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Transcript: Election 2020: Insights from History


Ohio State University Department of History faculty experts discuss the historical context of Election 2020. Panelists include: Paula Baker, Associate Professor, Department of History; Nicholas Breyfogle, Associate Professor, Department of History and Director of the Goldberg Center; Susan Hartman, Professor Emerita, Department of History; Clay Howard, Associate Professor, Department of History; and Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor, Department of History

[Listen to the podcast here.]
 

Transcript begins here:

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Welcome to "Election 2020: Insights from History" coming to you from the History Department and the College of Arts and Sciences at The Ohio State University. My name is Nick Breyfogle. And I'm an associate professor of history. And I'll be your host and moderator today. We're so happy that you all joined us.

The 2020 elections are often described as historic and unprecedented. What exactly has been historic about this election? And what insights can history offer us to make sense of the current state of American politics? Today, we bring together four experts on American political history from the history department at Ohio State for a conversation about the elections. We'll explore political campaigns and parties, the role of race and class and gender in American politics, and just what has caused and what can be done about the cultural and political divides across the country. How does election 2020 fit or defy historical trends in American politics? And where do we go from here?

Let me introduce the panelists. First, please meet Paula Baker, who has written on US political history of the 19th and 20th centuries on such topics as gender, campaign finance, and political parties. And my friendly panelists, please do unmute and turn on your video as you're coming on, that'd be great. So this is Paula. Also joining us is Susan Hartmann, who has published and lectured extensively on women's movements, and women in politics, excuse me, women in politics. Let me also introduce Clay Howard, a specialist in post war US history. His research interests include the histories of American cities, suburbs, gender and sexuality, and politics. And last but not least, please meet Hasan Kwame Jeffries, the author of several books on black history, also the creator of the well known Teaching Hard History, podcast and program for educators. Thanks to the four of you very, very much for joining us.

Now, we'll open the discussion among our panelists, and ask them to respond to your questions. Many of you submitted questions when you registered and we'll answer some of those to begin with. We'll also be collecting questions during the event through the question and answer feature on zoom. So please do send them in. We've received a lot of questions, we'll do our best to answer as many of them as we possibly can. But please don't be hurt if we don't quite get to every last one. But we will do our very, very best. I'm really excited for the event today, and these are four, great, great people to learn from about putting the current political climate into historical perspective.

Alright, let's jump in. Let's start with the kind of big question and I'll throw this one to Clay to begin. So what has exactly been historic about 2020? What do you see as new and different about this election? Or, actually, do you see it as a start? Is this just business as usual, are there continuities or familiar precedents that we've seen before. So Clay, let me throw this your way. And then others please jump in.

Dr. Clay Howard 
Thanks, Nick. It's great to be here. You know, when I first thought about this question, I was thinking about some of the kind of more obvious stuff about how there's a lot that's unprecedented, right? That the current president's contesting of the results, for example, the fact that it happened during a pandemic, all these things, you know, seem really new to me. But I also was thinking, you know, there's a pattern of polarization of contested elections of all kinds of stuff going back 20 to 30 years. And so, I guess what I would say is that we know that in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House was a kind of different kind of Republican and he pushed his fellow Republicans to, like not sit with Democrats in the congressional lunch room to really like ramp up  the rhetoric around elections and specific issues to really kind of demonize the enemies and to try and win by narrow margins, right, if they can't win, like large majorities to go ahead and try and win edge kind of smaller elections. And so if you think about it, just at the national level, Clinton wins in a three way race and '92. The Republicans win the House of Representatives in 1994. In '95, the government shuts down over a budget impass. Clinton wins. Again, there's an impeachment led by Republicans in Congress. In 2000, there's like the closest race in US history that comes down to Florida. That's like a contested election. 2004 Republicans win a narrow margin. There starts to be voter ID laws to try and restrict, like who can vote, Obama wins, big. Wins again. Then the Supreme Court overturns parts of the Voting Rights Act, which allows people to have more voter ID laws. And then you get Donald Trump in 2016. And then our election today. So if you kind of see it in that larger context, I think it's bigger than just President Trump. And I think there's a larger kind of pattern.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
I would second what Dr. Howard shared, and I would add only that I think there are elements that are consistent. And there are elements that are just different. I think one of the elements that is consistent, has been the voter suppression. Coming out of the Voting Rights Act era, there has been a steady drumbeat, a steady effort to tramp down the vote of people of color, particularly African Americans. And so some of those efforts that we saw, that picked up as Dr. Howard was saying, following the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court ruling, essentially taking the teeth away from the Voting Rights Act. That was an extension of stuff that we saw on the 1980s by the Justice Department, under the Reagan administration targeting black elected officials down in the deep south. And so one of the consistent themes that we see throughout modern presidential elections or modern elections in general, when we think about the national level has been the effort to suppress the vote. And I think that's one of the as we look back at this election, we ought not forget that aspect of it, despite the high turnout. It wasn't because it didn't exist. It was in fact, because a people overcame it and organized around it. And we shouldn't also let the misinformation about ballot fraud and voter fraud take away from the fact that there was actual real efforts to suppress the vote going into the election.

