History shows the riots in American cities will disrupt the 2020 presidential election and influence its outcome.
Historically waves of civil unrest have been fatal for incumbent presidents’ reelection chances. Over the past 120 years, America has held five presidential elections during periods of civil unrest: 1896, 1920, 1932, 1968, and 1992.
Each of those elections led to a change in the party in the White House. Moreover, each of those elections led to a fundamental change in the political status quo.
To elaborate, voters blame the party in power and punish it for civil unrest. There is a political pattern of voters blaming politicians in office, particularly presidents, for riots and burning cities.
The Panic of 1893
I think the current riots most resemble the violence during the Panic of 1893. To explain, the Panic of 1893 was an economic downturn that triggered a wave of civil unrest.
The Panic of 1893 was a financial crisis that triggered a depression that lasted until 1897. Many economists regard the 1890s downturn as the last part of the Long Depression of 1873-1896. The Panic caused unemployment that led to years of riots and violent strikes throughout the nation.
Violence triggered by the Panic of 1893 includes the May Day Riots of 1894, the great Pullman Strike of 1894, and Coxey’s Army. President Grover Cleveland (D-New York) wrecked his career by ordering the Army to intervene in railroad strikes. The troops’ presence led to violence, which voters blamed on Cleveland.
Before the Panic of 1893, the Democrats were on the verge of becoming America’s dominant political party. Notably, Cleveland had won a majority of the popular vote in an unprecedented three presidential elections; 1884, 1888, and 1892.
In 1896, the Democratic coalition fell apart with insurgent William Jennings Bryan (D-Nebraska) winning the nomination. In response, many moderates and conservative Democrats voted for “third-party Gold Democrat” John M. Palmer instead of Bryan. The Gold Democrats were angry at Bryan’s far-left policies, such as Free Silver.
William McKinley (R-McKinley) won a clear majority of both the Electoral College and the popular vote in 1896. McKinley’s victory led to almost 20 years of Republican dominance (1896-1912) of America’s national politics.
The Red Summer of 1919
Though it is obscure today, 1919 was one of the most violent years in American history. The year was violent because racial antagonism collided with labor unrest and extremist politics.
The United States experienced 25 riots in the Red Summer of 1919. The 1919 Civil Unrest includes the Chicago Race Riot, four days of mob violence in Washington D.C., a riot in Omaha, Nebraska, terrorist bombings, the Boston Police Strike, and the Seattle General Strike.
In addition, the unpopular decision to enter World War I upset many Americans. Adding to the violence were oppression of German Americans during the war and the draft. Anger at the war, the draft, and President Woodrow Wilson’s (D-New Jersey) racist and incompetent administration made the situation worse.
In 1920, Warren G. Harding (R-Ohio) won one of the biggest presidential victories in American history. In detail, the Republican Harding won 16.152 million popular votes to James M. Cox’s (D-Ohio) 9.147 million votes. Additionally, Harding received 404 electoral college votes, while Cox won just 127 electoral college votes.
Dramatically, a map at 270toWin shows Harding won every state outside the South. In contrast, Cox won no states in the West, the Midwest, or the Northeast.
I think 1919 and 1920 show that violence can destroy a president and a political party. Notably, it took the Great Depression to make ordinary Americans vote Democrat again.
The Bonus March of 1932
Like the Panic of 1893, the Great Depression sparked violence and Civil Unrest. The most dramatic civil unrest of the Depression was the Bonus March of 1932.
To elaborate, the Bonus Act of 1926 promised every World War I veteran a $1,025 cash bonus for his service. The Act scheduled the Bonus payment for 1945.
In 1932, large numbers of unemployed veterans began demanding the immediate payment of the bonus. Between 20,000 to 40,000 of those veterans marched on Washington D.C. as the Bonus Expeditionary Force.
In Washington, the Bonus Marchers built shantytowns and planned to march on Congress. In response, U.S. Representative Wright Palman (D-Texas) introduced legislation to pay veterans a $2.1 billion bonus. However, Republicans killed Palman’s bill in the U.S. Senate.
In contrast, President Herbert Hoover (R-California) dismissed the bonus marchers as Communists. Just as President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) dismisses today’s protesters as violent leftists or Antifa.
On 28 July 1932, U.S. Attorney General William Mitchell ordered police to drive the marchers out. The police effort sparked a riot that killed two protesters. In retaliation, the bonus marchers occupied government buildings.
A frightened Hoover deployed the Army. Strangely, three World War II legends led the troops. General Douglas MacArthur, then chief of staff, was in command. Major George S. Patton commanded the tanks, and Major Dwight D. Eisenhower was MacArthur’s aide.
MacArthur ordered his troops to clear the shantytowns with a cavalry charge, tanks, bayonets, and tear gas. In the fighting, infantrymen set the shantytown on fire. Disturbingly, many of the veterans had their families, including women and children with them.
MacArthur and Hoover thought the operation was a success. The Army’s assault appalled the press, however.
For instance, The Washington Daily News; formerly a pro-Hoover paper, called the Army attack; “A pitiful spectacle.” “If the Army must be called out to make war on unarmed citizens, this is no longer America,” The Washington Daily News complained.
Voters, already shellshocked by the Depression, agreed with The Daily News. In November 1932, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York) defeated Hoover in a landslide.
