Friday, May 6, 2016

The Party of Trump

The most important thing to realize now is that the rise of Trump should not have been unexpected, and the ugliness he has unmasked is nothing new.

Since before I was born the Republican party has been fanning the flames of racism, white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, and all manner of bigotries, in hopes of getting enough white men to vote for them.  This started with a strong drive to capture the racist white vote in the Deep South following LBJ's unexpected decision to push the Civil Rights Act through and thus ending the former dominance of the Democratic Party among racists and beginning the shift of the Democratic party to its current position as the less racist of the parties.

Lee Atwater called the plan to win Republican dominance via revanchist rednecks the Southern Strategy, and the name has stuck despite it never really applying just to the South.

With the rise of hate radio the strategy continued, and the Republican Party became ever more dependent on ever more bombastic and vile propaganda.

For forty-eight years now the Republican Party has been advancing by telling mostly poor, white, men that their problems are caused by black people, Latinx people, immigrants, women, gay people, environmentalists, intellectuals, professors, college educated people, foreigners, Muslims, atheists.  The Other.  Anyone, basically, who wasn't a white American conservative.

Neshoba County Mississippi is famous only for one thing: the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964, and the well organized efforts of local law enforcement and local political figures to prevent their murder from being discovered.  Local Mississippi officials proclaimed that the civil rights workers had never been to Neshoba County, that their disappearance was a fraud, a hoax conjured up by the civil rights movement to try and make the racist Mississippi government look bad.  But President Johnson put the FBI onto the case rather than letting local law enforcement cover up the murders, and they found the bodies and proved that Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman not only had been murdered, but that they had been murdered by the Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price and two Klansmen.  Moreover, that this took place with the knowledge of the Sheriff, and that the local government both knew it and had worked hard to cover up the murder.

The local courts treated the three murderers as heroes and none spent more than six years in prison.

On August 3, 1980, a bare sixteen years after the murders, Ronald Wilson Reagan traveled to tiny Neshoba County to deliver the first speech he would make after winning the Republican Party nomination, and there he declared:

I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to be given to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

 The meaning was clear if never directly stated. The state and local communities Reagan praised and promised to restore to power free of any interference from federal authorities were the ones that had murdered three civil rights workers and worked diligently to cover up that murder.

In newsletters, faxed documents, private conversation, and AM radio the message was never even masked as transparently as it was in Reagan's speech.  Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and bigotry of all sorts was the order of the day.  The message was always that the Republican Party was the only thing that could save white America from the onslaught of the slavering hordes of the Other who were responsible for everything bad that ever happened.

It has never ended, and in many ways the drumbeat of hate has grown stronger over the years. Tiny isolated AM radio stations evolved into the nationwide networks that first channeled Rush Limbaugh's words to anyone who cared to listen and now carry the words of the even more hateful crew who have replaced him.  Newsletters and faxed documents gave way first to email and now to social media.  With each iteration the calls for violence, the calls to eliminate the despised Other, have grown stronger.

What has also grown stronger is the resentment by the bigots against the Republican elites.

Lee Atwater, when describing the Southern Strategy in 1981 said:
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 forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

But to the seething pool of hate that the Republican elites were stirring that restraint chaffed.  They didn't want to hear about tax rates and busing, they wanted to hear "nigger, nigger, nigger".  

The Party elites supported FOX and hate radio, they grew prosperous and content on the votes that grew from the ground they had fertilized with hate, and they fed ever more hate and ever more calls for violence to the masses in order to retain their support.  They did it deliberately and with malice aforethought.  And then, in public, they claimed that there was no hate, they used dogwhistles to try and pretend that the hate was merely a liberal myth used to smear their noble and principled politics.

They couldn't keep the balancing act up forever.  When you feed your voting base on a steady diet of hate for the Other, but continuously refuse to actually enact open policies to harm the Other, the base grows restless.  Eventually even the naked racism of the War on Drugs isn't enough to keep them quiet.

Donald Trump is saying nothing new.

Go back and read that again.  Understand this.  There is absolutely nothing new or novel in what Donald Trump is saying.  What he says is what the Republican Party has been saying for almost half a century.  The drumbeat of hate is old and powerful.

The difference, the only difference, is that Trump says it without the dogwhistles.  Where Reagan had to go and stand on the graves of civil rights workers murdered by local authorities and swear that he intended to let it happen again (all the while pretending that he wasn't advocating for racism and violence) Trump omits the bullshit.

The Republican Party is the party of Trump, Republicanism is Trumpism, there is no difference except in style and how openly the hate is expressed.

That sound you hear is the shrieking of Republicans who desperately want to think of themselves as good people, as people who don't support Trumpism, as people who want to pretend that they are shocked, shocked I tell you, to find hate festering in the Republican Party.

And it may be possible to be a good person and want lower taxes, or fewer regulations on business, or whatever other reason an otherwise good person may have for being Republican.  But it isn't possible to be a good person and seek to gain those things by the hate and violence the Republican party depends on.

Now, at long last, there is no more room for denial.  If nothing else the success of Donald Trump proves that the liberal critics of the Republican party were right all along, and I really wish we'd been wrong.  But facts are stubborn things, as Reagan once tried to say. The fact is that the hate, the violence, we liberals had long said was simmering just below the surface of Republicanism is real and is no longer content to stay under the surface.

Once the term "political correctness" was used by conservatives angry at liberals, but today it comes from conservatives angry at the Party elites who want them to keep the hate quiet.  They are tired of the pretense, tired of the strain of trying to pretend not to be violent bigots.

There is only one choice for Republicans who wish to be good people: leave the party.

Because it isn't just Trump.  Every single Republican up for election, without a single exception, is willing to use the hate that Trump embodies to achieve their ends.  Whether they agree with that hate themselves is irrelevant, anyone who would use the votes bought by the hate the Republicans so depend on is equally guilty.

And so is anyone who votes for such a person.

You can be a Republican, or you can be a good person.  You can no longer pretend that it is possible to be both.

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