Women in Suburbia Don’t Seem Too Worried About Its Destruction


michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

archived recording

[SOUNDS OF PROTESTS]

michael barbaro

As protests and unrest over racial justice and policing continue to erupt across the U.S. —

archived recording (mark mccloskey)

These radicals are not content with marching in the streets. These are the people who will be in charge of your future and the future of your children.

michael barbaro

— speaker after speaker at the Republican National Convention this week —

archived recording (patricia mccloskey)

When we don’t have basic safety and security in our communities, we’ll never be free to build a brighter future for ourselves, for our children or for our country.

michael barbaro

— have put them at the center of their appeal to a key group of voters.

archived recording (patricia mccloskey)

They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities. They want to abolish the suburbs altogether.

michael barbaro

Today: My colleague Emily Badger on the power of the suburban vote.

archived recording (sean purnell)

If you’re a traditional democrat who’s become disillusioned with how radical your party has become, then stand with us. You are most welcome.

michael barbaro

And the Republican Party’s pitch to win it back. It’s Wednesday, August 26. Emily, you have been thinking a lot about the upcoming election and how suburban America fits into it. Why are we hearing so much about that demographic right now at the Republican National Convention? Because it feels like such a specific and explicit form of outreach.

emily badger

So suburban voters have really been the focal point of presidential elections going all the way back to the 1960s. We have seen this pattern over time where it’s increasingly clear that voters in cities are going to vote Democratic, rural voters are going to vote Republican. All of the suspense, the whole ballgame, is in the suburbs. And so, you know, these are the voters that we have been fighting over for a very long time, and so it’s not surprising that coming down to the last couple months of this election that these are the voters that we’re talking about.

michael barbaro

Right. So when we think about purple America, swing America, we’re really talking about the suburbs.

emily badger

That’s right.

michael barbaro

Well, where does that story of politics and the suburbs start?

emily badger

Well, I have been thinking a lot this year about 1968 in particular.

[music]

1968 was this really pivotal year for a lot of reasons in American politics. We think about what was happening in the country at that moment.

archived recording

Good evening. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, 39 years old and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the leader of the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement in the United States, was assassinated in Memphis tonight.

emily badger

Martin Luther King gets assassinated in the first week of April.

archived recording 1

[POLICE RADIO CHATTER]

archived recording 2

Police report that the murder has touched off sporadic acts of violence in a negro section of the city.

emily badger

There is a wave of civil unrest that happens not just in one or two cities, but in more than 100 cities across the country.

archived recording 1

Police report having made more than 600 arrests, with over half these still in custody. Three deaths have been reported so far.

archived recording 2

Some of the worst trouble of the day occurred in Washington D.C., the very heart of the nation.

archived recording 3

In some negro ghettos, there was looting, arson and bloodshed during the night.

archived recording 4

4,000 National Guard and federal troops are in this uneasy town tonight.

archived recording (richard j. daley)

We shoot to kill any arsonist, or anyone with a molotov cocktail in their hand in Chicago.

archived recording

[POLICE RADIO CHATTER]

archived recording (richard j. daley)

And to issue a police order to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting.

speaker

Well, I’m saddened and angered by what has happened. We’ve marked the death of a man of peace, a man of goodwill with colossal violence, destruction and death. I would insist that law and order must prevail, and I am of course angered by the needless, silly, stupid destruction that I’ve seen in both Washington and Baltimore. I never believed this could happen in our nation’s capital, or in my city.

emily badger

Out of this moment, there really emerges, you know, this very strong backlash, particularly among a white middle class suburban voters, against all of this unrest and against the sense that there’s crime and there’s violence, and we’re fed up with it. We just want order.

michael barbaro

And as a reminder, what do the suburbs in America look like at this point in the 1960s? Because my sense is that the concept of a suburb, right, these kind of planned communities on the edges of cities — tidy yards, white picket fences — that that’s kind of new in this moment.

emily badger

Yeah. So we see this huge explosion of suburbia after World War II.

archived recording

At last, the Bryants have all the space they need.

emily badger

And the people who were able to move to suburbia in that moment are not sort of representative of the entire American population. It’s very specific groups of people who get to go.

archived recording

The home they’ve always dreamed of, the happiest investment they have ever made.

emily badger

So it’s primarily white residents who get to go.

archived recording

The separate dining room is another feature that delights Margaret Bryant in her new home, for it permits her to enjoy her guests while entertaining graciously.

emily badger

It’s primarily middle class and upper income white residents who get to go.

archived recording

The patio, easily reached through a sliding glass doors, provides an outdoor living room ideal for separate activities.

emily badger

So in this moment in the 1960s, when we talk about the suburbs, they are racially exclusionary by design. It is intentional that African-Americans cannot move out there at that point.

archived recording

This is how American families are living in their new homes.

emily badger

And so the Civil Rights Movement begins to threaten that sense of exclusion, because now we’re talking about busing. Now we’re talking about fair housing. We’re talking about whether or not it’s fair for homeowners to be able to say, I don’t want to have Black neighbors, for realtors to say, I don’t want to work with Black homebuyers.

