In November of 1969, Nixon asked “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans” for their support in remaining steadfast in Vietnam. In Nixon’s formulation, a radical minority—those advocating for civil rights, hippies, student activists, and anyone against the war in Vietnam—was trying to undermine the nation from within. For America to succeed at home and abroad, the “silent majority”—the good part of America—had to stand up (i.e. support Nixon and his policies) and defeat the bad part. It worked—at least temporarily: Nixon’s approval ratings shot up nearly thirty points after the speech.
For months now, Trump has handed out placards reading “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.” While Trump doesn’t have Nixon’s, uh, light touch when it comes to dividing the country—he explicitly does so in terms of both race and religion—it’s no surprised that he’s taken up the term, given that it’s always more or less meant “white people.”
Now, in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterlin, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers, Trump is using another Nixon-esque term again and again: The euphemistic “law and order.” It first appeared in a statement released by his campaign on Friday and, at a speech on Monday, he leaned into it to rapturous applause.
Nixon famously used the term “law and order” as a dog whistle, as Fusion’s Katie McDonough pointed out last week, in his speech accepting the Republican nomination in 1968. “When the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness,” Nixon said. “When a nation that has been known for a century for equality of opportunity is torn by unprecedented racial violence.... then it’s time for new leadership for the United States of America.” Nixon never came out and said what “law and order” meant even though it was obvious, but coming as it does after a year of racism and the fetishization of state power, it’s never been easier to read between the lines.