Nobody…Except The American People Themselves

“Decisions are made by those who show up.” You have to appreciate that the (supposed) author of that sentence was the only man in the history of the world to ever authorise the use of nuclear weapons (and let’s not go into the business of judging history). But, if anything, the impact of Truman’s decision is the perfect reasoning behind the need to vote.

America has always had a rather tumultuous relationship with showing up on election day.  In the beginning, voting was a right the likes of which couldn’t be ignored (for those who were allowed to vote, anyway). The US didn’t start tracking voter turnout until 1828, and the trend was increased voter turn out up until the 1920s. That’s when America’s love affair for voting took a turn.

The 1932 presidential election saw the lowest voter turn in a century…and the 1932 presidential election wasn’t exactly an election you wanted to miss. There was this guy, the governor of New York, a true northeastern democrat, running against the incumbent, a fiscal conservative whom many blamed for the 20% unemployment, bread lines, and worst economic climate the US had seen since the 1880s (and, let’s be honest, he really was). So, realistically, the voter turnout should have been massive…the democrats argued that staying home, or voting for Hoover, was voting to extend the depression. The turnout should have rivalled the myth of the near 100% turnout of eligible voters in the first ever presidential election in 1788.

But people were tired of politics, they were hungry, their kids were hungry, most of the midwest had been devastated by drought and dust and severe storms, they wanted jobs, and prosperity, and the 1920s back. And so, people just didn’t show up. They were apathetic. They couldn’t see how some guy in a big white house in Washington, DC, so far removed from the reality of every day living, could do anything for them. Roosevelt campaigned on social reforms, parts of what would become the New Deal, but no one believed he could do it. Not really. The ones who showed up? They voted for a ideal, a dream. Anything was better than Hoover, right? In the end, only 52% of those eligible voted. Roosevelt won in a landslide, and he’d remain President until he died, in office, 4 months after his 3rd inauguration, his post being taken over by his VP (the only man in the history of the world to authorise the use of nuclear weapons).

Turnout during the entirety of Roosevelt’s presidency was, by the standards of the time, rather weak. For America, however, the years of 70-90% turnout was over. What the founders considered the most personal thing you could give to your country, your vote…the thing so many Americans were denied in the past…and the America of today can’t seem to show up. Fast forward to 2016…a blank slate. No incumbent, two candidate as different from each other as Roosevelt and Hoover, at stake was civil rights and social programs and the fate of US foreign policy…and people didn’t show up. Mobile voter sign up, mail in ballots, early voting, internet registration…and it was still the lowest turnout in 20 years.

So why didn’t people show up? It wasn’t that they didn’t know they were supposed to. It was impossible, in the 18 months of campaigning, to not have an opinion. Maybe they didn’t like their choices. That’s a valid argument, but when the most personal thing you can give your country is your vote, is not voting really an option? Shouldn’t you make a choice? In the end, not voting was the choice many made. Valid or not, it was a choice. And in the end, the outcome was a shock to a great many, the hopes they’d had shattered by those who did show up. But, can voter turnout really be blamed for a Trump presidency? Or was there something else, something missed, some piece ignored that created the upset? Or was it, like everything else, the consequence of history?

NEXT TIME: Why Trump Won

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  1. Trackback: If Men Were Angels | Luxated History

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