And at the same moment, we also see the rise of a number of politicians, who are themselves sort of suburban politicians, who figure out how to give voice to that anxiety. How to take this growing group of the electorate who live in the suburbs and turn them into a voting block where you are speaking directly to their concerns about their own suburban security.

michael barbaro

And of course, 1968 is a presidential election year. So how do we see all of that play out?

archived recording

[MENACING MUSIC]

emily badger

So —

archived recording (richard nixon)

In recent years, crime in this country has grown nine times as fast as population.

emily badger

We see Richard Nixon increasingly make law and order a centerpiece of his stump speeches.

archived recording (richard nixon)

We owe it to the decent and law abiding citizens of America to take the offensive against the criminal forces that threaten their peace and their security.

emily badger

And he is talking more and more about crime —

archived recording (richard nixon)

I pledge to you, the wave of crime is not going to be the wave of the future in America.

emily badger

— spending more money on the police.

archived recording (richard nixon)

Dissent is a necessary ingredient of change, but in new system of government that provides for peaceful change, there is no cause that justifies resort to violence.

emily badger

Sort of speaking to these issues about, you know, how you should be able to protect what you have earned as a kind of hardworking American who’s bought your way into the suburbs.

archived recording (richard nixon)

Let us recognize that the first civil right of every American is to be freed from domestic violence.

emily badger

You should be able to protect that without fear that all of this chaos that’s happening in cities is going to come to your doorstep.

archived recording (richard nixon)

So I pledge to you, we shall have order in the United States.

archived recording

[CROWDS CHANTING]

emily badger

And then we get to the Republican National Convention in 1968 in Miami.

archived recording (richard nixon)

All right. Thank you very much.

emily badger

Which is actually taking place at a moment when there is unrest happening in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami.

archived recording (richard nixon)

We make history tonight, not for ourselves, but for the ages.

emily badger

And Richard Nixon gives this speech where he talks about —

archived recording (richard nixon)

As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night.

emily badger

— cities enveloped in smoke and flame.

archived recording (richard nixon)

We see Americans hating each other, fighting each other, killing each other at home.

emily badger

And he devotes a long passage to talking about law and order.

archived recording (richard nixon)

The American Revolution was and is dedicated to progress, but our founders recognized that the first requisite of progress is order.

emily badger

And one of the things that’s most striking to me about that speech is he even says —

archived recording (richard nixon)

And to those who say that law and order is the code word for racism, there and here is a reply.

emily badger

— this emphasis on law and order is not racist.

archived recording (richard nixon)

Our goal is justice — justice for every American. If we are to have respect for law in America, we must have laws that deserve respect. Just as we cannot have progress without order, we cannot have order without progress. And so as we commit to order tonight, let us commit to progress.

michael barbaro

Right. He’s giving white suburbanites permission to be upset — to be fearful.

emily badger

He’s giving them not only permission, but he’s giving them a language to talk about their grievances that doesn’t sound like the language of racism. It sounds instead like the language of property values and quality schools and security and prosperity.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm.

archived recording (richard nixon)

For the past five years, we have been deluged by government programs for the unemployed, programs for the cities, programs for the poor, and we have reaped from these programs an ugly harvest of frustration, violence and failure across the land.

emily badger

And he also sort of says that he is speaking to —

archived recording (richard nixon)

It is a quiet voice in the tumult of the shouting. It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans, the non-shouters, the non-demonstrators.

emily badger

— the forgotten and the silent Americans who are not demonstrating. Those people who are sort of silently watching everything that’s happening in America from their quiet neighborhoods in the suburbs. Those are the people who he wants to speak to.

archived recording (richard nixon)

They’re not racist or sick. They’re not guilty of the crime that plagues the land. They are Black and they are white.

michael barbaro

Right. And this is where we get that phrase that Nixon uses in 1968, and you’ve begun to hint at it: the silent majority.

emily badger

Right.

archived recording

[APPLAUSE]

michael barbaro

And Emily, what is our understanding of the role that this strategy ultimately played in that election?

emily badger

1968 is this year when suburban voters deliver the presidency to Richard Nixon, and suburban voters and their preferences become central to American politics. And they have largely been central to presidential elections ever since then.