Dr. Paula Baker 
I pick up on the polarization point too where at least I teach this course on presidential elections. I'd like to do it as a seven week course so students can see the beginning the middle and the end, and also because we're done before the election, and that's always a good thing, and in use some Pew Charitable Trusts to research data. And on that basis, the '90s almost look like the good old days of the kind of mounting sense of people saying that they wouldn't want their children to marry someone of the opposite party. The sense that the people in the other party are just in another party, but are actively bad and the enemy has just sort of exploded since then. And the '90s almost look, you know, kind of like a happy baseline. And maybe that's because that's when that polling began because polarization seemed to be increasing. But it's really kind of striking how that's taken off in this and Trump is almost more of a product of it than someone who caused it. He's someone who benefited from an ongoing pattern.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
I wonder if that polarization is also responsible for the high voter turnout. I mean, despite, as Hasan has said, despite the efforts of voter suppression, this was the highest turnout since the very early 20th century, it's I think it's going to be about 67 or 68%. So that is an enormous turnout. And I'd like to echo his comments about how people try to fight against it in Georgia, which as we know, is very very close in the presidential election. Stacey Abrams and her organization enlisted 800,000 new voters since 2018. So the suppression has also I think it has also in turn, stimulated people to get out the vote and to protect voters. It'll be interesting to see if that turnout maintains itself in the next election.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I'm gonna follow up on that one. One of the questions that we were asked was whether, has there ever been a time before talking about a time unprecedented or new. Has there ever been a time before where the kind of sitting president has contested the outcomes of the elections in the way that we're seeing at the moment? Or is this something unprecedented, ultimately? Paula, do you reach back in history, do you find anything there?

Dr. Paula Baker 
The very close elections of the past that were either contested or could have been contested, those I could think of didn't involve incumbents. So, um, so it was a different situation. So I can't think of incumbents. 1960 didn't involve an incumbent.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
I mean, of course, you know, not involving an incumbunt is the exception, but we can think about just 2000 right now. Our students may be too young to remember, you know, Bush v. Gore, but clearly, we all can remember, you know, the 500, you know, and so vote, as Clay was pointing out down in Florida. It doesn't get any closer than that. But I think here's the interesting thing, is this election, actually, isn't that close. Right? I mean, the margin is in this quote unquote, contested state. I apologize. Children running. No the margin in the contested states is greater than it was in 2016. And so I think we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of misinformation or disinformation, saying that, oh, this was really close, you know. But relative, I think when it all shakes out, I mean, you know, according to some, 306 electoral votes is a landslide. So I think it's relative by comparison.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Yeah, the news today was saying that Biden is about to hit about 80 million votes, and about a 6 million vote difference in the kind of overall national vote, at least as of today, depending on how the counts go.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
If I could just say so the question of contested, right? Is it being contested on legitimate grounds that, hey, this is close, we got to go back. And let's just make sure, or is this just a complete fabrication, right? I mean, I think that's also important to kind of point out.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
I'd just like to, if we're ready to slightly change the subject, but I'd just like to add something else that really is historic that we haven't mentioned yet. And that's the election of Kamala Harris, as Vice President. I mean, you know, the first African American to be elected vice president, the first African American woman, the first South Asian woman, that really, really is historic. And we need to recognize that.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Let me follow up on that, actually, because that is the election of the first woman kind of into the White House is really is something really, really quite new. We've had a lot of people who are attending the webinar today who are interested in kind of thinking about the importance of the women's vote in this election here. And so I'm curious, and maybe we'll start with you, Susan, on this, but just is the, can you talk a little bit about the sort of trends in voting and campaigning, so voting and campaigning for office among women in this election versus others? What is again, perhaps new or different today, or what are some of the kinds of times that we've been seeing growing up over the past decades, say.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
Well, in terms of voting, this election carried on a momentum that has been in effect since about 1980. And that is the gender gap and voting. About  57% of women voted for Biden, but only about 43, 44 45% of men. So that's the gender gap, the difference between the percentages of men and women, that's a gender gap of about 11, or 10, or 11, or 12 points. And that, as I said, that's not new. But it did secure the election for Biden. I think it's also important when we talk about the gender gap that we bring race into it. Because only a minority of white women voted for Biden, about 43 44% of all white women voted for Biden, but he got a majority of the women's vote, because black women and other women of color voted for Biden in larger numbers than they voted for for Trump. I think the figure for black women is 90% of all black women voted for Biden. And there's a gender gap in the African American voting population too. About 79% of black men voted for Biden as opposed to 90% of black women.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
I think the racialization of that agenda is so critical too, because we've seen those splits, in terms of particularly thinking about women and voting democratic, right, and black women and white women over, you know, for the last 20-30 years. I mean, that hasn't really shrunk at all. And I think what's interesting, too. When we think about race, we often think about sort of black, you know, black people, like black and white. When we think about race and gender, the percentage of white women, last I checked, went up who voted for Trump this year over over 2016. Which is no small, which is no small thing. I think you got to figure, okay, now, where was that coming from? Right? And, you know, and how did that impact and play out? And the reasons why right, like this is, I mean, that raises all sorts of questions. Because here you have somebody, you know, in Donald Trump, you know, who as much as he may say, right, there's nobody who loves women more than Donald Trump, when you look at policies and practices and language, and I mean, it's like good God. Right? And, and yet, right, you still have that. So I think we have to really, at some point, kind of make sense of just voting behavior, right, and why people are choosing to vote, why different demographics are choosing to vote for the way they did in this election.

