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American Studies Notes on the Elections IV

Date:24 November 2016
Barry Goldwater
Barry Goldwater
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than a million, but Donald Trump is president. It is kind of ironic that the framers of the Constitution invented the Electoral College to keep demagogues (like Trump) out of the White House—a buffer between the impulses of the masses and the executive power. At the same time, the College does the work it was intended to do. The Founding Fathers were primarily interested in protecting white privilege, and Donald Trump is the ultimate embodiment of such privilege.
Political experts considered the nomination of Donald Trump the end of the Republican Party. A comparable prediction surfaced in 1964, when the radical-right candidate Barry Goldwater seemed to lead the GOP straight into the abyss. He lost the race against president Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, but was simultaneously the architect of the rebirth of the Party of Lincoln. Big Business remained a core constituency, but Goldwater also made sure the Republicans went “hunting where the ducks” were: white voters in the growing suburbs in the South and West and working-class whites who had always loyally voted Democratic but objected to civil rights activism, urban unrest, and antiwar demonstrations, but above all, to Johnson’s fight against discrimination and poverty through his Great Society program. Goldwater and after him Nixon and Reagan promised “law and order” and an end to Big Government to the predominantly white silent majority.
Right now, fifty-two years after Goldwater’s campaign, the election results demonstrate that the angry white vote can still decide the contest for the presidency. Few had anticipated its enduring power. The U.S. is becoming a more diverse nation, with a rapidly growing Latino population – by 2044, non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the majority in the United States. The Republican Party supposedly had to attract new immigrants in order to survive. But Trump did the opposite; instead of embracing diversity, the blue-collar billionaire decided to mount the ramparts for voters who believe he can “make America great again.” Trump’s scorched earth campaign, based on white identity politics, proved to be a winning strategy and manifests the longevity of white dominance in the antiquated electoral system of the United States.
This is a revised and translated blog post by Dr. Maarten Zwiers. You can read the original in het Nederlands here: