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Prof. Dr. Klaus Kamps of theUniversity of the Media in Stuttgartdeclares that this year's election campaign is not only taking place in troubled times. The 1960s were also a decade of upheaval and the election campaign teams around Richard Nixon and other presidential candidates developed new strategies for the Campaignings, to which Donald Trump also refers in the current election campaign. Which elements from the Nixon election campaign found their way into Donald Trump's election campaign? And what doesThe Donalddifferent from its predecessor?

In the USA, “Vietnam” is associated with the 1960s, and with it of course the anti-war demonstrations, above all with the civil rights movement and the electoral reforms. A decade of change like hardly any before, not only in politics.

1968 – Campaigningin troubled times or: from Nixon to Trump


Klaus Kamps is professor of communication science at the Stuttgart Media University. His research interests include the public, political communication, media politics and the USA.


“68” - buzzword in this country for a generation of political and social movements, one of which is also cultural revolution. "68" stands for a broad spectrum of events and upheavals that are not limited to this one year, but were already perceived by contemporaries as dense, sometimes radical processes and a turning point: from the student riots, an extra-parliamentary opposition, to left-wing terrorism towards the Berliner Municipality 1, the hippie movement and more. Similar conflicts and similarly rapid social change in other countries make "68" an international - fuzzy - collective term for condensed events in politics, culture and society with different consequences for (primarily) the western democracies.

In the USA, “Vietnam” is associated with the 1960s, and with it of course the anti-war demonstrations, above all with the civil rights movement and the electoral reforms. A decade of change like hardly any before, not only in politics:

"A high-speed kaleidoscope of the civil rights movement, assassinations, Bob Dylan, the Vietnam War, hippies, America's first real antiwar movement, organic food, the Beatles, massive riots in several cities, the first riots on college campuses, Woodstock, Black Power, countless bombings in the name of the peace movement, Broadway's first naked musical (about hippies), thousands of military funerals for boys who hadn't wanted to go to war, birth control pills, free love, the collapse of dress codes in schools and universities, vegetarian restaurants, young rock stars dying of drug overdoses, fifty thousand deserters from the US military (...) "(O’Donnell, 2017, p. 6).

In these turbulent times, the 1968 presidential election, more precisely Richard Nixon's campaign, stands out. In some ways it set “standards” for future Republican strategies. What we see today, over half a century later, as President Trump's election campaign and his campaign management go on also back to this presidential campaign and Nixon '68. Of course, you shouldn't think of that as Copy-paste- Introduce the procedure. To this end, election campaigns are designed and developed individually and in their own political, historical and technological context. But the Nixon campaign definitely marks a step towards one idea of campaigning, which in particular (co-) shapes republican politics today: Nixon, so the basic idea, laid the basis for Donald Trump's election campaigns against the background of American society in the 1960s. This includes not only basic orientations (his candidacy and content orientation; cf. Adorf 2019, p. 8), but actually also stylistic features of an election campaignCulture.

The realignment of the American South

"I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come" - so a much quoted comment by President Lyndon B. Johnson after the signing of the Civil Right Act on July 2, 1964 (Klein 2020, p. 30) . Johnson saw what American political science soon considered Realignment summarized (Hill & Tausanovitch 2018): A sustainable readjustment of the American electorate. Until then, the south was traditionally owned by the Democrats1 dominates (the Southern Democrats, also: Dixiecrats), that changed with the civil rights movement and reforms of the Johnson administration. The Conservative Democrats of the Southern States switched to the Republicans - while in the East, Northeast and Midwest the moderate Republicans turned to the Democrats. As a result, the Republicans established themselves (albeit in a long, not really stringent process) as the majority party in the southern states, while conversely the Democrats dominated the north.

President Johnson, however, was not a visionary. As early as 1948, at their party congress, the Democrats had spoken out in favor of strengthening the civil rights of the Afro-American population and overcoming racial segregation. That had sparked long internal party disputes, and it was anything but a daring assumption that with the Civil Rights Act (which was still voted against by some Democratic Congressmen) the South could be lost to the Democrats in the long run.

With the election of John F. Kennedy, the civil rights reforms from 1964, then the Great Society Project the Johnson administration and theirs Was on Poverty America seemed headed for a liberal decade. Environmental protection, health reform, education and even a gun control law - the country got a progressive paint job. The perception of America becoming more liberal was reinforced by the very clear victory that Johnson won for Democrats in the 1964 presidential election against the arch-conservative, right-wing populist Barry Goldwater - an outspoken opponent of the civil rights movement and supporter of segregation, who in his speeches against the liberal " mob ”on the streets and the dangers of a (communist) collectivism rumbled. Goldwater could only win six states; However, they were all southern states, namely states that had previously been in democratic hands for generations.

The triumph of “LBJ” seemed to be associated with a new departure, even though Johnson continued to fuel the Vietnam War. At the same time, however, the protests and demonstrations had revealed and intensified the discrepancy between a conservative, traditional and a progressive, liberal America. Of course, the reform laws could not eliminate latent racism overnight. On the contrary, a no small part of America felt that in particular Affirmative actionPrograms (social programs) that were designed to combat the effects of racial segregation and the disadvantage of black Americans in many areas as a fundamental limitation of their Opportunities, of their political relevance. Not to mention the “Confederate Underground” that President Eisenhower spoke of or had to speak of in 1958: domestic terrorists who deal with the Supreme Court-Decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) did not want to resign (Lepore 2019, p. 109). What some saw as the dawn of a modern age and a “more perfect union”, others understood as a fundamental threat to their America and the 1960s as the “age of chaos” (Shapiro 2020, p. 154). The “loud” liberal revolution was followed by a less public, “quiet” conservative counter-revolution (Bierling 2020, p. 34).

The Southern Strategy

The candidacy of Barry Goldwater as the Republican presidential candidate in 1964 probably ended every - purely theoretical - thought of the Republican South to support the civil rights movement itself in order to support the conservatives Dixiecrats to shake in their supremacy. "[Goldwater's] disastrous presidential campaign succeeded in only one region of the country: the old Confederacy, which realized that the language of small government conservatism could be weaponized against the federal government's efforts to right America's racial wrong" (Klein 2020, p. 30 ).

Interestingly enough, a crushing defeat gave rise to a strategic model that exploited the conservative potential of the South on an even broader basis and was to deliver the White House to Nixon just four years later. These Southern Strategy was essentially - roughly - based on three points. Firstly, the coupling of traditional topics such as education, religion, economy and especially security to the Race Relations (Brinkbäumer & Lamby 2020, p. 29) - and thus to the resentment and status fears of the white middle and working class (Adorf 2019, p. 31). As a result, in addition to the south, corresponding voter segments from the north were to be reached. Second, Washington’s various reform projects should and could be presented and fought against as compulsory federal regulations - which had basically been common practice in the South for years. Thirdly, a more tactical than strategic point, it seemed opportune not to address race issues directly, although racist views were undoubtedly still anchored in large parts of the US population and had the potential to make elections. Because in the mid-1960s something like a "Norm of Racial Equality" had become established. “Even in the south, politicians were often forced to refrain, at least in public, from using the old racist terms of the past. Instead of preaching white superiority, the motto was now Separate but equal“(Adorf 2019, pp. 38-39; Herv. I. O.).

The latter, by the way - what would be called a form of political correctness today - Goldwater had already tried. However, his campaign had extremely little success overall, and so it was a lesson of his 64 campaign to refine the rhetoric so that it "at least superficially allowed its users to remain above any doubt or accusation of racism" ( Adorf 2019, p. 42). Nixon received support in his campaign - involuntarily but effectively - from the Democratic Party, President Johnson and the progressive-liberal movements. From Johnson, because in those years he was boiling up the Vietnam War rather than coming one step closer to a peaceful solution; by the Democrats, because they subsequently fell out hopelessly over war policy and actually challenged the president in the primaries (most prominently among them Robert F. Kennedy, who was murdered in Los Angeles in June 1968); and of the reform and protest movements, because they put society in turmoil not only selectively, but with some permanence.

