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“Ignorance, Racism And Rage”: The GOP’s Transformation To The Party Of Stupid Started Long Before Donald Trump

The top leadership of the Republican Party expresses horror at the popularity of Donald Trump as though his positions and values are somehow alien from their own. This is disingenuous. As other commentators have observed, the presidential candidacy of the bigoted, misogynist, ignorant Trump is a creature of the party’s own making.

This Frankentrump was not fashioned in a mere eight years, however. The Obama administration suffered only from an acceleration of Republican partisanship, not a change in its character. Instead, the transformation of the Republican base from the conscience-driven party of Lincoln to the anger-driven party of Trump has been a half-century in the making.

No political party neatly reflects political philosophy, of course. Parties always aim to mobilize diverse — and therefore conflicting — constituencies in order to win. But the original Republican Party, formed in 1854 after the Democrat-sponsored Kansas-Nebraska Act overturned decades of federal policy against the spread of slavery, came close to embodying the political philosophy behind it. And the founding Republican philosophy was liberal.

Not liberal in the sense the term came to be used in the twentieth century, to signify commitment to the type of federal welfare policies enacted in the New Deal of the Democrats. Not liberal as either epithet or fixed policy commitment. And certainly not liberal as in morally loose.

To be liberal in the nineteenth century meant to be devoted to freedom of thought above all. Above tradition, the American liberals who helped found the Republican Party valued the freedom to choose what is right and the freedom to develop socially, intellectually, and morally toward the highest possible potential. This is why liberals favored public schools for all children, which started in Massachusetts in the 1830s and only got established in the South thanks to Reconstruction.

The liberal principle of “moral agency,” as they called this divine right and duty to choose, also lay behind Republican opposition to slavery. Slaves cannot choose if they are coerced by their so-called masters, and if slaves have no moral choices they cannot develop. The liberal moral ethic centered on independent, open-ended thinking, constructive dialogue across differences, and a belief in the divine potential of every human being. Even slaves.

“Liberty of conscience” is how the Republican Party platform of 1856 gestured to its liberal roots. The phrase came from old Protestant arguments over whether Christians are free to believe non-Calvinist ideas, but it developed secular, political uses over the nineteenth century and lay behind the opposition to the expansion of slavery for which Republicans originally stood. Lincoln stated the liberal faith most robustly, perhaps, at the end of his famous Cooper Union Address of 1860: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

This got the Republican Party boycotted in the (white) South, not only during the years of the Confederate rebellion but long after.

Most Republicans, including Lincoln, were unsure just how equal African Americans could be, but some Republicans in Congress favored complete civil equality for the former slaves and their descendants. They drove the first civil rights legislation, including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery and providing the rights of voting and due process under the law regardless of race. The first African-American members of Congress were Republican.

The Democrats ran the party of white supremacy. Woodrow Wilson — the Virginian who segregated the federal government — knew how to keep the South in the Democratic fold. So did Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who allowed his New Deal policies to be administered in such discriminatory ways that one historian claims they amounted to affirmative action for whites.

The Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the leader who submitted civil-rights legislation to Congress to combat Jim Crow in 1957. It was Democrats in Congress who watered the bill down.

The partisan poles of the United States changed after the dramatic activism of the 1950s and early ‘60s prompted the Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sending white Southern and white working-class Democrats into Republican arms.

The Republican wooing of these voters took time and delicacy. Never did its strategists aim to become the party of blatant racism. Instead, they created concepts like the “moral majority,” “religious right,” “family values” and even color-blindness in order to attract white voters concerned about African-American socio-economic and political gains. And in so doing, they betrayed their moral roots in three ways.

First, Republicans allowed bigotry safe haven under the guise of morality, in the very name of morality, by broadcasting scary tales of black urban life as though it were proof of the irredeemable inferiority of African Americans. From the Southern Strategy of Nixon to the cynical electioneering of Lee Atwater, the campaign manager for George H. W. Bush, the line was straight. In 1981, Atwater explained that by 1968, the N-word repelled voters rather than attracting them, so he trained Republicans to “say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” Reagan acted his part in disdaining welfare queens and “young bucks,” a phrase straight out of the antebellum South. In 1994, Charles Murray broadcast pseudo-scientific racism in “The Bell Curve” — amazingly, Murray is still in service today — arguing that so-called blacks simply are less intelligent and moral, if more athletic, than whites. Donald Trump’s retweets from white supremacist origins are consistent with this Republican precedent.

Second, the Republican Party adopted fixed positions on issues. The nineteenth-century liberal commitment to open-mindedness had meant that any position was only provisional, awaiting the testimony of further evidence or wider viewpoints for modification. For many decades now, the Republicans have insisted that lowering taxes, beefing up the military, and cutting social programs are what America needs. They oppose abortion because they need white evangelical voters, so Republican politicians claim that the resemblance of a fetus to a baby is more important than the resemblance of a criminal to a human being — Republicans favor the death penalty, after all, which they have to reconcile with their so-called pro-life conviction. Along comes Trump, calling for women who terminate their pregnancies to be punished.

Finally, the Republican Party has increasingly refused to engage in meaningful dialogue with its opponents. It has betrayed its origins in the culture of learning by attacking higher education in the United States — the colleges and universities all too liable to teach young people how to think critically — and by trying to privatize public education in the names of meritocracy and religious freedom. At the very least, Republican strategists have undermined public schoolteachers and pathologized urban schoolchildren. By deploying the language of culture wars, left versus right and liberal versus conservative, Republican strategists have fed a polarization allegedly too extreme to tolerate constructive dialogue toward consensus.

No wonder Frankentrump cannot even tolerate debate with his fellow Republican contenders for the nomination.

Since 2008, it seems that the top Republican leadership has realized that it must curry favor with voters other than white evangelicals, white workers and the moneyed elite. But it is too late for Trump’s enthusiasts to get the memo. Whenever thinkers concoct slogans, they produce culture. And the culture Republican strategists produced is decidedly illiberal.

To echo the words of Malcolm X in 1963, the Trump candidacy is as clear a case of chickens coming home to roost as ever history did see.

 

By: Amy Kittlestrom, serves on The Editorial Board of The Journal of American History; Associate Professor at Sonoma State University;  Salon, April 9, 2016

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“New Religious Freedom Bills Legitimize Discrimination”: Using The Bible As A Prop For Prejudice

You’d think history might serve as a guide for the politicians and preachers — good Christians all, of course — who have chosen to use the Bible to bolster their bigotry against people they’ve placed outside the magic circle. We’ve seen this before, and it didn’t turn out well for those who claimed a mantle of righteousness. Yet onward they march.

Mississippi recently passed a “religious freedom” law designed to provide legal cover for those who wish to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The law is quite specific, allowing government clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and protecting businesses that refuse to serve them.

Does this ring any bells? Do any of these people remember Jim Crow, a system of legalized oppression that stunted Mississippi for generations and whose legacy the state is still struggling to overcome?

They can’t have forgotten — not all of them.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the odious bill, is certainly old enough to remember. He’d remember, too, that, during his childhood, many of the leading church folk declared that God was on the side of discrimination.

And history should have taught the governor about Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who dared to marry in 1958. The Virginia judge who sentenced them to prison for their crime wrote: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Indeed, this practice of using the Bible as a prop for prejudice has a long and ignominious tradition, spanning centuries and continents. In the United States, slave owners conveniently saw in the Bible a heaven-sent sanction for their brutal greed. Throughout the 19th century, preachers delivered sermons claiming that “the Old Testament did sanction slavery,” as the Rev. Richard Fuller put it in 1847. Others saw a validation of white supremacy in a Bible verse about the descendants of Ham.

