At the bicentennial anniversary of the declaration of independence, President Gerald Ford remarked at the Old North Church that:
“The Declaration of Independence has won the minds; it has won the hearts of this world beyond the dreams of any revolutionary who has ever lived. The two lanterns of Old North Church have fired a torch of freedom that has been carried to the ends of the world.”
Almost half a century later, Tufts University Professor and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, John Shattuck, spoke at the Old North Church on how to save that very freedom highlighted by President Ford from the sinister forces of populism and nationalism.
American democracy since President Ford’s statement in 1976 has changed because of three different revolutions. The Market Revolution sparked by President Ronald Reagan created unregulated global capitalism that produced massive amounts of economic growth that was undistributed equally between the different social classes. The Civil Rights Revolution strengthened American democracy but stimulated a counter-revolution by the previous dominating majority. The Digital Revolution made it easier to communicate with people but also led to a decline in common narratives and truths. These revolutions, along with other events, such as the economic crisis of 2008, and the migration crisis of 2015, have, according to Professor Shattuck, contributed to the economic and cultural rebellions that are the underpinnings of the populist and nationalist movement in the United States.
These movements are a reaction to Globalization and the integrationist policies that drove it, such as multilateral trade agreements and immigration policies making it easier to immigrate. Within the United States, globalization can be symbolized through the industrial decay that remains from the closure of factories. The people affected by the closure of factories were, according to Shattuck, drawn into Trump’s rhetoric, despite Trump not espousing an economic policy that benefited them. To them, Shattuck argued that the fear of loss of status took precedence in their vote for Trump. Shattuck concluded by offering solutions to fixing the damages inflicted by the populist and nationalist movements; (1) building coalitions on popular divides, (2) encouraging people to vote, (3) reinforcing the idea that democracy is a negotiation, and (4) viewing the saving of democracy as a patriotic struggle.
Analysis of the argument
In painting a broad picture of the different threads of change surcharging the populist and nationalist movement in the United States, the solutions Shattuck presented are a necessary remedy, but one key solution was missing, the need to address the issue of race and culture in America. President Ford’s speech at the Old North Church during the bicentennial celebration of American independence came after traumatic events in American history involving race that had occurred in the decade prior. A half-century later and one could argue that institutionalized racism is still prevalent in the United States despite the election of the first African-American president. From discrepancies in sentencing to the difference in the federal response to the opioid crisis as compared to the crack cocaine crisis, and the repeated attempts in states like North Carolina to implement tougher voting laws, racism is shown in various facets.
The economic rebellion against globalization, which some came to associate with the elites, was part of Trump’s rhetoric. Trump ran a campaign centered on the people versus the elites. However, as Michael Kazin argues in Trump and American Populism, the definition of the people is an ethnically restrictive one, typically reserved for citizens of European heritage, and this has been the case for most of American history. The ethnonationalism that Trump tapped into was propagated by the changing face of immigration in the United States. Brader, Valentino, and Suhay (2008) present evidence that citizens, primarily those who are white, feel more threatened by immigration from non-European countries, such as from Mexico, then they feel threatened by European immigration. As Shattuck argued, the threat of identity that played into the cultural rebellion took precedence for Trump voters over the economic rebellion.
The racially charged nature of the 2016 election is also not surprising given the racial alignment that is occurring in American politics since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Thomas Edsall, in The Deepening ‘Racialization’ of American Politics, argues that Trump is solidifying a racial alignment that has seen white voters become increasingly more aligned with the Republican Party and minority voters along with white voters with racially progressive views identifying solely with the Democratic Party. An example of this racial alignment is the severity, or lack of, with which both judge racism as a problem that exists in society. A Pew Research poll in August 2017 found that 76% of Democrats consider racism a problem, while only 37% of Republicans consider it a problem. Another example of the racial alignment is that in this year’s freshmen class of representatives, 34% of incoming House Democrats identified as people of color but only 2% of Republicans do so. 90% of the 200 Republicans in the 116th house are white men.
the U.S. census projecting that the U.S. will be a majority non-white country
by 2043, the polarization of party preference depending on race is worrisome
for the stability of American democracy. A 2018 engagement survey
by the Public Religion Research Institute found that, of the Americans
surveyed, 50% of Republicans had a mostly negative reaction to the coming U.S.
demographic changes, while only 13% of Democrats had a mostly negative
reaction.  One could argue that
having the Republican Party appealing exclusively to one race is not beneficial
for democratic stability because the only way for that party to continue to win
is to become an anti-systematic party, and one could argue that it already has
become one. Local efforts by the Republican Party in places like Georgia to
make it tougher to vote, and the Trump administrating inflicting doubt into the
validity of the presidential election by claiming that “illegals” voted in “large”
numbers could be perceived as anti-systematic actions. Therefore, when reform
or solutions are proposed to stabilize American democracy, it is imperative
that the issue of racial polarization is addressed or the risk of American
democracy continuing towards a path of instability remains.
Lin, C. (2018, February 18). Presidents at Old North | The Old North Church. Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://oldnorth.com/2018/02/18/presidential-visits-to-the-old-north-church/
 Kazin, M. (2017, January 26). Trump and American Populism. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2016-10-06/trump-and-american-populism
 Brader, Ted, Nicholas A. Valentino, and Elizabeth Suhay. (2008), “What Triggers Public Opposition to Immigration? Anxiety, Group Cues, and Immigration Threat.” American Journal of Political Science 52, no. 4: 959–78.
 Edsall, T. B. (2019, March 1). Opinion | The Deepening ‘Racialization’ of American Politics. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/27/opinion/trump-obama-race.html
 Neal, S. (2017, August 29). More now see racism as major problem, especially Democrats. Retrieved April 9, 2019, from Pew Research Center website: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/29/views-of-racism-as-a-major-problem-increase-sharply-especially-among-democrats/
 Panetta, G., & Lee, S. (2019, January 12). 116th House of Representatives gender, racial diversity vs. the 115th – Business Insider. Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/changes-in-gender-racial-diversity-between-the-115th-and-116th-house-2018-12
 Jones, P. Robert, Daniel Cox PhD, Rob Griffin PhD, Molly Fish-Friedman and Alex Vandermass-Peeler. (2018), “American Democracy in Crisis: The Challenges of Voter Knowledge, Participation and Polarization.” PRRI. Retrieved from https://www.prri.org/research/American-democracy-in-crisis-voters-midterms-trump-election-2018
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.