What Nixon later - after the template - referred to as the "Silent Majority" were all those Americans who were able to observe in the media what they understood not as progress, but as a moral disaster, such as the unpatriotic opponents of war, cultural liberalization, new women's roles and this Woodstock Nation with their drug-using hippies. In particular, a phalanx quickly formed in opposition to the Affirmative actionPrograms that in the end only led to new dependencies and would keep welfare recipients from standing on their own two feet in the long run. And since there were riots in dozens of large cities in the face of persistent discrimination, support for the civil rights movement also waned in the northern states. Large parts of the country also showed themselves to be susceptible to the conservative resistance (some individual states) against Washington initiatives, which are often seen as interventions in your Freedom were understood.

“In the 1960s, two conflict topics merged permanently: social policy and race. Because wherever open racism became less and less tolerable, resistance to welfare often took this place; a kind of substitute resentment that could be expressed without being immediately suspected of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan - and yet always accompanied by the mental association with ethnic minorities ”(Lütjen 2016, p. 56).

All of this is a very simplified representation in some respects. But it introduces the broad lines of the conservative Backlash in mind, the backlash to the Great Society Project the Johnson government. Here new lines of conflict in American society became effective and evident - probably a nucleus (among several) of what almost half a century later turned out to be an extremely polarized country; this development is by no means straightforward and certainly not to be understood as deterministic (for example, politicians like Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich play special roles with their peculiarities and strategic considerations). But obtaining a majority through enemy image communication and the intensification and concealment of the language in the political debate, all this seemed to take on a new dimension in the presidential election campaign in 1968, a development that, in retrospect, represents a turning point in the political communication culture of the USA.

Nixon, Coding, Law and Order

Nixon won the election in 1968 as a centrist, that is, with a substantive positioning between Johnson's Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. Precisely because he was linked to Johnson and his war policy, Humphrey concentrated on social policy - but found no perspective for the really pressing Vietnam question. To Nixon's right boomed an angry George Wallace, who was already a prominent racial advocate as governor, positioned himself against Washington and the "intellectual morons" and in a historically successful joke made fun of Harvard professors who pretended to know how one would have to wage the war in Vietnam, but would be too stupid to park a bicycle properly.

Wallace, actually an (ultra) conservative Democrat, came under the banner of American Independent Party with the strategic goal of getting enough states and thus votes in the Electoral College to tip the scales to determine the presidency. There are many reasons why he failed, two of which stand out. The first would be worth a tale of its own: the election of General Curtis LeMay as his Running mate - a fatal decision, as it turned out at record breaking speed. When LeMay - nicknamed "Bombs Away LeMay" for leading a bomber division during World War II - was introduced by Wallace as his candidate for the vice presidency on October 3, the general responded with boyish determination to questions about a possible nuclear war you certainly think about it, even in Vietnam. It wouldn't end the world. Within minutes, the general bombed Wallace's polls back to the Stone Age (see O’Donnell 2017, p. 383).

The second point is a little less obvious. Wallace, whose political core is the Southern way of life who had to be defended had recognized that with the civil rights reforms something like “respectable racism” was no longer possible (Anderson 2017, p. 102). Therefore, the reforms were not attacked directly by him, but as un-American state interventions in the freedom of z. B. Homeowners and landowners. And when Wallace talked about crime, pretty much everyone knew whose criminal streak he meant; linguistically, he was able to completely detach himself from racist rhetoric (cf. Adorf 2019, p. 48). Wallace then garnished this strategy with a hearty, not only humorous portion of populism against the elites in Washington, who have no sense for America. Integration measures or "attempts (...) to create a certain degree of equal opportunities were (...) repackaged into social experiments (...) whose test subjects were the average white American" (Adorf 2019, p. 45).