Dr. Clay Howard 
I was also I was just talking to a friend, historian friend today. And we were talking about a lot of the media coverage before the election and like, oh, my gosh, like so much of it was about white suburban women.  I know, The New York Times profiled a group called red, wine and blue, which is a group, I want to say, in Westerville, or New Albany, that where there's a group of women who either didn't vote in 2016, or voted for Trump, were, you know, switching sides and talking to other women in their communities. And, you know, I'm a little nervous about using exit poll data, because one  the votes are going to be finalized. And then we all know, exit poll data reflects people who vote on Election Day, which in this year has like a partisan divide, and so forth. But if those numbers hold up that a majority of white women like, you know, narrow majority voted for Donald Trump, all that coverage looks really suspicious to me in hindsight, right? That like that why wasn't the attention directed in other places, whether it's, you know, African American women in say, Atlanta or elsewhere? And I don't have an answer to that yet. But it's like something that I'm thinking about.

Dr. Paula Baker 
Yeah, for what I've seen, there are two major exit polling operations and their numbers, at least as of about a week ago, were pretty substantially different. So I'm not sure what to make of the exit polling numbers at this point, either. I mean, we do have the general trends and we can certainly imagine that the gender gap has remained. But in general, I'm not sure what to make of the also the education gap in terms of the two parties. But I'm not sure what to make of those numbers at the moment either.

Dr. Clay Howard 
And can I just like follow up to say that the attention that suburban white women got in this election is like an old story, you know that Clinton allegedly won with the soccer moms and George W. Bush won with the national security moms. And there's a pattern in at least the stories that we tell that may or may not be reflected in the actual, like, electorate.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
Well allow me, Dr.Howard is being very generous and very kind in his description. I mean, the media is obsessed with white voters, right. I mean, that's, that's what it is. I mean, whether it was sort of white women and you know, will, you know, Trump sexism turn off white suburban women and that's going to be critical, because, you know, Hillary Clinton lost some of that. And we saw some, some movement that turned out to be quite pivotal, I think, right, again, we'll have to see down the road in you know, suburbs in around Minneapolis, and Minnesota, around Milwaukee and Wisconsin, around Detroit. So we saw some movement in Pennsylvania and some small places  that proved to be critical Bucks County, for example. But I think it is reflective of this obsession with sort of white voters, right, and what's going to happen on a march. And that's not just sort of white women, you know, suburban, suburban white women, but we saw it with, you know, the trying to explain the turnout for Trump, right. And it's about economic anxiety, right, former, you know, white vote who cast ballots for Donald for Barack Obama, and now cast for Trump in 2016. If I had to read another story about that, right, and the deal going up into the I was gonna go crazy. But it is part of that media obsession, I think. And in that, one, they missed a critical aspect so caught up with the economic anxiety aspect and miss how racism, and this appeal to racism is so powerful and effective, and is used to explain away economic anxiety or economic fears. So we missed a critical aspect of that story. But I also think we miss what else is happening, as Dr. Hartmann pointed out, you know, what was happening in Georgia, right, and the the mobilization of black voters there, the increasing numbers of Latino voters, that demographic. And what has been going on over the last four years, Stacey Abrams, and so many others on the ground from 2018, to now. I mean, it's just a phenomenal story. And so much of that got overlooked in our obsession with what a white voter is going to do in this election.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
Well, I mean, I think it depends on what media you're looking at. I mean, I learned about Stacey Abrams through the media. And I do think that, you know, at least the media that I read, did pay attention to black women's votes in this election, more so than they ever had in the past. So, I mean, I think it wasn't totally neglected by the media. Now. I don't recall, I saw a lot of it on television. But, and which is where most people get their news, so, you know, in that in that respect, you're I think you're absolutely, absolutely right.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
We've had several questions come in about the sort of the whole question of polarization, and particularly people sort of interested to know, you know, has there has there been any kind of moment in the past where we've seen this kind of polarization before? And I think there's some some concern with, with our audience about how do we move forward from this? You know, the question, you're asking about how it seems like, if you poll most Americans, they're uncomfortable with the polarization, and yet we somehow kind of remain in our in our same tribes, you know, as Paula was saying, and so I, so can we speak to that in terms of, you know, is this something unprecedented? What kind of historical parallels can we see? What do we think has caused the degree of polarization we have now? And what's the way forward that you guys would suggest?

