US Presidential Elections in Historical Context, with Ambassador Robert ‘Skipp’ Orr

Posted By on Jul 6, 2020 in Events | 0 comments

We tend to define ‘democracy’ relative to non-democratic countries, such as China. However, democratic systems vary widely even within developed countries. The UK has an all-powerful legislature (parliament); France allowed General De Gaulle to opt for the powerful presidential model; Japan is a rough copy of the UK system; while Germany and Italy avoid the centralization of power for historical reasons.

Within a country, huge changes are often made to ‘democratic’ systems, drastically changing the benefit calculus for many groups. Some people accused De Gaulle’s new 1958 constitution of being tantamount to a ‘coup’. In the US, legislation and rules changes also have had an enormous impact, as our speaker Ambassador Robert ‘Skipp’ Orr will show.

Skipp has taught a course on this topic and even advised President Barack Obama when he was a simple senator from Illinois. Just as he did with the former president, he will look at four key elections in US history which show wild swings in the system, and relate them to potential outcomes in November.

For example, the American ‘South’ used to be solidly Democratic. However, after Lyndon Johnson introduced the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s, the South was lost to the Democratic cause for generations – racist whites were appalled and deserted to the Republicans.

The swing is all the more interesting because in 1956, Democrat Adlai Stevenson, competing against Dwight Eisenhower, actually won many southern states, on a very ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ agenda. The contrast between the two elections of 1956 and 1964 illuminates the importance of race in the US, to an extent which is unfamiliar in European countries.

One might have thought that newly emancipated Southern Blacks would have flocked to the Democrats and compensated for ‘white flight’. But here biases of the US election system come in, such as the need to be registered to vote (in many countries, citizens do not need to be registered, they can simply go to the polling booth directly), which is one of many ways in which some analysts say the Black vote is ‘suppressed’. Even now, the postal ballot is opposed by President Trump, despite Covid 19, because he feels it could sway the election against him by raising turnout. Blacks also suffer disproportionately from the ban on voting for those who are in jail, or have been jailed in the past. Finally, the fact that voting falls on a Tuesday is another example of a seemingly innocuous rule leading, however, to low US turnout by European standards.

Most controversially, there is the role of the Electoral College. Florida is less glamorous than California or the oil state of Texas – but behind those two giant economies, it has the highest number of electoral college votes. Hillary Clinton famously won the popular (urban) vote in 2016 but came up short in the Electoral College. Her opponent was able to snatch the more rural states with more electoral college votes, but fewer voters…

“We are all Americans Now” – Any business leader who wants to learn more about how the world’s only Hyperpower chooses the most powerful person in the world should attend this event.

When: 3pm, July 3 Friday

Who: Ambassador Robert “Skipp” Orr

Where: On Zoom. An invite will be sent at 2.45pm to allow pre-event networking.

Cost: non-members 5,000 yen; members 2,000 yen.


Robert “Skipp” Orr is a recipient of Japan’s oldest post-Tokugawa decoration, The Order of the Rising Sun, and was appointed by President Obama to serve as executive director of the Manila-based Asian Development Bank in 2010 with the rank of Ambassador. He is the former President of Boeing Japan (2002-2007). He has also been active in academia, both at Temple University Japan and as Professor of History at Florida Atlantic University. His Phd is from the University of Tokyo. He holds numerous posts with charitable and intergovernmental foundations.