michael barbaro

So how do we see that play out in the years that follow?

emily badger

So after 1968, as it becomes clear that suburban voters are the swing voters, the pivotal voters in American elections, their concerns come to dominate not just what the Republican Party is doing, but also what the Democratic party is doing. And so these are themes that we hear from Ronald Reagan.

archived recording (ronald reagan)

Crime is an American epidemic. It takes the lives of 25,000 Americans. It touches nearly one-third of American households.

emily badger

They’re also themes that we hear from Bill Clinton.

archived recording (bill clinton)

Let us roll up our sleeves to roll back this awful tide of violence and reduce crime in our country. We have the tools now. Let us get about the business of using them.

emily badger

And this carries us all the way through to 2016, when Donald Trump comes on the scene.

archived recording (donald trump)

We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot.

michael barbaro

Right. And Emily, I feel like when most people think about the 2016 campaign, they probably think about Trump’s language and his message around immigration. But it wasn’t just limited to that. I covered the 2016 Republican National Convention, and I remember that Trump —

archived recording (donald trump)

I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets.

michael barbaro

— explicitly modeled his message that year on Richard Nixon’s message from 1968, and that he was not bashful about it.

archived recording (donald trump)

When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country.

michael barbaro

I actually wrote a story about this. And around that time, Trump said — and I’m going to quote from him — “I think what Nixon understood is that when the world is falling apart, people want a strong leader whose highest priority is protecting America first. The ‘60s were bad — really bad — and it’s really bad now. Americans feel like it’s chaos again.”

emily badger

Yeah. I mean, he picked up these themes in 2016 in such a forceful way that almost felt kind of discordant with what was going on around us in America at the time.

archived recording (donald trump)

You look at Baltimore. You look at the violence that’s taking place in the inner cities — Chicago. You take a look at Washington, D.C. We have a increase in murder.

emily badger

So he was speaking a lot about these tremendous crime spikes. There were some cities where crime was increasing at the time, but we were still in one of the lowest crime eras that we’ve had in decades in America.

michael barbaro

Right.

archived recording (donald trump)

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. [APPLAUSE]

emily badger

But it remains true at the same time that, even as crime has fallen precipitously in America, fears about crime and law and order have always remained really strong for many people. And we consistently see in polling across time that Americans believe that crime is increasing even when it’s declining — that they believe that it is worse than it really is. So it is possible for Trump to tap into those fears, I think, even in a moment where it looks like crime is at a historic low.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm. And Emily, what do we know about how this message in 2016 landed in the suburbs?

emily badger

So the 2016 election is, again, most closely fought in the suburbs. Trump gets wiped out in big cities and in the densest places in America. Hillary Clinton fares even worse in rural America than Barack Obama did. And then, in these in-between places in the suburbs, it is incredibly closely contested to the point where whether or not Trump won the suburbs is heavily dependent on exactly how you define them. And so this launches us into the Trump administration itself, when white, college-educated suburban women in these highly educated suburban districts wind up being pivotal to the backlash against Trump. They wind up giving Democrats control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms.

michael barbaro

So that would seem to set up the suburban white woman voter as an essential — maybe the essential — demographic for the 2020 presidential race.

emily badger

It’s clear in 2018 that, as Trump has lost a lot of support, particularly among white women, among white suburban women, that if he is going to gain ground in the 2020 election, he is going to need to win some of those women back. So we see that coming. We know that that’s going to be an issue in 2020. But I think what we don’t see coming —

archived recording

[CROWD CHANTING]

archived recording (police officer)

You need to disperse. Gas will be deployed if you do not disperse.

emily badger

— is that we’re going to be back in this moment a couple months before the 2020 election, where we are again talking about racial unrest in the United States.

michael barbaro

Just like in 1968.

emily badger

I think if you’re Donald Trump, you look at this moment and that’s what you think.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

archived recording (ronna mcdaniel)

Good evening. I’m Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, and on behalf of everyone in our party and President Trump, thank you for tuning in as we kick off this historic convention.

michael barbaro

So you know, Emily, I was watching the Republican National Convention on the opening night, and having heard you now explain the messaging from the R.N.C. in 1968, it’s sort of astonishing just how much the messaging from the R.N.C. in 2020 hits the same notes.

emily badger

There are these exact same themes and even identical language about —

archived recording (donald trump jr.)

It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work and school versus rioting, looting and vandalism.

emily badger

— cities on fire, looting, vandalism. We don’t have law and order. We need to restore law and order. And it’s coming from —

archived recording (donald trump jr.)