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
Well, it's interesting that the, you know, that historical precedent has to do with race, also. And that's the pre-civil war, and I need to turn that over to a 19th century historian. But I think in terms of polarization that that's the predecessor.

Dr. Paula Baker 
Yeah, I mean, the sense that the United States is this sort of 49 49% country. We see that in the late 19th century from like, 18 7, so the reconstruction post reconstruction elections are 1876 through 1896 were generally close. So it was unusual that if there were very few circumstances where a single party controlled the House, the Senate and the presidency of sort of like 40 years total, in that span of time. And where the divisions seem to be cultural, some of that religious and ethnic, some of that around questions about immigration, and lots of it still coming out of the coming out of the Civil War. And perhaps it's the case that that whole stalemated period didn't end until the sort of memories of the war dissipated. And arguably, the divisions now, we're in good measure cultural still. And, and maybe this is a kind of sort of set of cultural battles that are that still coming out of the 1960s and 1970s, and where they go, and how that's sifted out. Because otherwise, I mean, the divisions don't seem to be particularly economic, but are much more cultural based on race, culture, religion, gender, and, and not so much economic.

Dr. Clay Howard 
Can I also just say that, you know, when I read the news, I am also concerned about polarization and the kind of divisions. But I also would say that, I actually think that the polarization, if you want to call it that is, is, in many ways, it's good. Because if you think about, like, the periods in history, when there has been less of a divide between the parties, and there's been more of a consensus, those have also been, like the Jim Crow era. There's been a lot of like sidelining of racial inequality, where whites come together to not to like not address or reinforce white privilege. And so to some degree, the polarization, if you want to call it that is, is about sort of, like social movements, putting pressure on an unjust system, and other people pushing back. And so if you think of it that way, the polarization, although maybe scary, is also the possibility of like, living in a better, more just society.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
That's a fascinating way, interesting way of looking at it. I think it's accurate as well. And, to think about the other part of the question, Nick, that you asked, like, okay, what do we do about it? Like, that's difficult because and I don't think there's an easy way forward. Because the the polarization, particularly when it gets around race, and I think that is really, I mean everything else is very much tied to that, I don't think you can separate that out, that it's not so much about race, per se, as we'll often say. The polarization is around racism, right? Like is racism, like does it need, does it exist or not? Right? Does it need to be addressed or not? And I don't quite know how you bridge that divide. Right? Like, I mean, you're talking about people's basic humanity, and other folks denying that certain aspects just exist. That is a, you know, that's an unbridgeable chasm if you ask me, right, because what's the middle ground on that? Okay, like, well, we're okay with you just maybe recognizing black humanity, right? Like there are real issues that need to be addressed. So, you know, I don't know where you go from that, right. This isn't just about policy. Right. This is really about people. And that makes it you know, the last time we had something as deep as that you think about the Civil War, like how do you compromise on the enslavement of people or not, as though there were efforts to, right? That doesn't mean that they were right and you saw where it wound up? So I mean, I think that's a real, that's a serious gap that can be easily sort of massaged or massaged over, massaged away.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Excuse me. In addition to the kind of race question and you certainly read a lot about polarization, because by a few other factors, one being kind of educational level. That increasingly there's this sort of argument that, in fact, our society is divided politically based upon kind of college educated or not. That that's a major kind of dividing line. The second is generation. And then a third is the sort of where you live, the rural urban suburban split. In what ways do you see these other kind of explanatory models that have been put forward in the recent past as kind of important to kind of explain in the polarization and perhaps reinforcing some of the things we've talked about in terms of race in particular, and with the racial divide? Susan, do you want to take a stab at that? I'll throw it your way first.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
I'm gonna pass that off.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Okay. Well, Clay as a great lover of things suburban, maybe.

