Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Swinging Pendulum

The Foucault Fulcrum at USF Tampa

Donald Trump is claiming a landslide victory and the beginning of a new populist movement. Although Trump is about the same age as I am, he apparently hasn't been paying attention. I also doubt that he knows what populist means.

The American electorate is a very fickle group. They swing from the left to the right every few years. In recent memory, we have not had three presidents in a row from the same party and rarely have we had two. Congress regularly changes makeup. Usually in the exact opposite as the president. Although probably subconsciously, Americans like the conflict and checks and balances when the branches of our government are controlled by different political parties. Even if things are working, we want change. The unknown has to be better. 

Let's do a cursory review of the past 50 or so years of Washington politics. In 1960 we had a very close election between what would now be viewed as two moderates. Kennedy, a Democrat, and Nixon, a Republican, were not that far apart on policy. Nixon, the VP, had the advantage/disadvantage of the Eisenhower years. Kennedy had the advantage/disadvantage of being the new guy and far better looking. He also had a big hurdle because he was a Catholic. Many feared that the Pope would be the real ruler if we elected a Catholic president. Kennedy squeaked out a victory and the pope never did take over. 

In 1964, Johnson (who became president after Kennedy's assassination) crushed Goldwater 486 to 52 in the electoral college. LBJ won 44 states and DC. Despite the loss for Goldwater and the Republicans, it was the beginning of the change. Five of the six states that Goldwater carried were the deep south states of SC, GA, AL, MS and LA. The other was his home state of Arizona. Prior to this election, you would be hard-pressed to find a Republican in any of those southern states. Johnson fixed that by pushing through Civil Rights legislation. 

In 1968, Nixon won a close popular vote victory over Johnson's VP Herbert Humphrey. The electoral college was more convincing 301 to 191. A third party candidate, staunch segregationist George Wallace, got 46 electoral votes and carried five deep south states. Those states would probably have gone to Nixon had Wallace not run. The southern switch was in place.

Nixon won a landslide victory in 1972 over George McGovern. Nixon won 49 states and 520 electoral votes. How did that work out? Nixon was forced to resign under threat of impeachment in 1974. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973 because of bribery charges. A stellar administration. Maybe landslide victories are not really a good thing.

1976 saw a return for the Democrats with Jimmy Carter after the scandal of the former administration. The economy was a mess too with high inflation. Carter, a Georgia native, won a close race and managed to recapture the deep south for the Democrats. The last time for the Dems.

In 1980, 84 and 88 the Republicans triumphed. First Reagan and then Bush 41, Reagan's VP. These elections cemented the southern switch to the Republicans. Carter lost the south and the election in '80. Reagan won in a landslide. 1984 was even more embarrassing for the Democrats. I doubt half the current southern voters can even fathom that Democrats once ruled the south. In 1988, George H.W. Bush won the election as the former Reagan VP. He was also helped by a poor Democratic contender.

By 1992, the country was tired of the Republican administrations and the poor economy. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, won the election fairly convincingly. He and Bush split the South. Ross Perot, an independent, garnered almost 20 million votes (18.9%). Most of those votes probably would have gone to Bush in a two person race. Maybe Perot gave the election to Clinton. Nevertheless, the Dems were back in the White House after 12 years.

Clinton won re-election in 1996 despite his personal problems. The GOP did manage to take back the deep south once again. 

After eight years of a Democratic administration, it was again time for Republicans. In 2000, George W. Bush, a flawed candidate, ran against an even weaker candidate, Clinton's VP Al Gore. It was close, so close the Supreme Court had to intervene. Bush won all of the south for the Republicans, although we will never really know about Florida. It was a little easier for Bush in 2004. The GOP once again swept the south.

After eight years of a Republican and Bush administration, plus an economic meltdown, it was time for "Change". 

In 2008, Barack Obama, a Black man, rather easily defeated GOP nominee John McCain. Still, McCain won most of the old South. 

Obama retained his presidency in the 2012 election over GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

Now in 2016, Trump, an alleged Republican, takes the White House. He is definitely right of Obama. So what now?

Now after two Democratic terms, the nation is again ready for a "change". The electorate went far right. Why? The country and economy are in good shape. Is it just the usual swing of the pendulum to the right after a few years left of center? Is it the effect of celebrity and social media? Is it the disregard for truth and science? Is it the dumbing down of our nation? Is it a racial backlash to our first Black president? Is a backlash to the social strides that have happened in the past few years? Yes, probably a pinch of each. It depends who you ask. 

My point, in a rather verbose manner, is that the current southern Republicans are exactly the same as the old southern Democrats and Dixiecrats. Staunchly conservative, afraid of change and social progress. 1955 is a wonderful year for them and their family. Of course, it probably wasn't that great, but at least they were better (off) than the Blacks and other minorities (in their minds). 

It is also fairly obvious that we get tired of whichever party is in power. Obama rode in on a wave of hope and CHANGE. Trump won on a platform of CHANGE. Now Obama's change and Trump's change are very different but just the thought of something different seems to enchant the US electorate. It doesn't seem to matter which direction the change takes us. 

The pendulum swings from left to right. It swung a little left during Clinton's administration, back right during W's. Then left again in the Obama's years. Just a wild guess, but I'm betting we swing right for the next four years.

The fulcrum in the photo at the top is at the University of South Florida Math and Physics building. I can attest that it has been swinging since at least 1965. Left then right, repeat. Be careful that the pendulum doesn't hit you. Be agile. If you don't like the current climate, wait, it will change. 


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