The latest edition of The New Yorker, 11 & 18 July 2016, has an article from one of their writers, George Saunders, who summarises his encounters with Donald Trump supporters in ‘Trump Days’.
Saunders doesn’t tell us anything new in his lengthy article, except for a delightful, incisive paragraph or two in the middle. (Scroll down to ‘Who are they? (Part 1)’.)
Americans who purposely ignore Trump because he is perceived to be ‘unclean’ in some way — spiritually, intellectually or politically — might not realise how popular he actually is. The media will never tell them. Yet, it is mid-July and he continues to be within striking distance of Hillary Clinton. Less than 5% separates them in the polls, both nationally and state-specifically.
Saunders rightly observes (emphases mine):
I didn’t meet many people who were unreservedly for Trump. There is, in the quiver containing his ideas, something for nearly everyone to dislike. But there is also something for nearly everyone to like. What allows a person not crazy about Trump to vote for him is a certain prioritization: a person might, for example, like Trump’s ideas about trade, or his immigration policies, or the fact that Trump is, as one supporter told me, “a successful businessman,” who has “actually done something,” …
That is what is attracting tens of thousands of people to his rallies around the country.
The Trump supporters I spoke with were friendly, generous with their time, flattered to be asked their opinion, willing to give it, even when they knew I was a liberal writer likely to throw them under the bus. They loved their country, seemed genuinely panicked at its perceived demise, felt urgently that we were, right now, in the process of losing something precious.
This is also pertinent:
Some (far from all) had been touched by financial hardship—a layoff was common in many stories—and (paradoxically, given their feelings about socialism) felt that, while in that vulnerable state, they’d been let down by their government.
In that sentence Saunders seems to want Trump supporters to equate a hand up with socialism. They do not, because they understand such a measure is only temporary. They also think that the government has let them down because no one in Washington or state government cares about a middle class or working class person losing his job.
Despite his bankruptcies, which are more complex than the average person understands, Trump keeps going and going.
This is also true of his campaign. It is not unusual for him to have more than one rally — in different states — in one day and give lengthy interviews to television media. He turned 70 on Flag Day — June 14 — and only needs four hours of sleep a night. I don’t know how he does it. I couldn’t.
This is not an appeal to get non-Trump people to change their minds about him other than to say that people do find something that connects them to him. Love of the Great Republic is high on that list of common interests.
In many ways we are seeing a resurgence of the socio-political scene of 1968 which, in the United States, Great Britain and France, featured a denigration of the working and middle classes as useless, unthinking mugs deserving of derision.
On July 9, The Atlantic published a considered article on the events that led to the unrest that year. Those who were not alive or sentient then would benefit from reading it in full.
Much of the unrest had its roots in Lyndon B Johnson’s Great Society initiatives of 1964 which, ironically, should have helped to equalise an unequal society. Instead, riots erupted in 1967 — the long hot summer — and, the following Spring, Martin Luther King was assassinated in cold blood. A spate of university protests also took place, which culminated at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that summer.
I was a child then and was transfixed by the news coverage which did cut into prime-time viewing. (That didn’t matter much, because most of the programmes were reruns.) My family, nearly all blue-dog Democrats, were bemused and angry, especially when it emerged that a number of the students engaging in violence against the police were actually from upper middle class homes. What did they have to protest about?
There was a general election that year. Hubert H Humphrey was the Democratic candidate and Richard M Nixon the Republican nominee. To the surprise of my family and the other residents of the overwhelmingly Democratic city where we lived at the time, Nixon won.
Interestingly, Nixon’s popular vote was only 0.7% more than Humphrey’s, however, the Electoral College result went for Nixon 301-191.
It is also worthwhile noting that, in his acceptance speech, Nixon said:
Working Americans have become the forgotten Americans. In a time when the national rostrums and forums are given over to the shouters and protesters and demonstrators, they have become the silent Americans.
One year later, on November 3, 1969, he revived the expression ‘silent majority’:
And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.
Incidentally, the expression was coined in the 19th century and was a polite way of referring to the dead.
By the early 20th century, an advertising man working on Calvin Coolidge’s presidential campaign — Bruce Barton — began using it. Coolidge was billed as the candidate speaking for the ‘great silent majority’, voters who felt they had no voice.
In 1955, John F Kennedy used the expression in his Profiles in Courage, a copy of which he gave to an enthusiastic Nixon, who was serving as Vice President to Dwight D Eisenhower at the time.
Yet it was probably labour leader George Meany who inadvertently got Nixon using it. In 1967, Meany spoke of fellow union members who supported the Vietnam War:
the vast, silent majority in the nation.
It is possible that, one year before the presidential campaign, that Nixon’s speechwriters seized on the expression and began using it in some form.
This year, 2016, is likely to be compared with 1968 in many ways. The United States has the protests and the unrest. Americans will soon have a new president. Could the silent majority make themselves heard once again in the polling booth? We will find out after November 8.