I couldn’t think of anything pressing to write today, but I am in the habit of writing daily and it’s something I want to continue. So, I decided to write about a memory and see where it takes me. In this case, the memory was January of 1993. My father was one of the first teachers in Pasadena to take his students to a program called “Close Up”. So, when I became a senior in high school I wanted to go.
Close Up is a program where high school students go to Washington D.C. for a week to meet with different members of the government. Maxine Waters spoke to our nationwide group and our high school contingent got to meet Sandra Day O’Connor. Of course, the crown jewel of the whole week was the inauguration of Bill Clinton. Like any normal teenager, some of us decided to skip it. We had special spots about three miles away and the prospect of standing for over an hour and listening to a speech didn’t seem fun. So, we went wandering around the mall.
Suddenly, we came to a busy street. On one side came a group of Pro-Life protesters. On the other side came a group of Pro-Choice protesters. We ducked inside the National Art Museum instead. I’ve been to Washington five times and that’s the only time I’ve been in that museum. It was well worth the visit. It also kept us from getting involved in a potentially dangerous situation.
Every time I think of that story I think of the term “silent majority.” It seems that term has been appropriated by conservatives, but really the result is neutral until they actually vote. After all, who can possibly know exactly what they are thinking. They are silent after all. On that particular day, the entire group (maybe four or five of us) were the silent majority. We didn’t want any part of a two-headed protest. I’m reasonably certain all of us would come to different conclusions on that particular issue. None of us talked about it and nobody really wanted to ask.
We know only two things about the silent majority. They are silent and they represent the majority of Americans. A majority of Americans do not protest racial injustice. A majority of Americans do not protest mandatory mask rules. A majority of Americans don’t protest at all. They go to work. They return home. They spend time with their friends and family. They generally don’t care about politics.
So, what motivates the silent majority? Well, a lot of people that get paid a lot more than we do are paid to know just that. They practice an art we call “issue framing.” The general idea of issue framing is that both parties have two competing stories of America. Whichever party is the most successful at telling their story usually wins. Those stories have been cultivated for generations. In the end, the issue that ends up being considered the most important dictates the winner.
One party is framing itself as the party that will protect the economy, protect you from dangerous rioters, and protect our religious values. The other party will protect you from the virus, protect the rights of marginalized Americans, and now protect the rule of law. It is that last one that is the biggest bone of contention. The parties often compete for the same issue. Sometimes it’s the economy. Sometimes it’s foreign policy. This time around it’s the rule of law.
What exactly does that mean? What exactly does that look like? One side is attempting to get you to be afraid of others. The other side is trying to get you to be morally outraged. Everyone wants to pretend they know the silent majortity. We can’t know until election day. When we see two groups with diametrically opposing views about the collide, most people don’t want to be a part of it They will pick a side though before the election. What’s at stake this time around isn’t a tax plan, it’s not a budget debate, and it isn’t what policy we should have when dealing with our foes. It’s about who we want to be. Do we want to be free and what exactly does that look like? We don’t know the answers. The silent majority is silent because they don’t want to talk about this. We will find out the answers in November.