Despite major advancements in civil rights in the United States since the 1960s, racial inequality continues to persist in American society. While it may appear that presidents do not address the topic of race, it lurks in the background of presidential political speech across a range of issues, including welfare, crime, and American identity. Using a thorough approach that places textual analysis in a historical context, One America? asks what presidents say about race, how often they say it, and to whom they say it. Nathan Angelo demonstrates how presidents attempt to use rhetoric to compose a message that will resonate with the many groups that comprise the modern party system, but ultimately those alliances cause presidents to direct most of their speeches about race to an archetypical white, Middle-American swing voter, thereby restricting the issues and solutions that they discuss. While the American demographic profile is changing, rhetoric that links American identity with racially coded concepts and appeals to white voters’ racial resentments has become ubiquitous. Angelo warns us about the possible repercussions of such tactics, noting that while they may allow presidents to craft winning coalitions their use continues to legitimate a system that ignores racial inequality.
Nathan Angelo is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Worcester State University.