In the Nixon camp in the spring and early summer of 1968 you could go to the Primary season observe how successful Wallace was in covering up the attacks on civil rights reforms.Pat Buchanan therefore worked out a similar rhetorical strategy for Nixon, with which the rejection of the reforms became clear without addressing the delicate question of Race Relations addressed directly. "In particular, social-state issues were given a racial coating - the welfare state was reinterpreted by constant republican embassies as another tool for redistributing white wealth to black hands" (Adorf 2019, p. 46). This was flanked Framing in that Nixon steered the rumbling populism of Wallace in far more sober, calmer channels and thus his way of stirring up resentment - in comparison - appeared well-mannered over time (Thomas 2016, p. 163).

What Nixon then did for the championship is now known as Coding or Dog Whistling - after the dog whistle that only the dog hears (understands). This vividly sums up what it is about: reflexes, not reflection. Nixon then succeeded in framing the Democrats as the party of Afro-Americans without ever actually saying it that way (Anderson 2017, p. 104). Education? "Freedom of Choice"! Washington would not be allowed to dictate anything to schools and universities.Affirmative action? Social programs? This also encroaches on the rights of the states - and only leads to new dependencies. Ronald Reagan was later to develop the image of the “welfare queens”. In general: Why should some just get what others had created for generations of hard work? ("Takers vs. Makers").

In particular, Nixon focused on a slogan that Goldwater had used in 1964 and Ronald Reagan on occasion in 1966: "Law and Order". A brilliant "whistle" to stay in the picture, which was and is heard by many dogs then and now. Who could be against order? Peace and quiet? An unequivocal, morally sound position: criminals should be punished. If Nixon then added the formula “restore stability”, it was clear to the last person in the room what was meant: “As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night (...). "2 The riots and riots in American cities - that's just it Not the silent majority, for whom Nixon pretended to stand forgotten Americans that he talked about on every corner.

"Sirens in the night"? Both yesterday and today, commercials, with all the creative and aesthetic framing, can also bear witness to such resentments. Nixon's “Freedom of fear” commercial denounced crime by showing the fear of white women who could no longer venture out of the house at night without running the risk of being raped. So this time it is the most important choice: "This Time Vote Like Your Whole World Depended on It."3White Womanhoodwho have favourited Vulnerable Young Woman. At this point you really have to remember that Donald Trump was not entirely unprominent when he announced his candidacy in 2015 that Mexicans were generally rapists - as rapists - denounced?

With this, with suggestive, veiled language, Nixon prevailed - extremely tightly - in an election campaign that was characterized by protests and riots in over one hundred cities and enormous resentment against liberal, elitist America (and the liberal press) and its civil rights reforms Social programs. In addition, what then shaped the target group orientation of American politics, that the election analyzes for the first time the electorate from the suburbs, the Suburbsthan made the election. Because it is in these, at that time still practically exclusively white, residential areas where Nixons are located Dog whistles were heard particularly loud. Since the 1960s, America has "sorted" itself more and more in such a way that the cities are shaped democratically and the country republican. Already in the literal sense of the word, and then politically effective, they are positioned between the camps Suburbs.

It should not go unmentioned that George Wallace with his subliminal populism at least the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia and above 46 votes in the Electoral College could decide for himself. In doing so, he did not play the decisive role as he had originally hoped. But together with Nixon he had written a blueprint, "its reproduction allowed conservative actors to create a strong bond between the traditional party of entrepreneurship and the working class, which in turn viewed the progressive-liberal elite with suspicion" (Adorf 2019, p. 45).

Trump - fear election campaign

June 1, 2020, Washington D.C. Donald Trump can be considered a badly ailing president. In the middle of the Covid 19 crisis, nationwide protests against police violence dominate the media. His poll numbers remain constant - but at a low level. Demonstrations also shaped the picture in the immediate vicinity of the White House, and when the news also made the rounds, the Secret Service I took the president to the bunker of the White House to be on the safe side, seems to have been full. Trump reached into the moth box of symbolic politics - and let the police clear the way to St. John's. The president wanted to be photographed in front of the “little church of presidents” to see his Law and OrderUnderline position. The police had enforced the necessary expansion of the protection zone in Lafayette Square with tear gas, as befits their standing.

