonger.
Fortune magazine dispenses with the specifics and instead points to Clinton's and Trump's long and choppy resumés as repulsing the masses. Despite whatever accomplishments they may have racked up over the years, the thinking goes, voters simply can't get past the many “bad” things each candidate has done.
However, I'm less concerned with why exactly these two candidates are so widely detested. On some level, the why doesn't really matter; what's more pressing, I believe, is the how. In terms of American political mechanics, how could this happen and what does it mean? How did it get here, and what can we learn from it?
The one common mechanical process in almost every aspect of American politics is the two-party system: an extra-constitutional artifice that long ago hijacked government. And it is through those double swinging doors that we have stumbled into our current political purgatory.
This bi-polar orgy of villainy signifies that America's two-party system itself is badly broken; indeed, odds are that such a scenario would not have emerged if there were additional healthy political parties.
Let's start with Donald Trump.
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by Akim Reinhardt
Since the Civil War, the American South has mostly been a one-party region. However, by the turn of the 21st century, its political affiliation had actually swung from the Democrats to the Republicans. Here’s how it happened.
It is not an oversimplification to say that slavery was the single most important issue leading to the Civil War. For not only was slavery the most important on its own merits, but none of the other relevant issues, such as expansion into the western territories or states’ rights, would have mattered much at all if not for their indelible connection to slavery.
Initially, Northerners rallied around the issue of Free Soil: opposition to slavery on economic grounds. Small farmers and new industrial workers did not want to compete with large slave plantations and unpaid slave labor. This was the philosophy that bound together the new Republican Party.
No friends of African Americans, most Free Soilers were openly racist, as were the vast majority of white Americans at the time. Abolitionists, who were fired by religion and opposed human bondage on moral grounds, were actually a small minority of the population However, as the bloody war raged on, Northerners began to seek moral assurance in their cause. For more and more people, the mere political goal of saving the union did not seem to justify the unholy slaughter of men by the tens of thousand. Though preserving the union was always Abraham Lincoln’s primary goal, he astutely played to this concern by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and establishing abolition as the war’s moral compass. It worked. The North persisted, won the war, abolished slavery, and forced the South to return.
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