Law and order is on the ballot.

emily badger

— speaker —

archived recording (vernon jones)

They call it defunding, and it’s a danger to our cities, our neighborhoods and our children.

emily badger

— after speaker —

archived recording (jim jordan)

Look at what’s happening in American cities, cities all run by Democrats — crime, violence and mob rule.

emily badger

— after speaker. It’s really a theme that they return to throughout the night, and it’s embedded in this idea that this is what will happen in a Democratic administration. We’re seeing all of this chaos in cities that are run by Democratic mayors that have long been strongholds of Democratic politicians.

archived recording (kimberly guilfoyles)

Just take a look at California. It is a place of immense wealth, immeasurable innovation, an immaculate environment. And the Democrats turned it into a land of discarded heroin needles in parks, riots in streets, and blackouts in homes.

emily badger

And if we give Democrats control of the entire country, this is what you can expect in your community where you live too.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm. And it felt like the sort of ultimate example of this was this couple from St. Louis who were given a prime speaking spot on the first night of the Republican Convention. This is the couple who, back in June, drew a lot of attention when images surfaced of them standing in the front of their mansion pointing guns at protesters as those protesters walked in front of the couple’s house on their way to a protest in front of the local mayor’s house.

emily badger

Yeah. So this was a segment and a pair of speakers who I don’t think we could have expected to see in any prior Republican National Convention. We have this couple —

mark mccloskey

Good evening, America.

emily badger

— Mark and Patricia McCloskey.

archived recording (mark mccloskey)

We are Mark and Patty McCloskey. We’re speaking with you tonight from St. Louis, Missouri, where just weeks ago you may have seen us defending our home as a mob of protesters descended on our neighborhood.

emily badger

And they live on a gated, very upscale street in St. Louis that’s technically inside the city, but has very much sort of the trappings of suburbia. And they’re speaking to us from what looks like a couch in their living room or their sitting room, and they’re both wearing blazers.

archived recording (mark mccloskey)

Not a single person in the out-of-control mob you saw at our house was charged with a crime. But you know who was? We were. They have actually charged us with felonies for daring to defend our home.

emily badger

And one of the things that was most striking to me about their segment was that, in contrast to a lot of the other politicians who spoke with really sort of forceful rhetoric, they had this calming presence.

archived recording (patricia mccloskey)

What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country. And that’s what we want to speak to you about tonight.

archived recording (mark mccloskey)

That’s exactly right.

emily badger

Even as they were saying, you need to worry about mobs coming for you in your quiet neighborhood around the country. And it is Patricia McCloskey who specifically tells us —

archived recording (patricia mccloskey)

They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities.

emily badger

Not only do Democrats want to spread chaos into the suburbs —

archived recording (patricia mccloskey)

They want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning. This forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness and low quality apartments into now thriving suburban neighborhoods.

emily badger

— the want to make it such that you can’t have sort of your nice, quiet suburban neighborhood full of single-family houses.

archived recording (mark mccloskey)

The Democrats have brought us nothing but destruction.

archived recording (patricia mccloskey)

When we don’t have basic safety and security in our communities, we’ll never be free to build a brighter future for ourselves, for our children or for our country. That’s what’s at stake in this election, and that’s why we must re-elect Donald Trump.

michael barbaro

So here again, as in 1968, we have a focus on housing regulations as a way of talking about this.

emily badger

Yeah. When she says that the Democrats want to abolish the suburbs, she is alluding to a piece of the 1968 Fair Housing Act — again, we’re coming back to 1968 — that the Obama administration had adopted a rule trying to encourage communities all over the country, not just the suburbs, to embrace integration. And earlier this summer, the Trump administration rolled back that rule, and Trump announced that the suburban housewives of America should be thrilled that I have done this, and your very quality of life you will not have control over if the federal government will come in and remake your neighborhood.

michael barbaro

Hmm. The other parallel that felt most overt to me, Emily, was this recurring message that all this talk, as in 1968, is not racist. But in this case it wasn’t the Republican nominee. It wasn’t Donald Trump saying this. It was Republicans of color. It was, for example, Kim Klacik —

archived recording (kim klacik)

My name is Kim Klacik, and I’m running for Congress in Maryland’s 7th district.

michael barbaro

— a Black woman running for Congress in Baltimore. And she’s running on a message that Democrats have let Baltimore down.

archived recording (kim klacik)

Sadly the same cycle of decay exists in many of America’s Democrat-run cities. And yet the Democrats still assume that Black people will vote for them no matter how much they let us down and take us for granted. We’re sick of it. We’re not going to take it anymore.

michael barbaro

And we also heard a similar message from Tim Scott —

archived recording (tim scott)

