U.S. Election Notebook #5: Memories of George Wallace

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June 11, 1963 – Then Governor George Wallace (third from left), tries to block integration at the University of Alabama (Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine, Wikimedia Commons).

June 11, 1963 – Then Governor George Wallace (third from left), tries to block integration at the University of Alabama (Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine, Wikimedia Commons).

In the fifth of a series entitled U.S. Election Notebook, Athabasca University professor Paul Kellogg sees the shadow of the anti-civil rights figure George Wallace in the current U.S. presidential election. In the fourth of the series, Athabasca University professor Paul Kellogg looked at the ‘birther’ roots of Donald Trump’s political career.

Struck a chord

Trump’s rhetoric has struck a chord with a large section of U.S. society, and brought him audiences of tens of thousands.

  • August 21, 2015 – Trump claimed between 35,000 and 40,000 at a rally in Mobile, Alabama.
  • September 14, 2015 – 20,000 attended a rally in Dallas, Texas.
  • November 21, 2015 – 10,000 came to hear him in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • January 13, 2016 – 12,000 attended a rally in Pensacola, Florida. Some 5,000 had to be turned away.
  • January 20, 2016 – 10,000 came out in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  • April 11, 2016 – 15,000 filled an arena to listen to Trump in Alban, N.Y.
  • June 17, 2016 – Trump held “an evening rally held in a packed ballroom … north of Houston. As the temperature crept to nearly 100 degrees, several thousand people waited for close to four hours in a line that stretched more than half a mile. Many did not make it in.”

Struck a nerve

Worryingly, his message has “inspired” racialized violence outside of the political realm.

  • February 22, 2016 – “[S]tudents at the predominantly-white Dallas Center-Grimes High School in Iowa chanted “Trump! Trump!” during a basketball game against Perry High School, which has a more diverse student population.”
  • February 26, 2016 – “Fans at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind. … held a cutout showing Trump’s face and repeated, ‘Build a wall! Build a wall!’ during a game against Bishop Noll Institute, which has many Latino students.” “‘People who have racist viewpoints have been able to successfully use “Trump” as a code phrase for derogatory, racist statements,” said Joe Enriquez Henry, a member of the board of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic organization.”
  • April 20, 2016 – “’We’re deeply concerned about the level of fear among minority children who feel threatened by both the incendiary campaign rhetoric and the bullying they’re encountering in school,’ law centre president Richard Cohen said in a statement. ‘We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump.’”

We have seen all this before in U.S. politics. George C. Wallace, as governor of Alabama and presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972, used a similar toxic mix of coded (and not-so-coded) appeals to racism and violence.

He was … a chief law enforcement officer whose public comments incited violence and whose years in office produced a string of political murders – many of them unsolved and unprosecuted. On the stump, Mr. Wallace always had a ready answer for the murder epidemic that hit Alabama after his election. He personally did not condone violence. But as civil rights leaders pointed out, that begged the question of the impact Mr. Wallace’s rhetorical violence had on the gross and simple minds of back-alley racists.

But Wallace was a fringe candidate, whose 12% to 13% support was largely confined to the old Confederate states in the Deep South. Trump’s support, win or lose, is not confined to the fringe of politics. Trump has succeeded in bringing the George Wallace approach from the margins to the centre stage of U.S. politics.

In the next post, entitled The Colour Line, Paul Kellogg looks behind the numbers, to see just who likes and dislikes the two main U.S. presidential candidates —Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

U.S. Election Notebook #1: Grief of the Parents
U.S. Election Notebook #2: Memories of Goldwater
U.S. Election Notebook #3: Calculus of ‘misspeaking’
U.S. Election Notebook #4: Birther origins
U.S. Election Notebook #5: Memories of George Wallace
U.S. Election Notebook #6: The Colour Line
U.S. Election Notebook #7: Glass ceilings & backlash
U.S. Election Notebook #8: Slaves in the White House
U.S. Election Notebook #9: Locking up the vote
U.S. Election Notebook #10: The New Jim Crow
U.S. Election Notebook #11: Not a dime’s worth of difference?
U.S. Election Notebook #12: ‘A sort of public and psychological wage’
U.S. Election Notebook #13: Political futures

Paul Kellogg (Ph.D. Queen’s, M.A. York) is an Associate Professor, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Master of Arts – Integrated Studies Program, Athabasca University. Among his courses at Athabasca is POLI 345, “American Government and Politics”. He is the author of Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy After Left-Nationalism (University of Toronto Press, 2015). His teaching and research interests are political economy, social movements and global governance.

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