Dr. Clay Howard 
Well, I think I mean, I think you have to recognize the instability of these political coalitions, right? And I, again, I don't trust the numbers, but if I look at Biden's share of the suburban vote, the college educated vote, he wins by a margin. But there's a significant percentage of people who voted Republican as well, and that number moves. And so if you think about college educated or wealthier, white people, they don't always fit comfortably in a political coalition with people of color of all classes, right. And so they'll like move on and off the line. But they also don't fit in a coalition with working class white voters. And so, I mean, that's like, that's, the suburban vote's the one that I know best, but like, historically, they don't tend to stick in one coalition, and they have different interests than some of the other people in the coalition. And so that creates some of the instability.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Susan, Paula or Hasan, do you have any thoughts on this question?

Dr. Paula Baker 
I guess just to say that it's both parties that have these pretty unstable coalitions than where the extent to which the democratic strength has come to be packed into, to some extent in, you know, major metropolitan areas, and a kind of party of very wealthy people and dispossessed people. And how that sticks together over time is and how that's going to play out in policy in the Biden administration is going to be interesting to see how that happens. Where, for example, proposals having to do with forgiving student loan debt, that sort of thing and state local tax deductions and so forth tend to be something that would benefit a middle and upper middle class much more than, than anybody else. And so how all of this plays out, it's gonna be tricky.

Dr. Clay Howard 
Can I follow up on what I said earlier to add like an example. So some of you may remember in the democratic debates that Kamala Harris criticized Joe Biden for being for voting in favor voting against school integration, so-called busing in the 1970s. And in the early 1970s, the courts were ruling in a way that was requiring school districts to to merge to like to do away with the history of racial segregation in the school districts. And suburban districts were facing real threats of being integrated, right. Maybe I shouldn't call it a threat. But like that was a real possibility then. In 2020, there's no possibility of that, that the law has moved in such a way where that's like not a realistic thing. And if you want to see what that looks like, not only does Biden choose Kamala Harris to be his vice president, they announced their campaign together in a high school in Delaware that fought integration in the 1970s. Right? The so-called busing crisis. And so I think that like just the sheer, like insulation, of white suburbs, from any kind of meaningful integration is the very thing that allows some white suburbanites to express support for Black Lives Matter, right? Like they can, they can, in a way afford to be more progressive on racial issues because the actual demands upon them are much less than what they were decades ago.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
You know, as I think about that, and I think you're right. I think you're absolutely right. I only wonder about what that percentage is. Right? Because at the same time, as you have that insulation and protection as the courts have moved in a particular direction, you also don't have, you do have Trump, for example, you know, you're playing up this idea that, you know, under a Biden administration, you know, black folk, we're going to sweep in Cory Booker -- old, dangerous, black, Cory Booker, like whoa the most dangerous black person, is gonna sweep into the suburbs. Right? And so, in that, you still get a, so what happens with that? Either that either resonates with some of those voters in those same suburbs, or they dismiss it, but are still okay with the rhetoric, right? I mean, when you just look at the numbers, and so I don't know what, I don't know what that split is. But I know that it still, that it clearly it manifests in some way.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
We've had a few questions about polling. And and I'm wondering if you get if you could speak a little bit to there's this sort of sense now, particularly in the past two elections, that polling has been off. And that we've expected a certain outcome and gotten something slightly different. And can we speak a little bit to the kind of historical prescedent of how, when did polling kind of start? And how accurate has it been over the years? Are we in a situation where really polling is fundamentally different and off? Or is this simply something that fits into kind of longer term historical patterns?

