Results of the New York primary notwithstanding, the 2016 presidential election is shaping up as a contest between Republican nostalgia for the “good ol’ days” Archie Bunker longed for, or the searing memories Democrats recall of racial, gender and economic bias and inequality.
An unknown factor will be how millennials—women and men—identify with the struggles of their parents and grandparents. Have they forgotten, or never learned, what life was like before women had the legal right to choose the outcome of a pregnancy; before parental child care leave was provided; before voting rights were extended to minorities; before affordable health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions was largely unavailable; when the glass ceiling kept most women in the steno pool and out of the halls of Congress unless they were pages; when southern politicians and law enforcement officials included their KKK memberships in their qualifications for office; when governors and state legislatures routinely denied rights to minorities, including the right to marry a spouse of a different race?
Many millennials have been drawn to Bernie Sanders. If he comes up short will they rally behind Hillary Clinton or will they sit November out, forgetting the progressive gains of the last 50 years that would be jeopardized during a Trump, Cruz or Kasich presidency and Republican congress?
Speaking on the Charlie Rose The Week show on PBS last Friday, CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett said, “Republicans will rally around the idea that we’ve been a diffident loser-type country, not that that’s true, but there’s a feeling about that among Republicans, a kind of nostalgia.
“When Donald Trump talks about General MacCarthur and General Patton, he’s trying to revive a nostalgia for an era that is so greatly distant but nonetheless resident” (in the minds of older Americans who are) looking for a “leader with purpose, vision and direction.” http://www.pbs.org/video/2365718640/
He went on to say Trump supporters “are not hung up on specifics, they’re not even asking for specifics, what they care about is a different and more profoundly aggressive direction for the country and they’re willing to follow it.”
Democrats, on the other hand, would try to remind voters how Republicans mismanaged the economy while George W. Bush was president, said Garrett.
If you’re Clinton or Sanders, reviving memories of times of inequality—in the past and in the present—will sharpen their appeal to party members during the remaining primaries and, they hope, will transfer over to the general election among Independents and Democrats who backed the unsuccessful primary candidate.
Hillary is trying break the ultimate glass ceiling. Will women, especially millennials who have supported Bernie, accept her candidacy and give her credit for the decades she spent at the forefront of the fight for women’s equality? Will they give her credit for being among the first to champion national health care and the right to parental child care leave? Will blue collar workers stay with a Democratic Party that has fought for decades for their welfare, or will their memories be clouded by the siren song of a candidate who pledges to make America great again but who would lead a party that has advocated reduced social welfare, heath care and education benefits for the masses while pledging tax breaks to the wealthy?
Election campaigns usually focus on the future. Images of change and hope. 2016, however, may well be decided on how effectively each candidate instills in voters’ minds images of the 1950s and early 1960s. Was it a time of prosperity for the middle class amid tranquil, orderly nuclear family life, or was it a time of stifled opportunities for, and bias against, women and minorities and repressed sexuality?