Like Barry Goldwater’s campaign to “Save America” in 1964, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign unearthed a marginally suppressed anger rooted in white supremacist racism, fear, and capitalism.
Goldwater’s opposition to big government and civil rights had come at a time when the country was wounded and struggling to move forward. It came at a time after a presidential assassination, after race riots and uprisings injuring thousands and killing dozens. It came at a time when civil disobedience in response to unfair laws and governmental practices had become an anticipated and daily occurrence.
Trump’s opposition to Black Lives Matter (made clearer through his nomination of Jeff Sessons) stands squarely with Goldwater’s then opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. Trump’s position against government models Goldwater’s pursuit of a shrinking government. The difference is that the electorate wasn’t willing to follow Goldwater’s lead.
In response to pushback against his extremism, Goldwater espoused, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” This and other divisive rhetoric ultimately helped sink Goldwater’s 1964 campaign. Ironically, this same sort of rhetoric under similar political conditions would help sail Trump into victory over 50 years later.
Two Steps Forward, Ten Steps Backward
America was reluctantly struggling to become great, a goal I would argue it had evaded until the country seemingly unified during the 2008 election of its first Black President. On the surface, America had taken more steps closer to greatness than it had ever taken before; not because America had resolved its ugly past and present global contradictions, but because for once, a black man could stand before America and say in good conscience that he believed the United States Constitution also applied to him. It was a short-lived window of progress.
Although the 2008 election of President Obama brought together progressives from around the world, it also unified racist hatred inspiring hundreds of incidents of anti-Obama violence. Nooses were hung from trees, Obama signs and crosses were burned on lawns, and people were assaulted. The country became polarized.
At my own job at the time, the office split down the middle. Blacks and whites that had once considered each other friends, shared joint lunches and chatted on a regular basis became reticent towards one another. One person even reported an Obama t-shirt to human resources.
In the days since Obama’s first 2008 victory, the US has moved backward and forward contemporaneously. With oppressive policies and discrimination came mobilization and civil disobedience in ways reminiscent of the 1960s. The Occupy Movement was mobilized against capitalism in 2011. Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag in 2013 following the murder of Trayvon Martin and galvanized the country in 2014 following the police murder of Mike Brown and the uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities across the United States. The People’s Climate March mobilized nearly 400,000 people in NYC to stand against global warming and fight for environmental justice in 2014, the world responded to the government sanctioned poisoning of 100,000 people in Flint, Michigan and the massive water shutoffs in Detroit, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe mobilized the country to join their resistance against the pipeline in North Dakota. Americans were no longer accepting things as they were. Unfortunately, not all who resist are on the right side of history.
There are two major differences between the 1964 hostile campaign rhetoric and the 2016 hostile campaign rhetoric. First, fear and anxiety towards a Trump administration among Blacks was no longer sure-fire support for the Democratic Party in 2016. Second, Trump’s rhetoric was timely and desired by a populace exhausted with movements for social justice, declining economic mobility, and so-called “political correctness” that had been on the rise since the 1960s.
As much as the (mostly white) Republican Party had grown tired of the middle of the road Republicans they felt had not had their backs, many black Democrats had grown wary of a middle of the road Democratic Party they realized could not represent the full scope of their humanity. Their attraction to Bernie Sanders and the failure to elect Hillary Clinton showed proof of that. Blacks’ exhaustion towards a racist society fueled their support of Sanders as much as racism itself fueled support for Trump. When Bernie Sanders’ campaign was yanked from underneath them, it pissed a lot of people off.
More than anything, I believe it is Trump’s lifelong pursuit of a Rockefeller-like legacy that drives him. Trump has managed to channel both Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller (seemingly archenemies) into one mighty titan rolled into one. Even more ironic is his relationship with Mitt Romney, eerily similar to the political antagonism between Goldwater and Romney’s father in the 60s.
The President-elect has been trying to make Trump a household name like Rockefeller once was since he was a young man; a pursuit of fame and notoriety similar to that of his own grandfather’s attempts to shadow the wealth of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
It’s no coincidence that the President elect has nominated Rex W. Tillerson – Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation and a decedent of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company to the office of Secretary of State. What better way to secure a global oil fortune?
As I watched Trump circle back on his “Thank You Tour” trying to squash some of the hate filled rhetoric and lies that got him elected, his motives for world dominance became clearer to me. He doesn’t want to be known for draining the swamp, he’s too busy digging for oil beneath it.
Trump is a capitalist and American capitalism is intertwined with racism. We’ve seen the hand that Trump is dealing. We had better start paying attention to Pence’s.