Donald Trump became president-elect on November 9th, 2016, exciting some Americans and dismaying others. The questions many have been asking since the election is “How could this happen?” The answer is that the silent majority spoke.
Richard Nixon popularized the term “silent majority” during his presidency, marked by dissention over the Vietnam War and social movements. In the middle of this turmoil, Nixon claimed that a majority of Americans supported his policies and that those who did not agree with him were only a noisy minority.
President Nixon was known for being a man of secrecy and in his campaign he promised he had a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam. However, Nixon later decided that a quick American withdrawal “would result in a collapse of confidence in American leadership.” When Nixon didn’t fulfill his promise to quickly get the U.S. out of Vietnam, his opponents were angry and protests and riots began to arise across the country.
Nixon defended a new policy called “Vietnamization” to continue the war while slowly reducing American commitment. He also criticized anti-war protesters, who said were a small “vocal minority” and were not representative of the American population. If the nation were to listen to these few radical voices and suddenly withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam, Nixon said it would bring defeat and destroy all chances at world peace. Instead, Nixon called for the “great silent majority” to support him and not allow U.S. policy to be dictated by “demonstrators in the street.” Afterward, polls showed that in fact the “silent majority” did side with Nixon. Thousands of telegrams and letters were sent to the White House to show support for Nixon and the war. The silent majority had spoken.
And they spoke again in November 2016. At campaign stops, Trump said: “The silent majority is back, and we’re going to take our country back.” Still, most media outlets predicted a comfortable victory for Hillary Clinton. They overlooked what would be a key constituency for Trump—the coalition of mostly blue-collar, white, working-class voters who in the words of New York Times reporters “felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism.” Another motivation for some Trump voters was opposition to political correctness and “pc culture.” George Davey, a Trump supporter, told a reporter: “The reason why we’re silent is because we’re not allowed to talk.” This is one of the reasons why Trump’s support base was bigger than it appeared. Although people were afraid to admit they were voting for him, they demonstrated their support by showing up on Election Day, making for a large “silent majority.”