By Josh Cook
The phrase ‘silent majority’ has been frequently used in political messaging throughout history, both in and out of the United States. Richard Nixon brought the saying to a new level of popularity in America during his 1969 campaign for the presidency, using it to attract voters who were on the fence voting wise but wanted peace with Vietnam. Donald Trump similarly used the phrase to attract nation-wide voters on issues like immigration and political correctness. At The Washington Center, both Sean Spicer and Michael Steele used this phrase as well, but in a different context – within Congress and parties. The phrase seems to be getting thrown around now, being used in different contexts and on both sides of the aisle, which I believe is a result of increased partisanship and takeovers of both the Democratic and Republican parties by their ‘vocal minorities’ – the furthest left or right leaning candidates pushing more moderate ones out of seats and off of party tickets.
A recent Watchdog op-ed article, written by William Haupt III, includes this quote from Alan Moore, a popular English graphic novel writer: “Silence is a fragile thing. One loud noise, and it’s gone.” As I continued to read the piece, and subsequently others, the quote continued to be relevant. Richard Nixon’s speech asking for the silent majority’s support was a loud noise, as was Donald Trump’s hectic run to office – though I’d argue that was more of a consistent string of loud noises. With each of them, silence was long gone. In the case of Trump, silence was replaced with the revival of ideological standpoints long-thought to have been discredited in the urban public eye. I think this has led to the increased political hardening of the Democratic party and the presence of self-proclaimed ‘Democratic Socialists’ on their tickets, like Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Both sides seem to think they are the majority, which makes sense given both close voting spreads in 2016 and the low, but growing, voting participation rate in the U.S. The silent majority will be a phrase continually thrown around over the next few years, especially with both major parties in such flux trying to re-align (or prevent re-alignment). I think it is important to watch how, and when, the phrase is used and what audience it’s being conveyed to.
As much as party leadership will continue to try and ‘rein in’ their loudest and least-centrist voices, I do believe both parties will go through a wild amount of change over the next 10 years, ultimately leading political stalemate worse than the current government shutdown. However, Michael Steele, former RNC chairmen, said at the Washington Center that he believes there is a silent majority within Congress that wants to work across the aisle and compromise to increase legislative action. The tricky part in that scenario is a never-ending cycle of looming elections; and with that the desire to get re-elected. If partisanship among voters continues on the trend we’re seeing now, it will become increasingly difficult for legislators who work across the aisle to get re-elected when their public voting history on bills is reviewed during election time. Democratic constituents will struggle to vote for a Democrats who worked with Republicans and “gave in” to their interests, just as Republican constituents will struggle to vote for Republicans who worked with Democrats and compromise on their interests.
Perhaps we could devise some type of legislative act which limited the amount of terms Representatives and Senators could hold office for and reduce the incentive to politically double-down in order to maintain political authority. I don’t know though, just an idea – and an idea a lot of people seem to be in favor of if they aren’t running for re-election.