The GOP bigwigs are in a snit about Donald Trump. They’re gunning for him, deploring his divisiveness. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party…they must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices.” Such a noble sentiment—and so contrary to fact.
Republicans hope for Rip Van Winkle In fact, the Republicans have been preying on people’s prejudices for decades. But they are hoping that many of us are too young to remember—and the rest will be like Rip Van Winkle, waking up from a decades-long political nap, unaware of the profound realignment in American politics that occurred over fifty years ago.
TRUE! The Republicans WERE the party of Lincoln Yes, the Republicans were once the party of Abraham Lincoln. For years after the Civil War, the Republicans were staunch allies of the newly-freed blacks. It is also true that the Democrats were once the party of the Ku Klux Klan. But with the Civil Rights movement came a profound realignment in American politics.
Lyndon Johnson: We have lost the South As blacks integrated schools, defied bus segregation laws, sat in at lunch counters, registered to vote, and marched on Washington, the South was in an uproar. When the Kennedy/Johnson Administration advanced civil rights legislation, Southerners went berzerk. As he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson famously—and prophetically—said, “We have lost the South for a generation.” Only it wasn’t just a generation. The formerly solid Democratic South has remained the solid Republican South to this day.
1964 GOP Convention: A Bitter Struggle for Control The 1964 Republican Convention was a bitter battle for the soul of the Republican Party. At the time, there were “moderate” and even “liberal” Republicans. The Convention pitted Nelson Rockefeller and his views of racial tolerance and support for poverty programs against conservative Barry Goldwater who opposed civil rights legislation and wanted to repeal most of the New Deal and the Great Society. Goldwater forces booed Rockefeller, insulted and shoved blacks and television reporters, and Goldwater delegates even put out their cigarettes on the suit of an elderly black Republican.
Feeling like a Jew in Hitler’s Germany Baseball great Jackie Robinson, invited to the Convention by the office of Nelson Rockefeller, left horrified. Robinson said,
That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man [Rockefeller]. It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people…A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.
Who can forget the startling image of Rockefeller, years later, exasperated with these racist extremists who had taken over his party, giving the finger to a crowd of hecklers?
Wedding of KKK and the Radical Right Martin Luther King commented:
The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding…of the KKK with the radical right. The “best man” at this ceremony was a senator whose voting record, philosophy, and program were anathema to all the hard-won achievements of the past decade.
Nixon’s Southern Strategy
As bad as 1964 was, it was only to get worse in the GOP. Richard Nixon cynically played white racists with his Southern strategy, as Kevin Phillips, Nixon’s senior strategist explained:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
Nixon’s War on African Americans and Hippies
Nixon launched the “War on Drugs,” but according to Nixon’s Assistant for Domestic Affairs, John Erlichman, drugs weren’t the real target. In an interview for a story in Harper’s Magazine, Erlichman confessed:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
Reagan Vows to Restore “States’ Rights” Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan picked an ideal place to come out in favor of restoring “states’ rights,” the banner of the Confederacy. Reagan spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, near Philadelphia, Mississippi. That’s the town where three civil rights workers disappeared in 1964 and later were found murdered. Reagan promised to “restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them.”
Incarceration Soars Under Reagan Reagan pursued Nixon’s “War on Drugs” zealously. During his presidency, rates of incarceration skyrocketed, mostly due to the drug war. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.
The Gipper Enraged Whites With Stories of a “Welfare Queen” Reagan loved to tell stories of a “welfare queen” who ripped off the government for $157,000 per year. According to Reagan, she applied for welfare in 14 states, using 127 different names. Her loot included food stamps, Social Security, and Veterans’ benefits for non-existent husbands. It seems this woman actually did exist, and she was a big-time con artist who committed lots of other crimes Reagan chose not to mention. The intent, of course, was to create an inaccurate and detestable image in the mind of working-class whites: lazy blacks taking their hard-earned money.
Bush Scares America With Willie Horton In 1988, George H.W. Bush faced Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in the race to succeed Ronald Reagan. Bush ran the infamous Willie Horton ads to stir up fear of crime among white voters. Horton, an African American serving a life sentence for murder, had been released on a weekend furlough program started, not by Dukakis, but by his predecessor. Horton failed to return from furlough and committed a number of crimes, including armed robbery and rape. Besides lurid TV ads, Bush harped on Horton in numerous campaign speeches. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater, said: “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’s running mate.” The GOP succeeded in associating “crime” with blacks and Dukakis painted as soft on crime.
Bush at Bob Jones University
A few years later, George W. Bush was battling a tough challenge from Senator John McCain for the GOP nomination. Bush’s back was to the wall as he went into the South Carolina primary and his campaign decided to go negative. He made a campaign stop at Christian-fundamentalist Bob Jones University, which still banned interracial dating. According to Richard Gooding, writing in Vanity Fair, veteran political reporter Curtis Wilkie said, “He (Bush) might as well have gone to a goddamned Klan rally” as go to B.J.U.
John McCain’s “Love Child”
Bush also played dirty tricks on McCain. The Bush campaign conducted a fake poll in which voters were asked, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” Actually, McCain had adopted a dark-skinned girl from Bangladesh. Bush also sent out an email from Richard Hand, a professor of the Bible at Bob Jones University, alleging that “McCain chose to sire children without marriage.”
Removing People of Color From the Voter Lists
Later, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, scrubbed the voter lists, removing nearly 100,000 people they wrongly claimed were convicted felons and thus unable to vote. Most of them were people of color. In the 2004 election, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell also contributed to Bush’s victory by making working voting machines scarce in African-American neighborhoods. The Democrats didn’t protest much. (See separate article in Democrats’ apparent duplicity in GOP vote suppression).
Bush fans the flames of fear of terrorists. Bush’s entire Presidency was based on keeping Americans fearful of terrorists—and not the white-skinned Christian terrorists like Timothy McVeigh who had bombed a federal building in Oklahoma. Bush and his appointees never missed an opportunity to warn us of the danger.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, in a March 25, 2007 opinion piece in the Washington Post, “ Terrorized by ‘War on Terror’ pointed out that government at every level and the mass media created a climate of paranoia.
The “war on terror” has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration’s elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America’s psyche and on U.S. standing in the world…. Hence the proliferation of programs with bearded “terrorists” as the central villains. Their general effect is to reinforce the sense of the unknown but lurking danger that is said to increasingly threaten the lives of all Americans…The damage these three words have done — a classic self-inflicted wound — is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare — political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants. But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors.
Obama hatred and obstructionism With the election of Barack Obama, the Republicans went crazy. They have refused to cooperate with him in any way, despite Obama’s many attempts to collaborate. They have denied that he is a legitimate American citizen, referred to him by his middle name “Hussein” to link him with Saddam Hussein, screamed that he was a “liar” during a State of the Union Address, and accused him of fanning the flames of racism every time he mades a thoughtful statement about race.
It has been a long and very ugly fifty years. The GOP’s attempts to deny their linkage with racism are downright ludicrous to anyone with a knowledge of history.