ABOVE: Some of the “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville (August 2017), white nationalists inspired by the election of president Donald J. Trump.
It does not matter if I believe Trump supporters are racists. Because Donald Trump believes that his supporters are racists. And that they are OK with a racist president, and will vote to reelect him. Trump says he’s not concerned about being racist because “many people agree” with him. This is Trump’s entire reelection strategy. Trump’s premeditated racism is central to his 2020 strategy.
More importantly, Republican office holders believe that Trump supporters are racists. “It seems that most in the GOP have learned over the years that they have nothing to gain by speaking out against Trump, and plenty to lose — like their jobs.” Why it’s unsurprising that most Republicans are staying quiet after Trump’s ‘go back’ tweet.
Silence is consent, or in Latin, qui tacet consentire videtur, “he who is silent is taken to agree.” Republican office holders’ silence is agreement, acceptance and accommodation. They are enabling and giving license to Trump to engage in his racist behavior, and thus normalizing his racist behavior among his supporters. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”― Edmund Burke.
Now, there are those who voted for Donald Trump who will protest that “I voted for him, but I am offended by his his racist comments and I do not support that.” But in fact, you implicitly did. You cannot claim that you did not know Donald Trump was a racist. He has always been a racist. Donald Trump’s long history of racism, from the 1970s to 2019. You knew exactly what you were getting when you voted for him, but you told yourself “that’s just the usual Republican dog-whistle, he’s not really going to do the things he says.” But he is, and you enabled him to do it by putting him in a position of power to abuse. You are complicit. You are not innocent.
The Party of Lincoln has now been transformed into the crypto-fascist personality cult of the Party of Trump, a white nationalist, white identity, white grievance political party trying to hold on to white privilege for the white male patriarchy in an increasingly racially diverse country, led by an obviously mentally unwell authoritarian racist demagogue. White identity politics drives Trump, and the Republican Party under him. Welcome to our national nightmare.
Donald Trump is the culmination of what began decades ago with “movement conservatism” in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, ending the state sanctioned Apartheid of “separate but equal” racial segregation in America. It has always been about race.
Historian Allan J. Lichtman traces the term “movement conservatism” to a memorandum written in February 1961 by William A. Rusher, the publisher of National Review, to William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review envisioning it as not just “the intellectual leader of the American Right,” but more grandly of “the Western Right.”
In 1957, Buckley had penned an editorial he titled “Why the South Must Prevail” — in which he declared the white race the more “advanced” race and, as such, the most fit to govern. Buckley later “evolved” on racial issues, but:
“Why the South Must Prevail” is shocking to the 21st century reader. The piece put National Review on record in favor of both legal segregation where it existed (in accordance with the “states’ rights” principle) and the right of southern whites to discriminate against southern blacks, on the basis of their “Negro backwardness.” The editorial defended the right of whites to govern exclusively, even in jurisdictions where they did not constitute a majority of the population.
In the same op-ed, Buckley concluded that as long as African Americans remained “backward” in education and in economic progress, Southern whites had a right to “impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to affect a genuine cultural equality between the races.” In defense of his position that whites, for the time being, remained the “more advanced race,” Buckley pointed to the name a major civil rights organization, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had adopted for itself as evidence that its founders considered its constituents “less advanced.” He offered no guidance as to how blacks might attain what he called “cultural equality,” save for by the sufferance of the white population.
It’s important to understand how Buckley rationalized such thinking because it’s at the root of his later transformation. National Review justified its position on the grounds that whites were “the more advanced race,” and as such were “entitled to rule.” Buckley, the author of the editorial, made no mention of the role Southern whites had played, through the social and legal systems they had put into place, in keeping Southern blacks from rising to the point where he—or their white neighbors—would consider them “advanced” and therefore eligible to participate in the region’s governance. He went so far as to condone the violence whites committed to perpetuate segregation.
The post-Brown 1950’s was also when Robert Welch founded the far-right conspiracy theory mongering John Birch Society. Robert Welch promoted the idea of impeaching Chief Justice Earl Warren, who delivered the opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, and withdrawing the U.S. from the United Nations. (Long-time residents of Arizona will remember the billboards along our highways saying “Get U.S. out of the U.N.” paid for by the John Birch Society.).