Dr. Paula Baker 
I sort of think of it as beginning in the 1930s, of Franklin Roosevelt sort of had an in house pollster, who, in 1936, worked with not random samples, or anything along those lines. But this guy was a geologist by training and so understood strata and worked with the data that was around in and so could look at, say, the famous Literary Digest poll and say, wow, we know if the middle class readership of this magazine is just slightly Republican then we're really in good shape. And I think and polling was done and expensive to do. Before that it was sort of a door to door operation. Once telephone use is really widespread and it's possible to run it that way, you kind of have a sort of golden age of polling. And where you can, people would pick up and answer and were not yet in robo calls. And that begins to fall apart. And it falls apart with cell phones, it falls apart before that, to some extent with people buying answering machines and not picking up. And you it was possible in the industry to just, you know, keep going and work with the samples that they had. And it worked out reasonably well. But between cell phones, and people not picking up, those answers and also, you know, some portion just lying to pollsters, it's, it's going to be troublesome going forward, because you don't care if the people not picking up are all pretty much like each other. If the people not picking up are systematically different, that's a problem. And it seemed to be the one result that really struck me was the Susan Collins winning pretty easily in Main, which looked to be in a fair amount of trouble, but no.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
It has been suggested also that Trump supporters didn't necessarily lie. They just didn't respond to pollsters. And that is part of a general distrust of experts, academics, the establishment, that they don't trust, they don't have confidence in, they don't trust in and they don't want to have anything to do with. And so they opted out of the polls and being polled and so they were under counted.

Dr. Paula Baker 
And also a distrust of the media.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
Yes, yes.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Was that a series of questions that looked to me like they're, they're thinking about how to explain the appeal of Donald Trump. We've had a couple of people talk about voters seeing him as a Messiah or as the savior. These, so I'm just quoting from the people who have written in the questions and also others trying to figure out what explains the kind of voting patterns for President Trump either from women or from kind of working class voters and this sort of thing? And I guess so let me throw it out in a couple of different types of questions. So one is, are there, c an we think of precedents of presidents in the past who have had this kind of Messianic or kind of savior aura to them? And are there things we can see from history that would help us to understand kind of, the appeal of this president to obviously a large segment of the population? Who feels brave to take on that kind of question? Clay want to jump in?

Dr. Clay Howard 
Well, you know, that's a question I've asked myself both as, as like a historian and also just like a, you know, a citizen. There's a great book called "Strangers in Their Own Land," which is a it's a sociology book by Arlie Hoschchild. And she interviewed in 2014 2015 people in like cancer alley in Louisiana, like one of the most polluted part of the states. And she asked herself, why are the people who live in the most polluted place with all kinds of health problems? Why are they the least likely to want government regulation of like the petroleum industry, and so forth? And she interviewed them. And she came up with this concept that she calls the deep story, and the ideas that we all have them. We all have these stories that we tell about our lives and our place in society. And she said, for the people that she was interviewing in this part of Louisiana, but you can like round it up to like a larger percentage of the Republican electorate, she said, they imagine themselves waiting in line. And at the end of the line, there's something called the American dream. And they've been in line, like forever, just waiting, waiting and it just seems like the line is not moving. And then they start to notice people cutting in line, this is her description. And it looks like they're they're immigrants, maybe undocumented. And even worse, President Obama is waving them in. He's giving them like a wink. He's like, go ahead. It's your turn. And, and she describes it, they feel like they've been -- it's the people in her book, right -- not necessarily everyone, but that they feel cheated, that they've paid their dues, and that other people, particularly based on their race, are getting a shortcut. And she said that the people she interviewed heard that story. And they're like, yes, yes, that's definitely how I felt. And so when I hear that story, I think, of course, there's like the long standing, you know, power of like, white privilege in this country, right, to imagine other people getting cutting in line. But also like that the economy is sort of stalled, right? That like income inequality has been rising for decades and the actual, like, possibilities for most people, have actually also stalled. And I think that what the story does, it brings together people's economic anxiety and their racial anxieties and puts them together and then Donald Trump when he announced his election spoke to all those things all at once.

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
It yeah, it is hard to make that consistent with the president who gives huge tax breaks to the rich. You know, and part of that might I mean, part of that might be compensated for by, you know, by the huge you know, antivirus program, the expenditure of money and and the support for really working class people. But there is that in congruence between, you know, his actual most of his actual policies, let aside the Covid package of aid. But his actual policies and his supporters' economic position, and you have that same I think contradiction among Reagan supporters in the '80s. Where, you know, he got a lot of working class support while cutting public programs and in embracing policies that really were not in their favor.

