"Irish Americans became quite comfortable flapping their right wings." Less than a decade after John F Kennedy's election they voted for Richard Nixon... so what will follow Donald Trump?
This year marks 50 years since the eventful year of 1968. Every week it seems as if yet another scary, momentous or otherwise extraordinary moment from that year is recalled.
Late July, for example, will mark five decades since a notorious gun battle between police officers and black nationalists in Glenville, Ohio, which left seven people killed and was followed by rioting.
Then, August marks the 50th anniversary of the notorious Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Just this month, of course, Bobby Kennedy was on many people’s minds. His June 1968 assassination was one of the darkest moments of a very dark year. All the more so because Kennedy was killed during a run for the presidency that filled many people with a new kind of hope, a hope that some people believe has never made its way back to politics.
However, even on the campaign trail with RFK, it was clear there was a new kind of anger brewing. MSNBC pundit Chris Mathews, in his recent RFK bio A Raging Spirit, recalls a moment when Kennedy was campaigning in Manhattan when an angry construction worker yelled, “Don’t forget about the Irish and the Italians.”
This is a very interesting time to recall that moment, because there is much talk these days about a major political shift taking place in America.
Despite the election of a polarizing conservative figure like Donald Trump, many people believe that in the long run, America’s changing demographics will make the country a generally liberal, Democratic nation for a long, long time.
In the short run, many have been talking about a looming “blue wave” in which Democrats benefit from intense anti-Trump feeling in the U.S., and take over the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate.
In the long run, meanwhile, many believe America’s growing Hispanic population, and other immigrant groups and their children, will make it impossible for Republicans who dabble in bigotry to thrive, or even survive.
Maybe. But maybe not. Because a look at Irish immigrants, their children and grandchildren, tells a revealing story.
Author Lawrence Wright recently wrote a book called God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State. Texas, of course, is synonymous with a certain kind of conservatism these days, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in the Lone Star State by over 700,000 votes.
And yet, Wright contends Texas -- and America -- are about to turn away from Trump-style conservatism.
True, “right-wing zealots (took) over the legislature,” but “the state’s demographics shift leftward,” notes an excerpt of Wright’s book in The New Yorker.
Wright quotes journalist Evan Smith, of the Texas Tribune, who noted that Texas Republicans have “slashed government services,” but also “allocated $800 million for border security.”
Smith then says, “White people are scared of change, believing that what they have is being taken away from them by people they consider unworthy. But all they’re doing is poking a bear with a stick. In 2004, the Anglo population in Texas became a minority. The last majority-Anglo high-school class in Texas graduated in 2014. There will never be another. The reality is, it’s all over for the Anglos.”
Wright continues, “Texas leads the nation in Latino population growth. Latinos account for more than half the 2.7 million new Texans since 2010. Every Democrat in Texas believes that, if Latinos voted at the same rate in Texas as they do in California, the state would already be blue.”
But this all rests on the assumption the 21st century immigrants and their children will remain loyal Democrats. The same was assumed about the Irish, for whom the Democratic Party was literally a means of survival in a hostile nation.
And yet, many Irish Americans became quite comfortable flapping their right wings. Less than a decade after America’s first Irish Catholic president was elected, many Irish Americans went for Richard Nixon in -- you guessed it -- 1968.