Proponents of “religious freedom” statutes point to the First Amendment, which enshrines as a central value the protection of religious views, even those that are outside the mainstream. Congress reiterated its fidelity to that founding principle as recently as 1993, when a bipartisan majority passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was designed for such cases as the Sikh firefighter who wants to keep his beard, or the Orthodox Jew who needs an exemption from a Sabbath work requirement.

But the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage set off a spate of proposals that serve no purpose except bigotry — laws that prop up prejudice with Scripture. The giveaway in several of those bills is this: They allow for-profit businesses to claim to have religious beliefs and to refuse service on that basis.

(The Supreme Court opened the door for that with its unfortunate 2014 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which assigned religious beliefs to corporations. That involved a company’s “religious freedom” to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.)

Churches, by the way, don’t need any extra legal protections. The First Amendment has always given religious institutions wide latitude to practice their beliefs as they see fit, even if that means making invidious distinctions. Catholic priests have long reserved the right to refuse to marry those who are divorced; many conservative churches refuse to ordain women. So clerics may decline to perform the marriage rite for same-sex couples without fear of legal sanctions.

Given that, there is no need for laws that legitimize discrimination, and some states, either through revision or veto, have stepped back from such mean-spirited laws. North Carolina, however, has forged ahead with its “bathroom bill,” passed to nullify a Charlotte law that would have allowed transgendered individuals to use public restrooms of their choosing. And other state legislators are still debating proposals meant to show their disapproval of same-sex marriage.

Onward they march — toward their heterosexual heaven.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner For commentary in 2007; The National Memo, April 9, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, LGBT, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Fraud And A Danger To The Republic Itself”: ‘National Review’ Goes To War Against Donald Trump

National Review, the most prominent conservative magazine of the past 60 years, has now gone to press with a new issue dedicated to a single topic: Stopping the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, declaring him to be a fraud and a danger to the republic itself.

“There are understandable reasons for his eminence, and he has shown impressive gut-level skill as a campaigner,” the editorial states. “But he is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries. Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

From a magazine that in its founding era officially supported white supremacy and segregation — as well as endorsing the fascist Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, among many other sins — these are certainly strong charges.

The editorial signifies a greater problem for the right, beyond just one candidacy: Once upon a time, the inmates took over the asylum — and now after all the paranoia, ginned-up outrage, and barely-veiled racism they have engineered over these many decades, a whole new generation of inmates are revolting against them.

Trump was quick to respond — on Twitter, of course:

National Review is a failing publication that has lost it’s way. It’s circulation is way down w its influence being at an all time low. Sad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2016

Very few people read the National Review because it only knows how to criticize, but not how to lead.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2016

The late, great, William F. Buckley would be ashamed of what had happened to his prize, the dying National Review!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2016

In its editorial, the magazine declares:

If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster. The movement concerned with such “permanent things” as constitutional government, marriage, and the right to life would have become a claque for a Twitter feed.

Trump nevertheless offers a valuable warning for the Republican party. If responsible men irresponsibly ignore an issue as important as immigration, it will be taken up by the reckless. If they cannot explain their Beltway maneuvers — worse, if their maneuvering is indefensible — they will be rejected by their own voters. If they cannot advance a compelling working-class agenda, the legitimate anxieties and discontents of blue-collar voters will be exploited by demagogues. We sympathize with many of the complaints of Trump supporters about the GOP, but that doesn’t make the mogul any less flawed a vessel for them.

Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out. Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.

NR has also included a “symposium” piece, composed of short notes from various conservative activists decrying Trump and what he stands for — many of them carrying their own levels of irony, from people who helped to foment the paranoia that now fuels The Donald’s rise.

As just one example, let’s take a look at this plaintive cry from Bill Kristol:

In a letter to National Review, Leo Strauss wrote that “a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity; but the argument which is concerned exclusively with calculations of success, and is based on blindness to the nobility of the effort, is vulgar.” Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?

