Trump/ Wallace country

To understand why Donald Trump has ignited the passions of so many Mahoning Valley residents, take a look at the “Years Ago” photograph on the adjoining page. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The year was 1968, and the nation’s leading segregationist, George C. Wallace, had brought his presidential campaign to Youngstown. He was greeted by thousands of supporters – many of them carrying signs that left no doubt about their core beliefs.

That photograph is just one of many in a large folder in The Vindicator’s morgue (file room) that memorializes Wallace’s campaign visit on Oct. 23.

The crowd – one count placed the number at close to 10,000 – gathered outside Stambaugh Auditorium to hear Wallace speak from the steps of the nationally renowned neoclassical edifice. A huge banner that read “Welcome George” served as a backdrop.

The signs carried by his supporters went beyond merely urging Wallace’s election. Here’s a sampling: “Love Thy White Neighbor”; “U.S. Domestic/Foreign Policy: Run ‘Em Down – Blow ‘Em Up”; “Down with Dissent”; “Youngstown Loves Wallace.”

But there also were signs that reflected the anger of residents at the former governor of Alabama, whose Southern populism made him a hero in Dixie during the civil-rights era.

In his 1963 inaugural address as governor, he famously declared, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Indelible mark

The image of Wallace standing at the entrance of the University of Alabama to stop black students from enrolling has left an indelible mark in the history of this nation.

Mahoning Valley residents who opposed Wallace’s campaign for president made known their opinions with poignant signs:

“Hitler”; “End Racism Stop Wallace”; “Hitler is alive”; “Don’t Let George Do It”; “In Alabama, Segregation First, Education Last.”

In 1968, Wallace ran as the nominee of the American Independent Party and to this day remains the last third-party candidate to receive pledged Electoral College votes from any states. He also had sought the Democratic Party nomination in 1964, 1972, and 1976 – and was rejected.

But it isn’t just the thousands of area residents who turned out to see and hear him – and the rabid support he received from some of his followers – that trigger comparisons to Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee who has taken the GOP and millions of voters by storm.

The Vindicator provided extensive coverage of Wallace’s visit, with a front-page story on Oct. 23 that included this bulletin:

“Midway in Gov. George Wallace’s speech here today, someone threw a stone and it hit the lectern. Wallace told the crowd, ‘That’s all right, that’s all right, I can cope with anything those anarchists do.’”

In the newspaper’s coverage the next day, the main story focused on Wallace’s speech that reiterated his strong support for blue-collar workers and labor unions. And while being badgered by hecklers, the candidate talked about the need for law and order in the country.

Wallace also took aim at the press, noting that newspapers were criticizing him for telling people what they want to hear.

“What is wrong with saying what the people want to hear?” he asked.

The Vindicator also made note of Wallace’s attack on the “ivory tower people” and his belief that they were outnumbered in the country and that “the people” would have the power after the general election.

The parallels between Wallace’s campaign platform and that of Donald Trump become even more evident on the issue of foreign policy.

Here’s how The Vindicator reported the former Alabama governor’s position:

“Answering criticism that he knows nothing of foreign policy, Wallace cited the immense sums spent in foreign aid and the loss of American friendship resulting.

“He suggested that foreign aid should be discontinued with countries dealing with the North Vietnamese and supplying them with war materials.

“Wallace said countries of Europe that received our aid should be called upon to aid in money, material and manpower in the Vietnam conflict and if they refused, aid to them should have been discontinued and debts they owed the United States collected.”

The similarities between Wallace’s campaign and the one being conducted by Trump, the billionaire businessman from New York City who is making his first bid for elected office, can also be seen in their dealings with hecklers.

Here’s what The Vindicator had to say about Wallace’s reaction:

“Interrupted in his speaking, Wallace took several oral potshots at hecklers, saying once, ‘Go to a barber shop, you can’t think straight with such a heavy load on your head.’”

From one issue to the next, the speech delivered by the former governor of Alabama in Youngstown to the huge crowd and the speeches given by Trump during his visits to the Valley are mirror images.

A search of the internet for Trump’s positions on labor agreements, law and order, foreign aid, education and race relations show very little daylight between what he’s advocating and what Wallace preached 48 years ago.

There is even the laughable claim by both of support in the black community.

Here’s how The Vindicator reported on the issue:

“Wallace cited support of Negro voters in Alabama communities and declared all races are against the breakdown of law and order.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trump’s appeal in the Mahoning Valley is political history repeating itself.