“We The People” Can Change

In 1932, 102,221 citizens of a certain nation vot­ed for the Communist Party in their country’s presidential debate. In 1948, two governors of the same country’s administrative municipali­ties ran on a ticket of oppression and apartheid for the nation’s racial minority. They gained all of the electoral votes of four of their nation’s main divisions. Twenty years later, five of the main divi­sions went for another party arguing for the same concepts as the 1948 organization.

The nation was the United States.

The Communist Party under William Z. Foster and James Ford, the States’ Rights Party under Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi, and the American Independent Party under Governor George Wallace and General Curtis LeMay all received ample support from certain segments of the American people. Some poli­ticians argued for a totalitarian, though racially egalitarian, state while others sought the preser­vation of racial segregation in the United States. Both movements achieved limited, though con­siderable, success in presidential elections with­in the past century.

As for the presidential candidates with widely considered controversial beliefs that did achieve major success in U.S. presidential elections, most readers would immediately point to President Donald Trump. Trump mocked a reporter with a disability, argued for the execution of the fam­ilies of terrorists, and showed disregard for the Supreme Court ruling in Texas v Johnson that ex­plicitly legalized flag burnings. Critics from both the right and from the left did not take such ac­tions lightly, and they were right to air their griev­ances. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the tens of millions of Americans who did vote for Trump probably did not vote for him because of his con­troversial statements and actions. Rather, many conservatives probably voted for Trump in spite of his frequent foibles. There was unemployment or some other economic or social issue, such as abortion, that they did not want a Democrat han­dling for four years as the head of the executive branch. Democrats can organize and respond in kind with a different candidate and a refined mes­sage with the next presidential election.

Besides Trump’s vulnerability at the next pres­idential election, America’s history reveals that the people of the United States change the can­didate that they support on a surprisingly con­sistent basis. The last election wherein a presi­dent from one party succeeded a president from the same party was in 1988, when President George H.W. Bush succeeded President Ronald Reagan. Additionally, the 1988 election was the only case of its kind since the 1952 election that ended 20 straight year of Democratic rule in the White House. Such dominance was unheard of since the days of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe in the first three decades of the 19th century.

Many Americans change their minds, occa­sionally in less than a four-year span. In 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson rode a wave of sym­pathy over John Kennedy’s assassination and over civil rights and welfare legislation to reelec­tion with over 61 percent of the vote, the high­est since 1820. In 1968, Johnson announced his refusal to seek another term after his populari­ty plummeted after his support for the contro­versial Vietnam War, and the American people elected Republican Richard Nixon during the same year. In 1972, President Richard Nixon won reelection to the presidency with 520 elec­toral votes and 49 of the 50 states at his side. Two years later, Nixon resigned from his posi­tion under the specter of impeachment rulings from the House of Representatives and from the Senate. 1976 marked the election of Democrat Jimmy Carter to the White House, showing a second change of heart in the American elector­ate in eight years.

All of the aforementioned elections and dates reinforce fact that certain events can radically change the views of various American voters. In 2017, Jessica Taylor reported that “22 coun­ties that had once voted for Obama switched to Trump.” The report brought up the unemploy­ment levels that probably influenced the change in voting behavior. Hillary Clinton probably failed because of unemployment in swing states and because of the issue of four possible Supreme Court nominations until 2020. Conservatives would not want somebody from the left to hold the right to nominate justices to those seats, and so simply voted for the conservative candi­date mostly likely to win after Trump’s nomina­tion: Trump himself.

Fortunately for President Trump’s critics, the reverse is also true. If Trump does not fulfill his promises to fill the Supreme Court with conser­vatives, commits major domestic and foreign policy blunders that obviously result from cor­ruption and sheer incompetence, or does not give aid to the unemployed by creating jobs, his job might be the one in jeopardy during November of 2020.

Luke Voyles

Luke Voyles '18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at lrvoyles@wustl.edu.

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