In sum: Isn’t Trumpism a two-bit Caesarism of a kind that American conservatives have always disdained? Isn’t the task of conservatives today to stand athwart Trumpism, yelling Stop?

Recently, Kristol has been talking up the “semi-serious” notion of starting a whole new party of breakaway Republicans, to run their own ticket if Trump were to win the GOP nomination — so outrageous does he view the idea of Trump as the conservative standard-bearer.

But on the subject of American conservatives having allegedly always disdained vulgarity, Kristol is overlooking a very salient point: He, Bill Kristol, was one of the original, key boosters of Sarah Palin, promoting her selection as John McCain’s running mate in 2008. And as recently as 2014, Kristol was still touting Palin as a potential candidate for president in 2016.

This week, of course, Palin endorsed Trump with a cry of “Hallelujah.”

 

By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, January 22, 2016

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservative Media, Donald Trump, National Review | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Written With The Purpose Of Disenfranchising Blacks”: The State Where Racism Is Enshrined In The Constitution

As the presidential race heats up and the American public becomes consumed with the drama that will inevitably engulf the campaign, we should not forget that democracies are intended to be based on voter enfranchisement, and that in many ways America is still lacking in this regard.

There are many techniques that America could employ to increase voter turnout, but one of our most pressing obstacles is the states that have consistently worked toward disenfranchising large swaths of their electorate. In this election cycle, Alabama may be the most egregious offender. You probably think you know all the reasons for this, but here’s one reason I bet you don’t know: It’s all in the state’s constitution.

To put it mildly, Alabama’s constitution is an absurd document. It is the longest still-operative constitution in the world at more than 310,000 words long. It is 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution and 12 times longer than the average state constitution. Alabama’s constitution is insanely long because it gives the state legislature the power to administer over most counties directly, and as a result about 90 percent of the constitution consists of nearly 900 amendments. Some of the amendments cover mundane issues such as salary increases for county officials or the regulation of bingo games in Macon and Greene counties. The U.S. Constitution, in comparison, has only 27 amendments.

Alabama’s constitution places the majority of the state’s political power in the hands of a small coterie of officials, leaving counties and municipalities forced to essentially ask permission from the legislature regarding almost any form of self-governing. Alabamans for a long time have railed against the inefficiencies and ridiculousness of this constitution. But the racial undertones and the fact that it disproportionately harms and disenfranchises persons of color should not be overlooked. In fact, it should be the focal point when attempting to understand the constitution that governs Alabama.

The document was ratified in 1901 following a wave of racial terror that engulfed the South after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. Essentially, the constitutions of most Southern states follow a similar pattern. Prior to 1861 they all had their own various constitutions, but at the start of the Civil War they created new constitutions pledging their allegiance to the Confederacy. Following the defeat of the Confederacy these constitutions were no longer valid, and starting in 1868 each state had a new constitution overseen by the federal government that outlawed slavery and ensured black Americans were able to vote, to seek and hold elected offices, and to participate in their governments at the local, state, and national level.

To put it mildly, white Southerners did not embrace this societal change, and rather quickly a wave of terror engulfed the South directed toward freed blacks and Northern carpetbaggers—many of whom were also black—who had moved to the region with the intention of ensuring that the new constitutions and federal regulations were followed. The first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan was formed during this period.

However, the terror inflicted upon blacks during this era was not merely physical and mental, but also political. In addition to the Klan and other terrorist groups such as the White League and the Red Shirts, a political movement called the Redeemers began to steadily grow in popularity in the South. The Redeemers were a white political coalition consisting of primarily conservative and pro-business politicians and leaders. Their political ideology focused on seeking “redemption” by ousting or oppressing the coalition of freedmen—freed persons of color, carpetbaggers, and scalawags (Southern whites who supported Reconstruction). The Redeemers wanted to return their America to an era that favored white life and oppressed all others.