Arizona’s Barry Goldwater was widely known as a man with extreme views. He is still remembered as the man who said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” But even Goldwater thought Robert Welch went too far. The Rise and Fall of the John Birch Society: 50 Years Ago:
The zealotry of the John Birch Society alienated its potential allies. William F. Buckley, then a rising star in the new conservative movement, denounced Welch and the Society and urged the Republican Party to distance itself from the radical fringe group.
Senator Barry Goldwater welcomed the Society’s support, which proved instrumental in helping him win the Republican nomination [in 1964]. But Goldwater could not accept Welch. He wrote, “I believe the best thing Mr. Welch could do to serve the cause of anti-Communism in the United States would be to resign.”
(By the way, the conspiratorial John Birch Society Is Back in the age of Trump).
Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, Jr. was an extremist despite the hagiographic revisionist history by Arizona’s Republican-friendly news media. Senator Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and he was the first Republican to deploy the Southern Strategy in a presidential campaign, an electoral strategy to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans. Republican leaders consciously appealed to white Southerners’ racial grievances in order to gain their support. Goldwater carried the “deep South” dominated by “Dixiecrat” segregationist Democrats — South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana — and his home state of Arizona.
The perception that the Republican Party had served as the “vehicle of white supremacy in the South,” particularly during the Goldwater campaign and Richard Nixon’s “law and order” presidential campaigns of 1968 and 1972, was the foundation of the Republican “Solid South” grand strategy.
The “Solid South” grand strategy was finally realized under Ronald Reagan, who launched his 1980 general election campaign with a speech lauding “states’ rights” outside Philadelphia, Mississippi — the site of the notorious “Mississippi Burning” murder of three civil rights workers in 1964.
The “states’ rights” reference was just one of many racist dog-whistles Reagan employed throughout his political career. During his unsuccessful 1976 run for the Republican presidential nomination, Reagan decried “welfare queens” and a “strapping young buck” who bought T-bone steaks with food stamps. In his 1984 reelection campaign he even returned to Philadelphia, MS and declared that “the South shall rise again.”
Then came George H. W. Bush in 1988, who deployed Lee Atwater’s notorious Willie Horton ad campaign against Michael Dukakis to devastating effect. Lee Atwater discussed Republican racist dog-whistle in an Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Under George W. Bush, Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, told the NAACP national convention in Milwaukee that the Southern Strategy was “wrong”…. “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.” Washington Post, RNC Chief to Say It Was ‘Wrong’to Exploit Racial Conflict for Votes, July 12, 2005.
Yeah, he didn’t really mean it. The Republican Party continued its voter suppression of minority voters unabated under George W. Bush.
Barack Obama faced the racist “birtherism” conspiracy theory questioning his U.S. citizenship from conservative news media, but most notably from Donald J. Trump. Obama was frequently subjected to the most vile racist tropes and taunts from the far-right “Tea Party” as America’s first black president.
When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he traded in the Republican racist dog-whistle for a bullhorn. Trump was a modern-day George Wallace, the Southern segregationist governor who was the face of racial tension in America in the 1960s. Peggy Wallace Kennedy, Wallace’s daughter, said “Trump and my father say out loud what people are thinking but don’t have the courage to say.” He appeals to their worst instincts and fears. “They both were able to adopt the notion that fear and hate are the two greatest motivators of voters that feel alienated from government,” she said.
Frankenstein was not the monster, he was the man who gave the monster life. Decades of racist Southern Strategy politics in the Republican Party made this monster, Donald Trump, possible.
As Eugene Robinson writes at The Washington Post today, Republicans embrace Trump’s racism. Blame them as much as him.
Donald Trump’s presidency is melting down into a noxious stew of racism, failure and farce. With breathtaking cynicism, the Republican Party pretends not to notice.
Trump had to know there would be outrage and uproar over his Sunday tweets admonishing four progressive members of Congress, all of them women of color, that they should stop “telling the people of the United States . . . how our government is to be run” and instead “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Seth Meyers of Late Night nailed it: “if you’re asking them to fix the totally broken, crime-infested governments of their home countries, they’re trying.” This is the most lawless and corrupt administration in American history.