St. John's: a backdrop that transmits something like spiritual power to the president? Possibly. What, however, was intended as a demonstration of his Law and Order-Position, disclosed without any twist: he himself thinks little of the law, unless it is of use to him. After a thorough analysis of the event, not only church representatives protested; everything indicated that the protesters' rights had been violated so that the president could express his strength and determination by miming. By holding a Bible up to the camera for two minutes. As if it were going to go up in flames, the Bible.4

The fact that the USA found itself in troubled times, not entirely dissimilar to the 1960s, is made clear by an anecdote: Under the entourage, the The Donald as accompanied to his "photo shoot", was also the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley - the most senior military officer in the country. Milley had walked across Lafayette Square, which had just been vacated, in field uniform and had received bad criticism for it. At least he apologized - and added, as if he had to mention it, that the US military was of course still on the basis of the constitution.

On July 4, 2020, Trump left All-into seek a poker phrase. He put everything on one (election) card at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota: On the national holiday, he rumbled about the “radical left, Marxists and troublemakers” who wanted to eradicate America's freedom and actually only wanted to plunder it under the “banner of justice” . He attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, which "hungry for power" was trying to wipe out the "American heritage". They will be defeated, just as the “American heroes” used to “defeat the Nazis”.5 "Even for Trump it was a radical speech, a barely disguised declaration of war on part of the population, and this in a place of national unity."6 Trumps Clash of Civilization: He continued where he started in the summer of 2015. With aggression, enemy images - despite the Corona crisis and even in the face of nationwide anti-racismProtests that grew into the largest demonstration movement in US history.

This also makes it clear what distinguishes Trump from Wallace or Nixon: he too is involved in a situation of social unrest Law and Order an obvious topic. But he doesn't care Coding or Dog whistling. He actually doesn't need it anymore, because the country is so divided that any word acrobatics would confuse his own camp rather than illuminate it. Around two thirds of Americans perceive compatriots who follow the other party or are even politically active there as a “serious threat” (cf. Lütjen 2020).

But Trump was still inspired by Nixon: Immediately before the Republican nomination convention in July 2016, he explained to a reporter from New York Times, why his campaign team took a closer look at Richard Nixon's speeches in his 1968 election campaign: “I think what Nixon understood is that when the world is falling apart, people want a strong leader whose highest priority is protecting America first. The sixties were bad, really bad. And it's really bad now. Americans feel like it's chaos again. "7

Indeed, this thought and the guideline law and order became on the Republican Convention style-forming. A substitute by the way, because in view of the situation, the originally intended slogan "Keep America Great" had been quietly buried and relied on the old motto without any shame (that also fits better with the still existing one American Carnage). And since no one wanted to discuss an election program either, the virtual assembly hall filled with speaker after speaker with “rioting”, “looting”, “vandalism” and “cities on fire”. Not just law and order: America itself would be in danger if the country were left to the “radical left” (democrats), the “antifa” (democrats), the “socialists” (democrats).8 The digital event reached a remarkable point when a couple from St. Louis was given the opportunity to share their experiences with demonstrators who passed their house a few weeks earlier - the couple's video showing their reason and allegedly at gunpoint Wanted to protect soil had gone around the world. The fact that this was the first time someone spoke at a Republican party congress who had to undergo criminal proceedings was discussed at once, but frankly, in view of the abundance of figures who have been allowed to present at the appropriate opportunity over the years, cannot really be verified .

This fear election campaign of the republican camp has a certain logic not only against the background of the social protests. Even if the actual crime figures in the country are at an all-time low, it has gradually become an American tradition, at least since Nixon (and with the exception of the decade 1985-1995), to believe in high and rising crime figures, even if not the case is.9 And in fact, fear and vague feelings of threat could also be the last strategic straw that the Trump camp is pulling.

