Tag Archives: 2016 election

Seeing Red, Feeling Blue: Historians Discuss the 2016 Election (11/21 11:30AM KE1st)

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The oldest known US electoral map, of the 1880 presidential election. Source: LA Times/Library of Congress

Join us on Monday, November 21 at 11:30 in the Keating 1st auditorium for a panel of Fordham historians discussing the 2016 Presidential election in historical perspective. Participants will include: Salv Acosta, Kirsten Swinth, Christopher Dietrich and Magda Teter

 

 

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2016 Election: Further Thoughts

As a follow-up to his Election Day post, our Chair Professor David Myers sent us these thoughts written the day after:

Night musings on the day of election:

Waiting idly in the Houston International Airport for the evening flight to LaGuardia on Wednesday, I thought back to a lunch I had long ago as a very young person in New Haven. In the summer of 1980, one of my classmates was the daughter of the recently retired Speaker of the House, Carl Albert. He invited me to lunch and the candidacy of Ronal Reagan came up. The famous and crafty Democratic politician looked straight into my eyes and said, with complete conviction, “I can tell you one thing for certain—Ronald Reagan will never be elected president of the United States.” That lunch has haunted me now for a year, and with good reason: despite all the improbabilities, Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States.

Sifting through the evidence about what happened this year and why will take some time, but a few facts about American democracy become clear. Looking around me, I realize the Houston International Airport is named after a President Bush (George Herbert Walker Bush), and we have to acknowledge (reluctantly) a remarkable feat for Donald Trump. In the course of 11 months, he has decisively dismantled both political dynasties that have dominated American politics for some thirty years. To win the Republican nomination, he bested Jeb Bush (or Jeb! as he sought to play down the family name) and left one dynasty in tatters. Now he has done the same to the Clintons, and there is nothing left. These two families have held the presidency for twenty of the last twenty eight years (71%) and were hoping for twenty eight out of thirty six (78%). Whatever we might think about Trump, to have the American presidency tossed back and forth between elite families is not how we envision democracy. I wonder how much of the same fatigue and resentment that undid Jeb also played against Hillary Clinton.

Also, until 2000 (Bush vs. Gore), in only three instances in all of American history had a candidate won the presidency without winning the popular vote—the last time in 1888. Now it has happened twice in four elections, and both times the winner was the Republican candidate. Digging still deeper uncovers another surprising (and disturbing) fact: Since 1988 (Bush vs. Dukakis), a Republican presidential candidate has only won the popular vote once (Bush vs. Kerry, 2004). That is one out of seven election cycles. How different would the country look today if the popular vote actually determined the outcome?

Finally, going back to fateful 1980, one of the themes that year was the contrast between Reagan’s sunny optimism and Jimmy Carter’s pessimism (born of Reinhold Niebuhr’s sense of the “politician’s sad duty to establish justice in a sinful world”). In 1992, Bill Clinton believed “in a place called Hope” (Arkansas, which I actually visited). In 2008, Barack Obama won because of the “audacity of hope” in a year of despair (“Yes, we CAN!). We can use many words to describe the appeal of Donald Trump to 59,000,000 voters, but one thing is sure: “hope” isn’t one of them.

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Fordham History and the 2016 Presidential Election




A Reflection on the 2016 Presidential Election from W. David Myers, Chair of History at Fordham University.

 

So it is Election Day, 8 November—Fordham and the history department are closed, and the department chair is in El Paso, Texas, to watch the scene and celebrate his mother’s 98th birthday—more on that later. For now, while everyone votes, watches, and waits, it is a good moment to note that members of the Fordham history department have been and are involved in this election, both practically and intellectually. Nick Paul and family went to Pennsylvania in October to register voters. Recently, Kirsten Swinth gave a scintillating lecture and program on the history of sexual harassment in America—not just the fact of harassment, which sadly seems not about to end, but the reaction to it and attempts to define, control, and eliminate it. The tale that emerged from Kirsten’s discussion was a century-old set of disparate campaigns with different angles and motives leading to today’s intense efforts. It’s a messy history, but what Kirsten’s presentation demonstrated is that the fight isn’t new, and sexual harassment isn’t a distraction from more important issues this election year—it IS an important contemporary political matter, one that this ugliest of campaigns has brought to the forefront.
Others have been just as active—Saul Cornell’s tireless efforts politically and academically on the Second Amendment have taken him from Cambridge, England, to Palo Alto California. For me, though, one of the most enlightening moments from my colleagues was Sal Acosta’s discussion last February of voter restriction efforts in states with a long history of discrimination against African Americans—this time targeting a rising Latino population and using the same language of fear and criminality that disfranchised the black population. As I watch from El Paso, surrounded by my Latino friends and relatives, I note that those same states in the southeast and southwest are witnessing a surge in voting from a determined Latino population infected with the “audacity of hope,” as President Obama has described it. Sal Acosta has proven to be an astute observer and analyst of American politics.
And then there is a personal note–Catherine, my mother, about to celebrate her 98th birthday. While presenting her with a rosary chosen by my students on the Camino de Santiago last June, I was struck by a number—1918. That was the year of her birth during a devastating worldwide influenza epidemic and at the very end of World War I. Focus on the year–in 1918, women could not vote, nor could they fight for their country. In 1918, patriotic African Americans could not fight alongside their white comrades in the U.S. Army. In 1918, African Americans could not play in the major leagues. And in 1918, the Chicago Cubs had already been without a World Series victory for a decade . . .
So as I celebrate my courageous mother with my equally courageous (and Hillary-deranged sisters, I must add!), I realize that in the last decade, she has proudly voted for and seen an African American man become the President of the United States. She has seen gay marriage legalized and thus been able to greet and welcome her granddaughter’s spouse. Last Tuesday she voted for a woman to become the President of the United States. And on Wednesday, the Cubs took the series—with an African American leadoff hitter.
In all of these events, the “arc of history” didn’t necessarily bend gradually toward justice in some inevitable way. None of this seemed likely just a decade ago, at least not for the near term. But human beings seized the opportunities presented to them by accident, or disaster, or just dumb luck. The audacity of hope is the element that disrupts our theoretical and scientific thinking and we frequently overlook it. But our best moments as people, and as a people, must surely depend on it. That is one lesson for history and historians today.

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WEDNESDAY: Dr. Kirsten Swinth Discusses the History of Sexual Assault in America

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