In an anticipated move on Saturday morning, the Associated Press declared Joe Biden the victor of an exhausting presidential election. But even as the final votes are tallied, the path to Biden’s inauguration in January remains unclear. This is thanks, in large part, to President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to concede the race.
Even at the dawn of Trump’s inevitable legal battles, the biggest story of this race remains the downfall of a group known as the “silent majority.” A familiar phenomenon within American politics, the silent majority is perhaps best defined as the demographic of white, family-oriented and often religious folks of the middle American states. They are called silent because they rarely engage in politics, and many of them fear being ridiculed for holding traditional beliefs.
But when the silents do engage in politics, they vote bright red in large numbers. We saw this in 2016, as the Trump-Pence ticket won white evangelicals by the greatest margin since George W. Bush in 2000. And with his silent mandate, Trump has transformed once-cautious country dwellers into activists for his movement. For lack of a better term, the president made conservatism cool again.
As such, Trump’s 2020 support came from a more ethnically diverse coalition than any Republican nominee in recent memory. Compared to his 2016 numbers, the president won 4% more of the Black vote; he also surged with Latinos in important states like Florida (where he won 45% of the Latino vote) and Texas (41%).
Unfortunately for Trump, the gains within Black and Latino communities were wiped out by a shift in his silent majority toward Biden. The former vice president captured 40% of white men nationally, up from the 31% that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Biden also expanded upon Clinton’s lead among working-class voters, winning 57% of this demographic. To state it bluntly, Trump’s rhetoric took the “silent” out of silent majority, and the traditional silent majority was not the majority in this election.
But where exactly do the “traditional” silents come from? Their roots can be traced back to the presidential election of 1968. A year much like 2020, 1968 saw America facing an existential crisis (the Vietnam War) and racial unrest following the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. When a certain Richard Nixon stood up and promised to restore “law and order,” middle America rose up to elect him in a landslide.
In the midst of his scandals that ironically violated the concept of law and order, Nixon fought to the bitter end. Half a century later, we are witnessing another “law and order” president conduct himself in the same manner. As of Friday evening, the Trump campaign had filed—and lost—lawsuits alleging various forms of interference in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. The act of taking the fate of this election to the courts is certainly law, but it does not create order.
Though no election is perfect and some degree of fraud probably exists in every single one, it is highly unlikely that any legal action can and will undermine the voices of the silents. Just as Trump expected, silent voices spoke loudly in 2020, but the silent majority, by its traditional or even Trumpian notion, is no more. All it did last week was rise up and give the silent generation its first occupant of the Oval Office.