We live in a world that only wants you to believe in the bad news — racially, economically and culturally polarizing news. The truth is, our nation’s arc always bends back towards fairness.

michael barbaro

— a Black senator from South Carolina, and from Nikki Haley —

archived recording (nikki haley)

In much of the Democratic party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country. This is personal for me.

michael barbaro

— who is of Indian descent, and who was Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

emily badger

Yeah. We also heard something similar from Herschel Walker, who is the former football player who has had this very long-running, almost four-decade long relationship with Donald Trump, who is also African-American, and effectively said —

archived recording (herschel walker)

It hurt my soul to hear the terrible names that people called Donald. The worst one is racist. I take that as a personal insult that people would think I’ve had a 37-year friendship with a racist. People who think that don’t know what they’re talking about.

emily badger

You know, I am offended by the idea that anyone would think that I have been friends with a racist for the last 37.

archived recording (herschel walker)

Just because someone loves and respect the flag, our national anthem and our country, doesn’t mean they don’t care about social justice. I care about all of those things, so does Donald Trump.

michael barbaro

So Emily, from Trump’s point of view, this strategy would seem to have a very solid track record. So is there any reason to think that it would not work now in 2020?

emily badger

One big reason is that the suburbs themselves have changed dramatically since the 1960s. The women who live in the suburbs today are much more racially diverse. They’re more economically diverse. When we talk about suburban voters in suburbia today, it is much less clear exactly who we’re talking about, because it’s no longer just middle class and upper income white voters who are living in these communities. There’s poverty in these communities. There are immigrant communities who live in the suburbs. And so this is not the voting bloc that Richard Nixon was speaking to in 1968 or the voting block that it seems like Donald Trump has in mind.

But the other reason why I think we should be really skeptical is that we see in polling data that voters in the suburbs today, majorities of them are supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. They’re supportive of these protests. They’re even participating in these protests. And so they’re really sort of not necessarily receptive to the issues that Trump is trying to elevate, but he’s also trying to get them to focus on a set of issues which are not their primary concern right now. I mean, between the pandemic and the collapse of the economy and millions of Americans losing their health care as a result of that, you know, those are the three issues that really sit at the top of suburban voters’ and female voters’ concerns when we ask them what they’re concerned about right now.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm. But it does seem like there might be an X factor here that Donald Trump has been priming suburban voters for. And an example of that would be what’s going on right now in Wisconsin —

archived recording

[CROWD CHANTING]

michael barbaro

— where there are protests against the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, and those protests have turned into fires and looting.

archived recording (police officer)

You need to disperse. Gas will be deployed if you do not disperse.

michael barbaro

On top of the situation that we have had in cities like Portland. And could it be that the polling that you’re referring to is not quite up to date, and that there may be voters who hear the president talking at this convention and think to themselves, I do support Black Lives Matter, but I don’t support this. I don’t support what I’m seeing on my television screen in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin.

emily badger

I think the biggest unknown over the next two months, which could play to the president’s advantage, is that there will be more Kenoshas. And I think we don’t know at this point how more scenes like that might change or erode public opinion about these issues in the months to come. but I think that in order for this strategy to work for Trump, suburban women need to not only become concerned about these scenes, but they have to believe that their own neighborhoods are threatened in this moment.

And the question is, will suburban voters really see it that way in 2020, or has simply too much changed since 1968?

michael barbaro

Well, Emily, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

emily badger

Yeah. Thanks for the conversation.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

[music]

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording (melania trump)

I want to acknowledge the fact that, since March, our lives have changed drastically. The invisible enemy, Covid-19, swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us.

michael barbaro

On the second night of the Republican National Convention, First Lady Melania Trump confronted a topic that has been largely missing from the proceedings so far — the painful impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

archived recording (melania trump)

My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know, you’re not alone.

michael barbaro

The First Lady focused much of her speech on appealing to women and mothers by seeking to portray her husband as their protector.

archived recording (melania trump)

To mothers and parents everywhere, you are warriors. In my husband, you have a president who will not stop fighting for you and your families. I see how hard he works each day and night. And despite the unprecedented attacks from the media and opposition, he will not give up. In fact, if you tell him it cannot be done, he just works harder.

michael barbaro

And on Tuesday, in a sign of the pandemic’s ongoing economic toll, American Airlines said it would furlough 19,000 workers when its federal financial aid, which totaled nearly $6 billion, comes to an end this fall. By October, the airline will have reduced its workforce by 30 percent. American’s rivals, Delta and United, say that they too may need to cut jobs this fall. The announcements are likely to increase pressure on Congress to pass new economic relief, something that lawmakers have been unable to do for weeks.

[music]

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.



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