A lone white woman walks down an empty city block in the middle of the night clutching her purse. It’s pitch black, and the only sounds that can be heard are the clacking of her sensible heels, the sound of implied danger, and a man’s voice. He delivers terrifying crime statistics and a call to action. This woman, her body, and her livelihood are under threat.
“Crimes of violence in the United States have almost doubled in recent years,” Nixon says. “Today, a violent crime is committed every 60 seconds. A robbery every two-and-a-half minutes. A mugging every six minutes. A murder every 43 minutes … And it will get worse unless we take the offensive. Freedom from fear is a basic right of every American. We must restore it.”
The commercial fades to black. A slogan appears on the screen: “This Time Vote Like Your Whole World Depended on It.”
Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign bears a striking resemblance to the 2016 presidential race: Both have highlighted primal American fears. In his campaign commercial from that year, Nixon invoked the deeply racialized historical symbol of white womanhood; a symbol inextricably linked to the lynching of African Americans, whose killings were often justified by the belief that the white female body was in danger, preyed upon by the brutish black male. “White women,” according to Dr. Lisa Lindquist-Dorr, associate professor at the University of Alabama, “embodied virtue and morality; they signified whiteness and white superiority.” Nixon’s use of the vulnerable white woman, fearful of an ominous, yet ever present “other,” blew a dog whistle, one signaling that America, its values, and its power structure were under threat by a violent, liberal agenda.