October 21, 2016
"You should probably pay close attention," William A. (Bill) Lewis '68, said to the students gathered before him of the current presidential election, "because you'll likely never again see anything like this in your lifetime."
Lewis, Susquehanna University's first African-American graduate, was speaking in front of the class Campaigns and Elections, led by Rolfe Peterson, assistant professor of political science. The class marked the tail-end of Lewis' week in residency, during which he shared with scores of students his experiences on campus during the height of the civil rights movement and his subsequent distinguished federal career working to improve the nation's civil rights climate.
But on this day, Lewis engaged in a lively back-and-forth with students that bounced from relations with Russia and its suspected role in the hacking of high-profile U.S. email accounts to the Supreme Court, the presidential debates, third-party candidates and the overall future of the Republican Party.
Like others, Lewis compared the current election to the Johnson-Goldwater election of 1964. Then, Republican nominee Barry Goldwater lost the presidency in a landslide to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson. Despite this, some historians believe Goldwater laid the foundation for the conservative movement that ushered in Ronald Reagan.
Foreseeing a Democratic win, Lewis predicted that there will be an in-depth autopsy conducted on the election of 2016, with recommendations on how to shore up the seemingly splintering Republican Party.
"There is going to be a meeting in Washington in the days after the election," Lewis said, that could very well lead to a split, with party loyalists going one way and Trump supporters the other.
Lewis spent nearly his entire career working for the federal government or federal agencies, almost exclusively focusing on diversity issues and civil rights, including enforcing voting rights.
Lewis said he's "had enough" of the election, and plans to vote early. He encouraged all of the students to exercise their rights at the ballot box-regardless of whom they vote for.
"It hasn't always been easy for people to vote," he said, "so I think it's really important."