Among nations, the United States was the first to be founded as a liberal, democracy. From its beginning, the US had to find unity amid many complex divisions, which explains why many presidential elections reflect chaotic cultural and ideological swings. Here’s a short list of influential presidential elections and a reminder of why the 2020 election will be particularly significant.
Past Game Changing Elections
1796 – After the Revolution, George Washington had been America’s overwhelmingly choice for president. In 1796, when Washington refused to serve a third term, a new leader had to be elected. Hence, the country was faced with its first major test. Could the fledgling democracy could work? In a world filled with monarchs, could the peaceful transition of power happen? Fortunately, the election of John Adams and his ascent to the presidency gave Americans faith in their democracy.
1860 – During the 1850s and 1860s, slavery was America’s number one issue. The pro-slavery southern states were aligned against the anti-slavery Republican Party. And Republican Abraham Lincoln’s run for the presidency represented an existential threat to them. His election resulted in eleven southern states breaking away from the union and the Civil War.
1932 – During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt came to power bringing a new age of economic policy. Roosevelt’s governmental intervention in the economy and his creation of the modern American social safety net, continues to underpin the country to this day. His ideas replaced Herbert Hoover’s free market economics that had dominated in the 1920s.
1964 – In the mid-1960s, America was a highly divided nation over civil rights and the Vietnam war. And in 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For Johnson, the 1964 election was the first electoral test of his civil rights and anti-poverty ideas. When he signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, President Johnson said to colleagues, “We (Democrats) have lost the South for a generation.” He was correct. He still went on to beat Barry Goldwater, but the Democrats lost the south.
1980 – On November 4th, 1980, America overwhelmingly voted for Republican Ronald Reagan over incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter. Importantly, Reagan pushed the US in a new free market direction with huge tax cuts for the wealthy. Additionally, Reagan reduced the power of unions, strengthened the war on drugs while increasing military spending.
2016 – The election of Donald Trump was the Republican Party saying they had enough to the move toward social and economic equality. It was saying it would take a chance on an outsider who promised to shake up Washington’s established order. And they got what they wanted.
2020 will be Another Game Changer
On November 3rd, 2020, America will decide whether to continue the Trump revolution. On foreign policy, the President has questioned US commitment to NATO and adopted a more pro-Russia stance. Domestically, he has threatened FDR’s welfare reforms, LBJ’s voting rights legislation and Reagan’s free market philosophy.
Biden v. Trump is America deciding whether President Trump has handled the immediate pandemic crisis properly. But on a higher level the country is deciding whether it wants to stay on this new path or return to the time before the Trump experiment to re-start the direction we were heading in at that time.