Because the focus is now on the white women in the last phase of the campaign Suburbia. The Republicans suffered heavy losses in the 2018 congressional elections. That made people sit up and take notice - because it was they who gave Trump the decisive impetus in important swing states in 2016. Now he lies there - e.g. B. in Ohio - behind Biden.10 And correspondingly often in Trump's speeches and tweets the suburbs go up in flames or are on the verge of destruction. If everything is not wrong, a few days before the election, the message will only get hold of those who are already believers. No matter what the outcome of the election - a reassuring thought, somehow, that there are also limits to the communication with the enemy.


Adorf, Philipp (2019). The Republican Party in the USA. Munich: UVK.

Anderson, Carol (2017). White rage. The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York et al .: Bloomsbury.

Bierling, Stephan (2020). America First. Donald Trump in the White House. Munich: C. H. Beck.

Brinkbäumer, Klaus, & Lamby, Stephan (2020). In madness. The American disaster. Munich: C. H. Beck.

Hill, Seth J., & Tausanovitch, Chris (2018). Southern realignment, party sorting, and the polarization of American primary electorates, 1958-2012. Public Choice 176, Pp. 107-132.

Klein, Ezra (2020). Why We're Polarized. New York et al .: Avid Reader.

Laymann, Geoffrey C., Carsey, Thomas M., Green, John C., & Herrera, Richard (2010). Activists and Conflict Extension in American Politics. American Political Science Review 104(2), 324-346.

Lepore, Jill (2019). This America. The Case for the Nation. New York, London: Liveright.

Lütjen, Torben (2016). Party of Extremes: The Republicans. About the implosion of American conservatism. Bielefeld: transcript.

Lütjen, Torben (2020). America in the cold civil war. How a country loses its center. Darmstadt: wbg.

O'Donnell, Lawrence (2017). Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics. New York: Penguin Press.

Perlstein, Rick (2008). Nixonland. The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. New York: Scribner.

Shapiro, Ben (2020). How to destroy America in three easy steps. New York: Broadside.

Thomas, Evan (2017). Being Nixon. A man divided. New York: Random House.

Citation Notice:

Kamps, Klaus (2020): 1968 - Campaigning in troubled times or: From Nixon to Trump, Essay, Published on: regierungsforschung.de. Available online: https://regierungsforschung.de/1968-campaigning-in-unruhigen-zeiten-oder-von-nixon-zu-trump/


This work by Klaus Kamps is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

  1. For the sake of readability, the generic masculine is used in this article. However, this always means all genders. [↩]
  2. Cit. N. The Atlantic v. May 31, 2020, Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History? https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/1968-and-2020-lessons-from-americas-worst-year-so-far/612415/ [↩]
  3. Cit. N. The Atlantic v. July 9, 2016, How a Conservative Wins the Presidency in a Liberal Decade, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/fear-and-voting-in-america/490631/ [↩]
  4. See. Washington Post v. June 15, 2020, New questions about Trump's ugly Bible stunt hint at some dark truths, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/15/new-questions-about-trumps-ugly-bible-stunt- hint-some-dark-truths / [↩]
  5. See e.g. B. https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/trumps-praesidentschaft/wahlkampf-und-eigenlob-trump-holt-am-4-juli-gegen-seine-gegner-aus-16846518.html [↩]
  6. The time v. July 8, 2020, The Descent. https://www.zeit.de/2020/29/donald-trump-us-wahlkampf-black-lives-matter [↩]
  7. Cit. N. The New Yorker v. July 20, 2016, Trump, inspired by Nixon? https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-inspired-by-nixon [↩]
  8. see https://carta.info/breaking-sad-2-die-virtuellen-parteitage-der-demokrats-und-republikaner/ [↩]
  9. See e.g. B. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2018/05/03/gallup-fear/ [↩]
  10. See https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-trump-is-losing-white-suburban-women/?cid=referral_taboola_feed [↩]

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