The parallels were visible from the start. Between the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump and the campaigns of the infamous former Alabama governor and 1968 presidential candidate George C. Wallace, the avowed segregationist who on March 7, 1965, now known as “Bloody Sunday,” unleashed state troopers to attack African American civil rights marchers and their allies on a bridge in Selma.
Princeton University history professor Kevin Kruse writes in The New York Times:
“Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Wallace presented himself as the political champion of aggrieved working-class and middle-class whites. As governor, he embodied the cause of segregationist resistance, literally standing in the schoolhouse door to block the first black students at the University of Alabama and figuratively standing against what he called the ‘civil wrongs bill.’”
As Kruse explains, both men were committed racists, both spoke in terms of establishing “law and order,” and both drew fanatically devoted crowds of people eager to be liberated from the constraints of so-called political correctness to give voice to their hatred. Wallace’s crowds were reacting to the civil rights movement. Trump’s are responding to immigration. Both Wallace and Trump trafficked in demonization and dehumanization of the supposed “other” in order to command the allegiance of their followers.
Unlike Trump, Wallace never made it to the White House. But there was one other important difference between the campaign rallies of these two men, a difference that, according to Kruse, renders Donald Trump a far greater danger to the peace and order of this nation.
As continued by Kruse for The Times:
Mr. Wallace’s targets were, for the most part, presented in the abstract. Though he denounced broad categories of generic enemies — “agitators,” “anarchists” and “communists” — he rarely went after an individual by name.
Mr. Trump, in pointed contrast, has used his rallies to single out specific enemies. During the 2016 campaign, he demonized his political opponents in the primaries and the general election, and also denounced private individuals, from Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor, to the former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and the federal judge Gonzalo Curiel.
At recent rallies, he has targeted four Democratic House members who have criticized him and his administration — Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
Participants at Mr. Trump’s rallies have been moved to attack individuals he’s singled out. For most rally participants, the attacks have been confined to ominous but nevertheless nonviolent chants — from the 2016 cries of “Lock her up!” to the recent refrain of “Send her back!” But a handful have gone further, targeting the individuals named by the president with death threats and even attempts at violence.
We have already witnessed the consequences as Trump’s rhetoric has intensified over the past two years, from the mail bombs to specific, select Democrats wrapped and delivered by Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc, to the continual upward spiral of death threats against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, all a direct result of Trump’s demonizing them at his rallies. Threats against journalists by Trump supporters are now so commonplace that they barely receive mention.
No less a person than George Wallace’s own daughter believes that what we are seeing with Trump is the same pattern that occurred during her father’s campaigns repeating itself, 50 years later. She also worries that the violent consequences she saw in the ‘60s will be the same, if not worse.
Peggy Wallace Kennedy is Wallace’s daughter. Now 69, she attended his political rallies as a young teenager and experienced the hatred of his supporters bubbling around her, bewildering as it was. She has written a book, The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation, in which she writes about coming to terms with what she now realizes was the poison her father spewed, and she recently spoke at an event the Birmingham Public Library.
John Archibald of AL.com writes:
“Unfortunately it does look like the ‘60s now,” Wallace Kennedy said. “Each of us individually need to act with compassion and pray for our democracy. I hope we don’t go back. But it looks like where we are slipping … that seems to be where the top is taking us.”
Wallace Kennedy never said Donald Trump’s name out loud, but she likened his politics to that of her father’s tactics, only worse.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “I saw daddy a lot in 2016.”
As Archibald confirms, there isn’t much daylight between the tactics employed by George Wallace and those of Donald Trump.
It was a simple and brilliant and dangerous strategy perfected by Wallace and used by politicians across the South and the nation ever since, though rarely as effectively or obviously as with Trump. Fanning the flames of fury works on crowds way better than policy solutions or wonkish approaches to governmental reform. Play on the resentments and you never have to get too deep into answers.
Until the consequences come, as Wallace saw in Alabama and especially Birmingham. Until the rallies let out and the bombings and beatings and burnings begin.
“The two greatest motivators at (Dad’s) rallies were fear and hate,” Wallace Kennedy said. “There was no policy solution, just white middle-class anger.”
Neither Trump nor Wallace had any policy initiatives, or even ideas, to benefit the Americans they ran to represent. Their only currency was, and is, hatred. A hatred they deliberately stoked and continue to intensify until it finally explodes. The difference, Kruse notes, is that Trump deliberately and sadistically names his victims, intentionally putting them at a much greater risk of harm, and he does this while occupying the highest office in the land.
Even George Wallace, as bad as he was, didn’t sink that low.