The Silent Majority

The Silent Majority


Leonard Zwelling

At least two blog readers have taken me to task about my piece on December 15 called “A Nation Divided.” In that blog post I discuss the various factions within the Democratic and Republican Parties and how they are at war with one another. The two critics pointed to a group I neglected. They both called it the Silent Majority, a term that harkens back to 1968 and the Nixon campaign for President during the turbulent years of the protests against the Vietnam War and for civil rights. Then, Nixon’s claim was that there was a huge swath of Americans who were middle of the road conservatives who were not protesting anything and thus were being ignored. He appealed to these people who he called the Silent Majority and he won. Twice.

My critics are saying that the same applies today. Between the QAnon Proud Boys and AOC’s crew are the large majority of the American people who just want to get back to normalcy and keep the government off their backs most of the time—especially around April 15. My critics may be correct. It may well be that it was that Silent Majority that put Joe Biden in the White House and who will determine the outcome of the mid-term election in 2022 and the Presidential campaign of 2024.

Let’s say that my critics are correct and that the great majority of the American people are not represented by any of the talking heads on any of the news networks. What then?

The complication to this scenario is our current primary system. This is the voting that determines who is on the final ballot for each of the major parties and voting in the primaries is, by definition, very partisan.

Let’s look at the last meaningful Presidential primaries for each party, 2016 for the Republicans and 2020 for the Democrats. Did the Silent Majority speak in each of these? Maybe.

I think in the GOP primary of 2016, a large number of the men and women running for President represented middle of the road Republicanism but each was embodied in a similar package of button-down suits (or skirts) and familiar ideas. Donald Trump was something else and stood out. I do think that he appealed to that Silent Majority, those who believed they had had no voice in American politics and who saw in the populist TV personality someone who got them and their beliefs. Trump won that primary pretty handily and back then did represent the Silent Majority. Whether or not he does now will be determined by how well his anointed candidates do in 2022 and whether or not he still has his Silent Majority drawing power in the primary of 2024.

The Democratic contenders in 2020 were a mixed bag of extreme progressives and mild progressives with one older more middle of the road guy—Joe Biden. He performed poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire but won the South Carolina primary with the endorsement of the state’s Black leadership and cleared the deck of all the rest of his opposition after that. Is Joe the spokesperson of the Silent Majority? Not any more. Once he endorsed the progressive legislative agenda in his Build Back Better Bill, he is no longer a middle of the road incumbent.

If Biden chooses to not run again—a wise decision if he makes it—then the Democratic and Republican primaries may be wide open in 2024 as they were in 2008. The results of those two contests will determine whether or not my critics were right in saying I had neglected a huge swath of the American voting population in my compartmentalization of the various interest groups in each party or the Silent Majority is neither silent nor a majority. Time will tell.

2 thoughts on “The Silent Majority”

  1. Hi, Dr. Zwelling. Sorry to use your posts as an opportunity to soapbox.

    The “silent majority” concept reminds me of a telling sound bite from Michael Moore before the 2016 election. Paraphrasing, Moore said if Trump won it would be the biggest middle finger ever extended toward the system. I thought “Wow, he gets it.” So imagine my disappointment when he joined the knee-jerk chorus of anti-Trump sentiment for the administration’s entire four years. He blew a real opportunity to reach across the aisle, for once, and use his bully pulpit to unite rather than divide.

    Glenn Beck interviewed Andrew Yang recently; it’s worth checking out. Yang and Beck agreed that yes, we have a choice in elections, but we get to choose from the candidates the party ordained. Anyone who remains furious at Donald Trump should instead direct their fury at the DNC. Debbie Wasserman Schultz singlehandedly anointed Hillary Clinton and we all know the result. Hillary reminded me of McCain, Dole, and Jeb Bush. I think there’s something in America’s DNA—for now, anyway—that instinctively pushes back against dynasties and/or the “It’s his/her turn” mentality. But I do think we’re beginning to show signs of amenability to monarchy, if not totalitarianism. Willing to sacrifice freedom for security, as Ben Franklin warned, ending up with neither.

    For the record, my candidate of choice was Tulsi Gabbard and she was doomed from the start. Personable, reasonable, not part of the party apparatchik. I might have considered Yang after hearing parts of his interview with Beck, but he lost me when describing his Utopian vision of Universal Basic Income. He basically described a commune straight out of Haight-Ashbury circa 1967. It was awkward to the point of embarrassing.

    Just my two cents, and worth every penny. As always, I enjoy reading your perspective.

    1. Again, good points. I never found a candidate in 2020, although Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar were my preferred on the Dem side. The whole process is broken. I like the rank voting thing in primaries. Let everyone vote for whoever they want and the top two get to run in the finals.

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