Reliving The Game: The Midterm Elections of 1970 and 2018

Soenke Pietsch (‘21)

In a span of 48 years, change is inevitable. Opinions, beliefs, differences, choices and preferences fluctuate with the tides of human intuition, as the environment around unequivocally never remains the same. In the 48 year stretch between 1970 and 2018, the United States has seen major turmoil, spanning the spectrum of change from as far as nutritional habits to environmental consciousness to openly speaking about sexual harassment.

Politically speaking, during this time period, this nation has witnessed revolutions of change ranging from the first African American president to nominating the first female presidential candidate on behalf of a major political party.  Yet in certain situations, these logical, common ideas of change seem to not apply. As is the case of the midterm elections of 1970 and the more recent vote in November of 2018. In the following, the striking similarities of these two elections will be outlined, while raising the ineluctable question as to whether history repeats itself.

2018 was undoubtedly a year of change. The economy of the United States grew in a fashion, not seen in years, while providing millions of new jobs for Americans. A series of tweets and immense courage of strong individuals kick started a campaign that opened the book on the horrifying stories of sexual harassment and saw the public grit with disgust at some of society’s most known icons. Starting in January, Americans observed one of the harshest crackdowns on immigration, exposing newcomers of this country to inhuman practices, initiated to discourage migration to a nation, built on the principles of immigration. 2018 also saw a series of tax cuts, aimed at spurring economic growth while providing the top bracket of payers with unimaginably generous savings. Yet throughout all this change, Americans seem to be as divided as ever; the difference in approval of measures enacted by the current government acts a basis to some of the most severe and hefty arguments this nation has ever seen. Although the positives of Americans actually caring about their government can not be understated, the divide of this nation was clearly evident in the election of 2018, in which many expressed their newfound interest in politics.

Similar to 2018, the 1970’s saw waves of change crashing down on American culture and sensitivity. In a shocking and striking move to the general public, the iconic and famous band “The Beatles” announced they would be disbanding and no longer continue making their cherished music together. Americans experienced new found freedoms through the introduction of the jumbo jet to the airline market, making it cheaper and easier for all to explore the world. Yet, this year also marked the start of one of America’s most controversial and influential decisions: to invade Cambodia and subsequently mark its entry into the Vietnam War. This decisive decision split the American population in two: supporters and opposers of the American involvement in the war.  In a similar fashion to 2018, Americans took their opinions to the polls of the 1970 midterm election.

The results of these highly controversial and critical midterms in 1970 and 2018, in part due to their similar natures, played out strikingly similarly. 1970 marked the last midterm election cycle, in which a sitting President’s party made net gains in one chamber of Congress but net losses in another chamber. Politics in America never experienced this scenario again until 2018. In both cases, Richard Nixon’s and current President Donald Trump’s Republican party was able to make net gains on exactly the same number of seats in the United States senate, while losing a large portion of their seats in the House of Representatives to the incumbent Democratic Party. In both cases, the election was held during the first term of the current leader’s presidency, making it the first nationwide reflection each got from the public. Additionally, the two election cycles provided the basis for some of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation’s history, proving the shocking link between the two elections. The elections also saw similar changes of gubernatorial elections, allowing the Democratic party to pick up more seats than the Republican party twice. The unmistakable similarity between the two election cycles only naturally raises the question as to what extent change is possible in our society. Sydney Harris states it best, believing  “history repeats itself, but in such a cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done”. The only question left now: what is the damage this repeat will cause?

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