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
But that's actually where I see, like race being so and racism playing such a critical role. Because we may look at it objectively and be like, this is illogical, right? Like these policies do not support the things that you need. But where the racism comes into play the people who are skipping ahead, right, whether it's new immigrants, undocumented illegals, if you will, or whether it was affirmative action in the 1980s, and welfare queens and moms and in the 1980s. It was like they were to blame. But like, they're the problem. Like that issue is the problem, right? Not the corporate giveaways and the corporate tax breaks, like, I want to get to that point where what if, like, that's not an issue, like, I, that's where I want to be, I want to be the beneficiary of that. And if it wasn't for these things, led by these people, I would be able to get there. And I think that, you know, Clay, you had brought up sort of the white privilege thing, right. And I was like, I think that hits the nail on the head, right? But it's the idea that the white privilege, like, white privilege is not is called white privilege, right? It's not called white guaranteed, right? Like, you're not guaranteed to get ahead, because you're white, you just have the privilege of not having to deal with some of the mess that black folk got to deal with. But it gets confused. And so when suddenly, you're not able to tap into the white, the privilege aspect of it, you start blaming people of color, right? Like, what are you blaming us for? We, that's not our fault you couldn't access your whiteness, right? Don't blame us. Like that has larger issues. And I think the relationship between the two, yeah, there's some economic anxiety there, for sure. And the system hasn't been working out in their favor. Yes, we get that. How do you explain it? What resonates with them? And here, I think racism as just a powerful political organizing tool, is what we saw really play out over and over. And that's what Trump tapped into. And we can talk about populism, or it was he was pitching racism. And he knew that if he knew nothing else, he knew how powerful it was. It would animate people who felt alienated, white folk who felt alienated. And it did that. And he also knew or was counting on, and we were like, no, this won't work, myself included, that there will be enough white folk who would not be upset over it. And we also saw that play out too, right? So those two things can actually coexist. I think one of the lessons sort of going forward, is that we thought so the high cries of racism for organizing people that might have died in 68, or 72. With with George Wallace. But no, apparently not, right? Like this is still very powerful. And it also won't lose you as many votes as people thought it would lose if you played that game.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Go ahead, Paula.

Dr. Paula Baker 
I just want to, if all of this is working in, if white working class poor people are, in particular, given to the appeals of Trump against their interests, how could they be brought back? If or too, you know, either it's, you know, kind of overcoming some sense of their feeling, you know, cheated and their sense of racial privilege. Okay. How are they brought back? Because they used to be democrats?

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
Well, yeah, I'm not sure, right? Like, I'm really not sure. If, they've, how far they've actually -- where they were, right? Like, to what extent were these folks and this is part of the undercount, to what extent were they not there? Were they on the sidelines? To what extent that animated population, that comes out for Trump, did not come out for John McCain, did not come out, you know, in 2012. Like, that becomes kind of a question. Like, I'm not sure. Like, we want to say that, you know, okay, this is something new. Is it really? Or was this just tapping into sort of a latent sentiment that had been there that we saw from, you know, sort of '64 on forward?

Dr. Clay Howard 
Can I offer kind of a way that -- something that I've been interested in -- it's the way that Democrats have tried to answer this question. And so during the 1980s and 1990s, Americans fought over welfare, right, so called welfare reform. There were all these stereotypes about who was on welfare. And many white people were much more likely to believe that African Americans were a majority of welfare recipients, which wasn't true. There's all kinds of stereotypes about black women in particular, that were floating around. And eventually, you know, states and the federal government, you know, really slashed what how much money they spent on on welfare. There's people in the 80s and 90s, like William Julius Wilson was a sociologist. And he says, look at the way that people talk about welfare on one hand, and they talk about social security on the other, right, or Medicare. And it's like, if you think something is universal, they'll defend it forever, right? They'll defend it forever. But if they think that only some people are getting it, and that those people are white, they're gonna be very convinced that it's corrupt. And that it's that there's fraud, and you have to you have to get rid of it. And that's why the democrats have been so focused on health care, and why Clinton brought it up in the early 1990s. And why Obama brought it up again. And I think the question is, like, I'm still not sure if the health care proposals actually have addressed this problem. Because they thought in part, it was going to build a multiracial coalition. And that universal health care was going to be like Social Security, or Medicare, where everyone kind of comes together. But the US has a fragmented healthcare system where some people get it through their employer, some people get Medicaid, other people so like, and then those different groups often see the other ones negatively. Right? And so I'm not sure if the health care policy actually is the way that you build that kind of coalition, or if it's actually precisely why it can never come together.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Let me ask one other... we have a question here about teaching history, which seems right up our alley. And so I'm interested, just in the last few minutes we have here. the question. And I'm going to paraphrase and edit just a little bit, but it says it seems like the US has failed pretty spectacularly grappling with its own history, particularly with regards to slavery. I don't see how we can address contemporary racism or sexism or any other these other issues without building a national understanding of our past. As professors tasked with teaching our history, can you speak to how we can do a better job at this? Susan, let me throw it your way first. What  can we do as professors? What can we do more generally, in the interest of the teaching of history in our country, to address these issues?

