The events of the past few weeks, culminating with the killings of black men in Baton Rouge, La., and Minnesota, followed quickly but the sniper murders of police officers guarding a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas have prompted comparisons to 1968. When they make this comparison, it’s race they’re talking about. 1968 was the year that racial tensions reached a fever pitch in the U.S. with the assassination of MLK, and the third year of major race riots in U.S. cities.
The Dallas police killings even echo a 1968 riot in Cleveland.
But have race relations really degraded to match the anger and destruction of 1968? One presidential candidate thinks so. Donald Trump’s campaign is saying his nomination acceptance speech tonight will be modeled on Richard Nixon’s 1968 nomination acceptance speech.
Good luck with that one. Or not.
Let’s compare and contrast 1968 and 2016. One big difference is there is no costly, deadly, polarizing war today, at least not on the level of Vietnam.
What about racial riots? In the late 1960s there were a series of riots across the country, some of which their cities never fully recovered from. Watts 1965, 34 dead, over 1000 injured. Detroit 1967, 43 dead, over 1000 injured. Newark 1967, 26 dead, almost 1000 injured. All of those were before 1968.
The last comparable riot was in Los Angeles in 1992 in which 55 people died. When we measure civil disorder, political breakdown, assassinations, death tolls, there is no comparing the late 60s in the U.S. with today.
But what about race, generally? Is there a parallel? When Nixon addressed a nation as a “law and order” candidate he was trying to ease the fears of a predominately white electorate, maybe not in so many words, that he would crack down on those agitators (wink, wink) doing all the destruction (you know who, wink, wink). He also said he would get tough on violent crime, and though he didn’t mention race in this context, white America knew what he meant.
This was all part of Nixon’s southern strategy. That’s where he used race and white outrage about civil rights legislation in the 60s to turn the “solid south” from solid Democrat to solid Republican.
Today Trump doesn’t have to use the southern strategy. He and other Republicans have benefitted from what Nixon laid down. The south has been in the R column for decades. Remember the last time Mississippi went for a Democrat? Not for more than 50 years.
But today’s electorate, even in the south, is much more diverse than that of 1968. Around 83 percent of the U.S. population in the 1970 census was white, non-Hispanic. Today, less than 70 percent is, according to census data.
Aren’t the Black Lives Matter protests (and counter-protests and death threats against BLM) indicative of a huge racial rift today? Sure. Racism persists. But on a 1968 level? Not so much.
Nixon was running just three years after the Voting Rights Act and one year after the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage nationwide. Also note that 1968 also featured the first interracial kiss on U.S. television. In April 1968, a poll found almost one third of Americans thought Martin Luther King, Jr., had “brought his assassination on himself.”
In 2016, we’re in the eighth year of the administration of the first African American President in history.
How about the white vote? Just as in 1968, the GOP relies on the white vote more than Democrats do. In 1968, Democratic candidate Humphrey received 38 percent of the white vote. In 2012, Obama received 39 percent of the white vote.
Humphrey lost in a squeaker. Obama won big.
Trump minority outreach, such as it is.
How about the Latino vote?
In a 2012 election loss post-mortem, the GOP vowed to reach out to Hispanics in order to broaden the largely-white party’s appeal. What happened? Trump, who in his very first address to the nation as a candidate over a year ago, said Mexico was sending rapists and murderers to the U.S. He also asserted that Gonzalo Curiel, the judge presiding over lawsuits against Trump University, could not be fair because he’s Latino.
How about Muslims? Do we really need to rehash Trump’s “outreach” to Muslims? Using a racial test to decide who enters the country is something that even some in his own party have denounced.
Oh, and did you know that there was a white supremacist running a radio show this week from inside the Republican convention in Cleveland? This, just weeks after one of Trump’s media people showed an image of Hillary Clinton atop a pile of money, with a Star of David superimposed.
Now you could chalk those last two incidents to extreme campaign derp. There’s plenty of evidence that Trump’s campaign is the most inept in history. But there’s also plenty of evidence that he’s actively courting not just angry white people, but angry white racists. Nixon used “dog whistles” to court racists. Trump uses a megaphone.
Trump could win the election, but he would have to do so by expanding the white vote. We’re really not going out on a limb her by saying that, barring a 180-degree shift in his stances, Trump is not going to expand the Black or the Latino vote. Period.
And, given how Nixon’s presidency ended, isn’t it still too soon to invo