Commentary: 50 Years of Rage; The White Working Class

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By Richard Colman, California Political News and Views,  

If one has to pick a date for the collapse of the Franklin Roosevelt coalition, that date should be Nov. 5, 1968, the date on which Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States. 

The Roosevelt coalition consisted of laborers, big-city bosses, the South, ethnic minorities (such as African-Americans and Jews), and intellectuals.  The coalition lasted from 1932, the year Roosevelt was first elected president, to the mid to late 1960s, when Republicans started to make gains among Southerners, big-city ethnic blocks (like voters of Irish, Italian, and Polish extraction), and white working-class people, especially men. 

The Roosevelt coalition was powerful enough to win five consecutive presidential elections:  1932; 1936; 1940; 1944; and 1948. 

The coalition was temporarily disrupted in 1952 and 1956 when Dwight Eisenhower, a hero of World War II, a centrist, and an internationalist won the presidency in two landslides. 

Then came the John Kennedy/Lyndon Johnson years, when Democrats won presidential elections in 1960 and 1964.  During that era, which technically went from January 20, 1961, to January 20, 1969), America began a program to put a man on the moon.  Inflation was low as was unemployment. 

In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights act which banned discrimination, in employment, on the basis of color, race, sex, and national origin.  The next year, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which took power away from state governments that wanted to ban African-Americans from voting. 

But 1965 also marked the beginning to the escalation of the Vietnam War and the start of race riots in such cities as Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark, and Washington, D.C. 

In a memorable presidential acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in Miami Beach in 1968, Richard Nixon made some major points.   

Nixon said:  “When the strongest nation in the world can be tied down for four years in a war in Vietnam with no end in sight; when the richest nation in the world can’t manage its own economy; when the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness; when a nation that has been known for a century of equality of opportunity is torn by unprecedented racial violence; and when the President of the United States cannot travel abroad or to any major city at home without fear of a hostile reception — then it’s time for new leadership in the United States of America.” 

Narrowly, Nixon won the 1968 election. 

Nixon employed a “southern strategy,” a plan to peel white Southerners away from their 100-year allegiance to the Democratic Party.  The allegiance began after the Civil War (1861-1865) and lasted through the early 1960s. 

Nixon, as president talked of the “silent majority.”  He meant the person who goes to work every day, is a patriotic citizen, rejects welfare, opposes crime, attends church, and pays his bills on time.  Nixon often referred to such people as the forgotten Americans. 

In television terms, Nixon was talking to the Archie Bunkers of the nation.  Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor in the television series “All in the Family,” was a working class American who felt forgotten or harassed by government and turned to Nixon to solve the nation’s problems.  The series was broadcast from 1971 to 1979. 

From 1968 to the present time, America’s working class has, with a few years of good times in between, seen its jobs disappear, its wages stagnate, its factories move to Mexico, China, or other low-wage foreign nations, its neighborhoods change, and its schools deteriorate. 

Moreover, the working class has seen foreign-born terrorists attacking the homeland, ethnic minorities appearing to get special privileges in hiring and promotion, rising prices for food and housing, and immigrants — some of whom do not speak English — obtaining welfare. 

Inside the working person, there is deep rage. 

The rage appeared in 1980, when Ronald Reagan, during a time of inflation, unemployment, high interest rates, was elected president.  During the 1980 campaign, over 50 Americans were being held hostage in Iran. 

The rage showed up again, in 2016, with the election of Donald Trump, who, like Nixon in 1968, spoke the language of the so-called forgotten American. 

Just go to some working-class city like Scranton, Pennsylvania, and listen to American workers.  They do not care about Donald Trump’s crudeness or lack of his showing his tax returns.  All these people want is some promise that they can play a significant role in society and not be pushed around by so-called elitists — elitists who favor telling workers how to behave, live, and work. 

Until the Democratic Party understands the appeal of Trumpism to working-class Americans, the party will continue to lose elections.

 

Richard Colman, a biochemist, received masters and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.  He is the founder and president of Biomed Inc.,  a biotechnology, publishing, and informatics company.  He lives in Orinda, California.  Mr. Colman is the editor and publisher of The Icon, which covers Contra Costa County in California.  The Icon is a printed publication and an online publication.  Online, The Icon can be found at <www.iconnews.org 


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