1928: Another Landslide “Victory”
In 1928, Herbert Hoover overwhelmed Al Smith in that year’s presidential election. Hoover won 58.2% of the popular vote and Smith carried only 8 states in the Electoral College. Also, some traditionally strong Democratic areas, in the South and the Midwest, went for Hoover in impressive numbers. Superficially, it seemed as if the Democratic Party was weakening, perhaps even dying.
But this was far from the case. What the numbers above obscure is the degree to which the political landscape was changing, and changing significantly. Smith and the Democrats appealed to blacks, ethnic, working class voters – showing up in significant numbers as new voters – in the nation’s largest urban areas, such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia. Coming to the fore, it now seems apparent, was a new political landscape, one that would lead to the election of FDR in 1932 and his New Deal. In that landscape, which the Great Depression helped to create, white Protestant nationalism, as represented by Prohibition, the Klan, and the Republican Party’s ascendency, would no longer control the nation’s politics. However limited the New Deal’s impact on the existing American apartheid, it nonetheless laid the groundwork for the end of white supremacy, at least as it had been practiced since the presidential election of 1872 and the end of what had been labeled “Reconstruction.”
Is there a lesson here for us today? Al Smith, a Catholic and anti-Prohibitionist, the epitome of “rum and romanism,” was treated with the same disdain as Donald Trump is being treated today – and by the same people, the “respectable classes.” However, Smith was a harbinger of a future political landscape few could see in 1928, a future then obscured by Hoover’s landslide victory. And that victory did not make it possible for Hoover and those “respectable classes” supporting him to maintain the rule of white, Protestant nationalists.
The current bastions of the “respectable classes” today, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, the war on terror, “free trade,” are increasingly controversial, are increasingly under attack. And the disdain for Trump, like that for Smith in 1928, only serves to obscure without weakening these attacks. And even a landslide victory by Hillary, hailed as “revolutionary” because she is a “she,” will not significantly weaken these attacks on what are, clearly, the failed policies of a failing political order. Just like the results of Hoover’s landslide victory in 1928 failed to stop the demise of white supremacy as then practiced in the U.S.
Once challenged, the “respectable,” both as policy and as persons, lose much of their luster, as was evident with Hoover then and Clinton now. It is not that Hoover was and Clinton is a mediocrity, although they both fit that bill. It’s that Hoover was and Clinton is irrelevant as forces gather[ed] to overpower the established order.