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Political Perspective from Prof. Burt

By Polina Potochevska

Section: Features

November 11, 2016

The election of 1968, between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace, was the beginning of English Prof. John Burt’s political awareness. The primary election in 1968 most resembles the 2016 election, he explained. It was during this time that civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated. After Eugene McCarthy entered the race and challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson, who shortly afterwards withdrew from the race, in the New Hampshire primary, it was clear that that election period would be controversial, he said.

During this time period, the “Democratic party was cracking” over differing views about the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, according to Burt. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which followed the assassination of Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy featured violence in the streets, leaving the Democratic party “hopelessly divided.” The 1968 election was very close, with Nixon getting 43.4 percent of the vote in comparison to Humphrey’s 42.7 percent, but Nixon led a majority of the electoral college votes, 301 to Humphrey’s 191.

The 1968 election “ripped the family apart” because of the opposing views of his family members, said Burt. Although he saw Nixon as “a sinister figure,” he could not perfectly compare him to Donald Trump for multiple reasons. Nixon was an “experienced politician,” who actually had some liberal views in his domestic policy. Nixon was “scary because of his dark personality,” and “relied on a lot of the violent antipathy” of what Nixon called the “silent majority,” which he said is similar to some of Trump’s tactics. Although Burt was wary of Nixon during the 1968 election, he “never felt that Nixon was unhinged.”

In addition, the election of 2000 is an election that is typically viewed as highly controversial, but “is not comparable” to this year’s election, Burt said. That election season, between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, was “nowhere near so ugly,” he said. The final outcome of the 2000 election was one of the closest presidential elections in history. The results relied on the state of Florida and spurred a necessary recount of votes and a Supreme Court case in which Florida’s votes were given to Bush, causing him to win the election.

Another way that the two election seasons differ is that “Bush never made ugly racial politics one of his themes … or even a covert theme,” Burt said of Bush’s campaign. “He was interested in courting the Hispanic vote … he was committed to multicultural America,” in comparison to Trump, who he says is “committed to rejecting multicultural America.”

Burt worries that this “may be a realigning election” that will “undo anything from the Obama administration.” He said that this year’s election may have a similar effect that the 1876 election did, with Rutherford’s controversial victory and the beginning of the end of the Reconstruction Era, with serious effects that will last for much longer than the four years of his presidency.

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