By Arthur H. Garrison, associate professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University
In America, elections have consequences because they are seldom without significant political debate. This is all the more true at the presidential level. While all such elections have been significant, some have been pivotal.
The election of 1800 decimated the Federalist Party but established that in America the party that loses has no appeal to the army and the party that wins allows the departing party to leave with its head attached.
The election of 1828 ushered in the Age of Jackson and Jacksonian democracy. The politics of the average man, the beginning populist politics, and modern party politics was birthed.
The election of 1860 set the stage for a war to end the scourge of slavery and set America on a road of Jim Crow and then civil rights which led to the election of a black man to be president.
The election 1932 brought FDR and the rise of the federal government being responsible for the economic welfare of the nation. His successes led to his reelection during World War II and America emerging as the leading superpower on the planet.
The elections of the 1966 and 1968 redefined the ideological principles of Republican and Democratic parties. This ideological separation was made permanent with the election of 1980.
The elections in the 1988 and the 1992 were the elections of the culture wars.
In the elections 2008 and 2012, America elected and re-elected the first black president. But these elections also gave birth to the rise of the tea party and a civil war within the ideological heart of the Republican Party – establishing a grass roots rejection of establishment politicians who failed to stop the policies of President Obama and reduce the size of the federal government after having control of both houses of Congress.
Trump is a reflection of the disdain of Republican voters. He has created a constituency of voters that cuts across various ideological lines. He has merged non-ideological, social conservative, libertarian, economic nationalists and protectionists, free market, non-interventionalists, limited government, foreign policy interventionalists and anti-government voters together under abroad concept that America is no longer great but it can be again under his business leadership style in which the goal will be getting things done not government by political orthodoxy at all costs. Trump has combined various voters under American nativism and nationalism not the ideology of the past two decades.
Like Goldwater in 1964, Trump has changed the meaning of Republican Party. As a Republican, Trump has proposed full funding of school vouchers and went to a black church to ask for blacks to give the party a second look since they have achieved nothing after four decades of faithful support of the Democratic Party. He has said that he would economically punish corporations that move manufacturing jobs to Mexico and then sell those goods in America. He will build a wall to end Mexican illegal immigration but will spend billions on American infrastructure. He will appoint Supreme Court Justices in mold of Scalia but he does not oppose gay marriage. He opposes international trade agreements like NAFTA and TPP. He wants a powerful military but has said support for NATO is not an absolute and opposes American nation building around the world. He has called the war in Iraq “mistake” and said America can no longer afford to act “stupidly” in paying for the security of the rest of the world. He has embraced Russia and Putin as a strong leader!
The rise of the candidacy of Donald Trump is a combination of Andrew Jackson in 1828, Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George Wallace in 1968. Like Jackson, he exhibits an authoritarian persona in which things will get done his way because he says so. Like Goldwater, he proposes a completely different ideological definition for the Republican Party. Like Wallace, he is a populist who has a disdain for the political media and the establishment elites of both parties that he says doesn’t care about the average American. He questions the citizenship of President Obama and his qualifications to enter Harvard but asserts that problems in the black community are due to economics and the policies of the Democratic Party not its culture. Trump has been able to merge pragmatism and economic nationalism with “dog whistle” policies that unite both southern and Midwestern voters.
The significance of the 2016 election is twofold, one completed and one to be decided. What has been completed is that Trump has broken the traditional definitions of the Republican Party and has offered a new model. Trump has found a way to merge both liberal and conservative policies into one narrative. What is to be decided is will America adopt it? If accepted, the political ramifications will put 2016 in line with the handful of pivotal elections of the past.