The president’s motives are obvious: He was proudly displaying his white-supremacist racial views, drawing a bright line between his aging white political base and the rest of the country, and clumsily trying to exacerbate tensions within the Democratic Party. But why choose now to lob this political cluster bomb? My guess is that he wanted to change the subject from Thursday’s humiliating surrender, when he had to abandon his quest to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census that would have guaranteed an undercount of Latinos.
“Trump is a racist” does not exactly qualify as breaking news. But the silence from prominent Republicans is staggering — and telling. It amounts to collaboration — perhaps “collusion” is a better word — with the president’s assault on diversity and pluralism. In the coming campaign, you will hear Republican candidates at every level claim to be colorblind and embrace all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity. Do not believe them. Their failure to speak out now tells us everything we need to know about their true feelings.
Actually, Eugene is wrong on this point. Republican candidates have already embraced Trump’s message framing referring to Democrats as radical socialists, communists, anti-semitic, anti-Israel and “they hate America” because they are opposed to Trump’s radical extremist crypto-fascist policies. Lindsey Graham Backs Trump’s Racist Tweets on ‘Fox & Friends’: The Squad Are ‘Communists’ Who Hate America. Expect to hear a lot more of this vile inflammatory rhetoric.
The farcical aspect of this disgraceful episode is that, while Trump hoped to further divide squabbling Democrats, he ended up bringing them closer together.
The four Democratic House members he attacked — Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) — have indeed been at odds with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the rest of the Democratic leadership on some issues. Calling themselves “the Squad,” they fought hard against Pelosi’s approach on funding border security. They display none of the meekness expected of first-term members and are unfamiliar with the concept of deference.
Any possibility that this intraparty squabbling would become serious was probably foreclosed by Trump’s attack, which caused Pelosi and others to rush to the Squad’s defense. Apparently living in some kind of bizarro parallel universe, Trump went further on Monday by insisting that the members of Congress he attacked owe him an apology.
The reaction from Republicans? Still crickets.
There’s nothing new about the Republican Party playing footsie with racists, going all the way back to the “Southern strategy” pioneered by Richard M. Nixon. But as Trump has toppled the traditional pillars of Republican philosophy — fiscal responsibility, free trade, markets undistorted by government interference, muscular foreign policy, equal opportunity for all to pursue the American Dream — the GOP is reduced to being the party of no: no on abortion, no on immigration and no on diversity. Following Trump’s lead, the party practices the politics of resentment. Republican politicians appeal to voters not by stoking optimism about what can be accomplished but by stoking fear about what will happen if “they” — the Democrats — gain power.
“They” are portrayed as perhaps living near the coasts, perhaps being intellectuals, perhaps being women, perhaps being African American or Latino or Asian American. “They” are portrayed as the kind of affluent, high-and-mighty people who look down on “ordinary” Republican voters — never mind that Ocasio-Cortez waited tables to support herself, Tlaib grew up in a struggling family in Detroit, Pressley’s father was incarcerated during much of her childhood, and Omar came to this country from a Somali refugee camp.
Trump’s brand of politics is often called “tribal,” but “racist” is a better word. The wedge he is trying to drive, with his attacks on the Squad, is essentially white vs. nonwhite. He also seeks to portray them as immigrants, telling them to “go back” to where they came from, even though Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Tlaib in Detroit and Ocasio-Cortez in New York. Omar, indeed, is an immigrant — a naturalized citizen who enjoys the same rights and responsibilities as any other American, including Trump.
Donald Trump is a first generation American on his mother’s side. Two of his three wives are foreign born — Ivana is Czech, and Melania is Slovenian — so four of his five children are first generation Americans on their mother’s side, a benefit of birthright citizenship in the 14th Amendment, something many Republicans want to repeal. And Melania Trump’s Parents Became U.S. Citizens, Using ‘Chain Migration’ Trump Hates. What’s OK for “The Donald” is not OK for anyone else.
If Republicans believed even a fraction of their rhetoric, they’d be all over Trump. They’d tell him that “telling the people of the United States . . . how our government is to be run” is the right of every American and the duty of every member of Congress. Instead, Republicans embrace Trump’s racism and xenophobia. Blame them just as much as Trump.
The only way to destroy this monster is for the villagers to turn on him. Whether enough Trump supporters in 2016 come to their senses to realize what an immense danger he poses to this country in 2020 remains to be seen.