Dr. Susan Hartmann 
Well, Hasan has addressed the issue of teaching race in much more detail than I could ever imagine. But I do think emphasizing history as a subject that everyone should, you know, pay attention to and without just being, you know, consistent critic of the United States, but really examining our past critically, rather than flagwaving. I mean, not that anybody that I know, who teaches history does that. But i think that the really critical examination of our past and emphasizing the fact that the United States is not exceptional, would be important. And then just teaching students to be critical about what they absorb, about what they see on social media, in the press, is really important.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
And you are right, Susan, I deliberately didn't send this to Hasan to start. But Hasan, who has developed this remarkable Teaching Hard History program, in a minute or two, can you tell us what, what we should take away from that, Hasan?

Dr. Hasan Jeffries 
Yeah, everything that's in that stuff is just stuff I learned from Dr. Hartmann. Right. I mean, you got to have a critical media skills, right? Critical media literacy. I think the highest form of patriotism is critical analysis, right, looking back at the past with a critical eye to see what actually happened, to see the strength, but also to make sense of make sense of the weaknesses. You know, it's, and we have to push back on some of the myths, right? Like one of the myths as, Susan, you had just pointed out was this myth of American exceptionalism. And we say, well, you know, a myth is a myth. It's a story. We can all get behind a story. Like, no, it has real world consequences. We're actually seeing that right now with the Coronavirus, right? Like, oh that won't happen over here, like we'll take care. I mean, that's that myth of American exceptionalism, that stuff just doesn't happen here. That happens elsewhere. And now we got a quarter of a million people dead. I mean, so there are real world consequences with that. And there's another, in terms of how we shape and get behind policy. And I think another major myth that we have to tackle in our classrooms with our students, is the myth of perpetual progress. This idea that things always get better in America. Again, it may have been bad once, but by golly, you just wait right? And time will take care of it. And that's particularly dangerous, because it pulls us away from actually looking at the ways in which things change, like, and what needs to change, right? Like the pressure that people put on government, on society to say, hey, let's move this. Our principles, our priorities have changed and I think that's critically important. But that also gives agency to people and to students and to young people, saying the power to shape society is in your hands, you just got to know what the levers are, and figure out how you want to move forward.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Paula and Clay, do you have thoughts on this. We can do our job better teaching history.

Dr. Clay Howard 
I'm afraid to answer this question. Because in some ways, I'm skeptical of the premise. You know, and I'm not saying but this is nothing about the person who asked this question, of course. But when I hear people ask that question, it's often like, well, the problems we have are because people don't understand their history. And I, like that may be true. And I certainly have seen, like the power of like teaching history in the classroom myself. But I also, like, don't look at some of the problems in American society and think, if only people understood American history better, we wouldn't have this problem. And of course, like no one is saying it should only be that, but I feel like in some ways that like understanding the past has this, like mythical power. And I guess what I would say is, I sometimes think about, like, we might benefit more from something like school integration, or having a more diverse faculty in like high schools and colleges. And like the question of like, who is in the classroom might have a much greater impact on what future generations of Americans think about these issues than anything that I might teach in a lecture. And I'm not trying to be like, self deprecating about my lectures or anyone else's lectures, but that might be a more powerful factor.

Dr. Paula Baker 
I could second that idea of where the experience could matter a whole lot more. And in Ohio, in particular, where students are done with history very early. Is it the eighth grade history is an elective? I will be happy with students who have even like a mythical history in their heads that you could push against, rather than, you know, sort of no history at all.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Marvelous well, amazingly enough, our hour has flown by and our apologies to everybody who asked extraordinarily interesting questions that we didn't quite get a chance to get to. But first, I just want to say thank you all so much for for joining us today. I'm grateful to our panelists, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Paula Baker, Susan Hartmann, and Clay Howard for sharing their expertise. I hope you'll all join me in giving them a virtual round of applause. Thank you guys so very much for your insights and for your conversation today. I'd also like to thank all the people at the College of Arts and Sciences who have made this event possible, especially Clara Davison and also to the history department, the Goldberg Center for Excellence in Teaching, and the magazine Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective for their sponsorship. And once again, thank you, our audience, for all your excellent questions and your ongoing connection to Ohio State. Stay safe and stay healthy, and we'll see you next time. Thank you all so much. Bye.