How will bitter 2016 presidential campaign stack up in American history?

Just days before the 2016 presidential election, Harvard historian James Kloppenberg will compare the campaign to similar turbulent moments in American history in a speech and discussion at Case Western Reserve University.

Free and open to the public, the event is Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom C. Registration is recommended.

“While this race has been ugly and contentious, it’s certainly not the first of its kind,” said Kloppenberg, the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. “What we haven’t heard in American history is a major party nominee claim the entire election is rigged if he loses.”

James Kloppenberg
James Kloppenberg, Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University
credit: Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Another key difference about modern politics is the prevalence of fringe viewpoints spurred by the monetization of extreme rhetoric, said Kloppenberg.

“We have an industry of insult—people whose financial position depends on stoking fires,” he said. “It’s not just partisanship; in mass media, it’s easier than ever for hatred to enter the echo chamber.”

Kloppenberg’s speech—“What Ails Democracy?”—is the 2016 Ubbelohde Lecture, presented by the Case Western Reserve Department of History, along with the CWRU History Associates, the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities and the Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program.

“No matter the outcome, there are grounds for worry,” Kloppenberg said. “If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wins, she’s been targeted with vitriol for 30 years, and that’s unlikely to change.

“Our situation will probably require an entirely new generation of leaders. Democracy does better when its fueled by informed debate from all sides,” he added.

Kloppenberg’s most recent book, Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought, was published this year by Oxford University Press.