Who will protect the majority?

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including the forthcoming “New Warfare:  Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”  In addition to teaching courses in international politics, international organization and law, and U.S. foreign policy, he has served as Chairperson of the Political Science Dept. at UM-St. Louis.

By Marty Rochester

Richard Nixon coined the term “the silent majority” in 1969, referring to what he felt was a large segment of the American people whose voices in support of traditional values were being drowned out by Vietnam-era protestors seeking change. Donald Trump has revived the phrase, contending that “the silent majority is back” and that his presidential campaign speeches are resonating with that bloc of voters.

Regardless of one’s opinion of Nixon or Trump, neither of whom rates Mount Rushmore treatment, it is worth considering whether over half the population today can claim it is being neglected by the political system.

The Founding Fathers were concerned about not only the kind of tyranny associated with King George, but also “tyranny of the majority” that could result from rule by unrestrained masses. They designed the government apparatus to reduce that possibility. 

Today, it is minorities that are doing well politically, not only the “1 percent” super-rich that the left has railed against, but the left itself and the various “marginalized” minorities it has championed that recently have achieved a number of policy victories — blacks, gays and others. 

Indeed, the left has succeeded so well in exercising political power of late, mainly through executive and judicial branch fiat in Washington, that a New York Times news analysis by Jonathan Martin suggested we have just witnessed “a Liberal Spring: the moment when deeply divisive and consuming questions of race, sexuality and broadened access to health care were settled in quick succession, and social tolerance was cemented as a cornerstone of American public life.”

One can salute the progress made toward social and economic justice for marginalized communities but still question how settled these issues are and whether, in the process of our advancing the interests of these groups, the majority population has been marginalized. 

Liberal democracy requires that we balance the rights of the majority and the rights of individuals. Who advocates for the majority today?

Keep in mind that liberals and the Democratic Party they tend to be affiliated with are a minority. Gallup poll results released at the beginning of this year reported that liberals constitute only 24 percent of the body politic, while conservatives (38 percent) and moderates (34 percent) together combine for almost three quarters of the U.S. population. A Gallup poll this summer reports that 30 percent of Americans identify as Democrats, with Republicans (26 percent) and independents (43 percent) in the aggregate far outnumbering them. 

If the GOP represents Wall Street, the Democratic Party hardly represents Main Street. Although the Democrats traditionally have been associated with “the common man,” the party has distanced itself from its populist past by trashing two of its iconic figures, renaming Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners so as to not honor a slaveowner and Indian fighter despite their identification with egalitarianism. A substantial portion of the public has seen its views largely ignored not only by well-heeled plutocrats, but also by left-leaning intellectual, media and political elites.

Some might  point to Bernie Sanders, who is competing closely with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, as the standard-bearer for the average Joe or Josephine. However, the Vermont senator has often been labeled a socialist, and thus would seem to speak for a small minority of Americans, given the country’s historical aversion to such ideological views. Donald Trump has been accused of damaging the GOP brand through his rhetoric, but a far-left wealth redistributionist like Sanders may be doing even more damage to the Democratic Party brand. 

Both are political outliers — neither is likely to be their party’s presidential nominee — but Trump may more closely represent majority frustration. What are some examples of majority marginalization?  

Whites make up 62 percent of the U.S. population, compared with 17 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, 5 percent Asian, and 1 percent Native American. “White privilege” is belied by the fact that not only are there more poor whites than poor blacks, but Asians are faring better economically than whites. Under the “disparate outcomes” doctrine articulated by President Barack Obama’s administration and echoed by the U.S. Supreme Court, whereby discrimination is established based on results (racial bean-counting) rather than any clear violation of law (intent), affirmative action programs are likely to morph increasingly into race preferences that will advantage blacks more than whites in job applications. 

The vast majority of Americans are located in the middle class. If the middle class is shrinking, they are arguably getting squeezed between the rich and the poor. Obama administration policies relating to housing, education and health care may well have negative effects on the average American, but folks living in Chappaqua, N.Y., need not worry.

Section 8 subsidized housing, which is now to be distributed between low-income and more upscale neighborhoods in a grand social engineering project, is more likely to end up in Ferguson than in Westchester County, New York. As for education, if federally mandated changes in school discipline policies add to disruption of public school classrooms, the rich will simply opt for private schools.  

Likewise, the Affordable Care Act may make health care more accessible for many people underserved in the past, which is a noble goal, but according to many analysts, the majority of Americans are projected to see higher insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays along with fewer physician options, except for the rich who can afford boutique medical practices. 

Males, although slightly fewer in number than females, are close to half the population and certainly are more numerous than the estimated 0.3 percent of Americans who are transgender and 5 percent to 10 percent who are gay. Yet they seem to be getting far less respect these days than are those fellow citizens. We hear a lot about the “war against women” but nothing about the other war being waged against the opposite sex. Sexual assault against females is inexcusable, but so also is the cavalier disregard of due process for many men accused of rape on and off college campuses. 

Even with a decline in religiosity in America, according to the Pew Research Center, “a large majority of Americans — roughly seven in 10 — continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith,” with many still supportive of traditional family values. Not only is gay marriage creating complicated issues for many people of faith, including Orthodox Jews and Muslims, but the First Amendment is increasingly being interpreted as freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion, thereby privileging the 20 percent of the country who are atheists or agnostics. 

And then there is the illegal alien issue. We are a nation of immigrants, but most have played by the rules and arrived legally. The average American wonders why it is fair, if they live in Arkansas and want to send their kid to the University of Missouri for a college education, they have to pay higher out-of-state tuition, while the Obama administration wants children of undocumented immigrants in Missouri to qualify for not only cheaper in-state tuition at Mizzou but scholarship aid as well. Trump says, keep dreaming.

Regardless of one’s race, class, gender and sexual orientation, religious affiliation or legal immigration status, in the post-Michael Brown era we all risk being harmed by the recent policies that seem to privilege criminals relative to the police. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Obama administration’s call for more restrained police conduct has coincided with spikes in violent crime rates across the country. The irony is that the poorest minority populations in inner cities are likely to be the main victims of these reforms.   

Most Americans are open to change and to supporting greater diversity, inclusion and justice. Among the voices that feel marginalized, however, is the majority. Which party will speak to and for them? It remains to be seen how all this will play out and whether the Liberal Spring might be followed by a Conservative Fall, perhaps in November 2016.  

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including the forthcoming “New Warfare:  Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”  In addition to teaching courses in international politics, international organization and law, and U.S. foreign policy, he has served as Chairperson of the Political Science Dept. at UM-St. Louis.