Dramatically, Hoover won only 59 Electoral College voters and carried just six of the 48 states in 1932. Roosevelt won every state outside the Northeast in 1932.
Furthermore, America did not elect another Republican president for 20 years until 1952. Ironically, the winner of the 1952 presidential election was General Dwight D. Eisenhower (R-Kansas). By 1952, Eisenhower was America’s greatest hero, the architect of victory over Nazi Germany.
The 1968 Summer of Violence
In 1968, violence destroyed the legacy of one of America’s most popular presidents; Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas). In particular, violence doomed the election efforts of Johnson’s hand-picked successor, Vice President Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota).
In 1964, Johnson, or LBJ, won reelection with an astonishing 486 Electoral College votes, and 61.1% of the national popular vote. By 1968, Johnson was so unpopular, he dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary to avoid a humiliating loss.
On 3 April 1968, the Summer of Violence began with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. In response, race riots erupted in over 120 American cities.
Moreover, protests against the unpopular Vietnam War began turning violent. In the summer, the violence spilled over to the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
During the convention, Chicago police attacked protesters and journalists with clubs and tear gas outside the arena. Television cameras relayed images of what witnesses called a “police riot” to a nationwide audience.
The beneficiary of the violence was Richard M. Nixon (R-California) who was running for president on a “law and order ticket.” In 1968, Nixon won 301 Electoral College votes. In contrast, Humphrey won just 191 Electoral College votes.
During the next 20 years, the Democrats won just one presidential election (1976). In contrast, Republicans won four of the next five presidential elections; 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988.
Thus, violence ushered in a new political era in 1968 as it did in 1892, 1932, and 1919. Additionally, “law and order” became a major issue in American politics because of 1968.
1992 The Rodney King Riots Destroy George H. W. Bush
On 3 March 1991, the sound of a helicopter woke LA resident George Holliday from his sleep. The noise prompted Holliday to look outside and see a horrifying sight.
The sight was four white Los Angeles police officers savagely beating black suspect Rodney King in front of Holliday’s apartment building. Holliday taped the beating and sold the video to TV station KTLA.
KTLA ran the tape during its 10 p.m. newscast. That showing triggered a series of events; including a controversial trial, that led to the Rodney King Riots. The riots erupted after a jury in Simi Valley, California; an LA suburb, acquitted the four LAPD officers on 29 April 1992.
During the riots mobs roamed South Central Los Angeles looting and burning businesses, beating up white motorists, and attacking Asians. Television cameras caught the violence and relayed it to the entire country.
In total, the Rodney King riots killed over 50 people and injured 2,000 people, NPR estimates. Ultimately, the Rodney King Riots’ casualties included the political career of President George H.W. Bush (R-Texas).
As successor to Ronald Reagan (R-California), one of America’s most popular presidents, Bush won an easy first term in 1988. In total, Bush won 426 Electoral College votes and 47.946 million popular votes, 270toWin estimates. Bush’s opponent, Michael S. Dukakis, won 111 Electoral College votes and 41.016 million popular votes.
In 1992, Bush lost to Governor William J. Clinton (D-Arkansas) by a margin of 370 to 168 Electoral College votes. Additionally, Clinton received 44.908 million popular votes and Bush received 39.102 million popular votes.
Notably, they held the 1992 presidential election just eight months after the Rodney King riots. I recall Bush’s response to the riots was terrible.
For example, during the riots Bush held a press conference with Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote the Great American Work Out. In addition, Bush gave an address to the nation in which he sounded like Mr. Rogers rather than a leader.
Failure to respond to the riots proved fatal to George H. W. Bush’s presidency.
Riots can Destroy Presidents
History shows riots can destroy presidents in America. The Bonus March response exposed Herbert Hoover as a heartless and incompetent authoritarian, for example.
In particular, the Bonus March destroyed Hoover’s reputation as a Great Humanitarian. Before the Bonus March people lionized Hoover as the man who helped feed a starving Europe after World War I. Afterwards, Hoover was a heartless monster.
Likewise, the violence of 1968 and Vietnam transformed LBJ from the architect of Medicare, Medicaid, and Civil Rights to a bloodthirsty warmonger in the popular imagination. Plus, the chaos of the 1890s exposed the popular Grover Cleveland (D-New York) as an insensitive tool of Wall Street.
Given the history, I think the 2020 riots could transform Donald J. Trump from populist hero into elitist tyrant and Herbert Hoover 2.0.
Trump is Herbert Hoover 2.0
Trump’s clumsy response to the riots is reminiscent of Hoover’s brutal response to the Bonus March.
Horrifically, Trump ordered military police to drive protesters away from the White House with tear gas and rubber bullets. Law enforcement then drove the protesters away from St. John’s Episcopal Church so Trump could walk there for a photo opportunity.
In addition, active and retired U.S. generals are condemning Trump’s plans to use the military to end the riots, Foreign Policy reports. Even Trump’s former Secretary of Defense; retired U.S. Marine General James Mattis, denounces Trump’s plan as a threat to America’s Constitution, The Atlantic reports.
History shows that Trump could have destroyed his presidency with a horrible response to the riots. If the historical pattern continues, voters will punish Trump for his response to the riots in November.
Originally published at https://marketmadhouse.com on June 7, 2020.