The biggest coup of this era for the Redeemers was the controversial Compromise of 1877 that removed federal troops from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, decided the 1876 U.S. presidential election, and ended the era of Reconstruction. In the ensuing years, Southern states created constitutions that reversed the progress and enfranchisement of Reconstruction, but without explicitly violating the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution.

Jim Crow laws and segregation became legally mandated during this time, but due to the “separate but equal” doctrine, these policies were not viewed as racially unjust. Additionally, since race could no longer serve as a barrier to vote, wealth, education and more became the new determinants, and poll taxes were instituted in states across the South. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia all created poll taxes in their new constitutions that disenfranchised blacks and poor whites. Poor whites had become the collateral damage in the quest to continue the oppression of black Americans in the South.

However, as time passed most of these states created new constitutions or completely rewrote existing ones so that they would not be trapped and forced to govern based upon the abhorrent and immortal standards of the past. Georgia, for example, ratified its current constitution in 1983.

Yet Alabama remains as one of the states whose constitution (PDF) functions as a continuation of the Redeemers ideology: an ideology that resulted in widespread political corruption as whites worked to sustain white supremacy and remain the governing force in Alabama by any means necessary. During the 1890s, whites in Alabama committed 177 lynchings—more than any other state—and by the end of the decade, Alabama had created a new constitution that placed the state under the control of those who committed and/or endorsed the terror.

During the first election held after the constitution’s 1901 enactment, voter turnout declined by 38 percent as a result of poll taxes, literacy requirements, and other legal voting impediments. In 1900 there were roughly 181,000 registered black voters and by 1903 there were fewer than 5,000. Black voter turnout dropped by a whopping 96 percent, and white turnout also decreased by 19 percent.

In recent years, when Alabama has instituted voter ID laws that disproportionately harm communities of color and have systematically closed DMVs in predominantly black counties, thus preventing African Americans from obtaining voter IDs, no one should be surprised. Alabama has always been a state that has found creative legal was to oppress and disenfranchise black Americans while ensuring that a segment of white elites dominate society.

Alabama’s constitution may not be legally racist or oppressive, but that most certainly is its intent. Preventing Alabamans from voting is its main bedrock principle. And while many Alabamans view their constitution as a shame that blights their society, the oppressive principles and ideology that brought it into existence have unfortunately returned to our national political discourse. Voting restrictions have sprung up across the nation, and government-sponsored racial and religious divisions are again commonplace in our political discourse.

Attempts to forcefully return America to a past that encourages racial division and oppression and places political power within the wealthy elites of society only result in staining the future. Alabama’s constitution and its capacity and consistency of racial oppression and disenfranchising voters is only one example, and sadly there are no signs that it will be repealed anytime soon.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, December 22, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Alabama Constitution, Alabama State Legislature, Racism, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why The GOP Is The True Party Of ‘Free Stuff'”: Bush’s Logrolling Directs Almost All The Benefits To People Who Don’t Need It

While other candidates are a lot crazier, Jeb Bush is clearly the most fumble-brained option in the presidential race. He can’t seem to string two words together without committing a grievous political faux pas. Whether it was his call for “phasing out” Medicare, or his scorn for women’s health issues, or his claim that Asians are the real anchor babies, he’s got a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease.

Now he’s out with a fresh clunker, this time about how Republicans, unlike Democrats, won’t try to lure black voters with “free stuff.” Primary voting is months away, and already Bush is flirting with language that may have lost Mitt Romney the election.

Bush’s argument — that Democrats cynically use welfare to buy black votes and thereby trap them in a cycle of dependency — is seriously mistaken, as well as deeply hypocritical. But a more fundamental mistake is the picture of government Bush envisions. Put simply, handing out “free stuff” of one sort or another is perhaps the most important job governments can do.

First, let’s tackle why black people vote Democratic. I think the answer can be illustrated best in two words: Strom Thurmond. He was a South Carolina Democrat when he broke the record for the longest Senate filibuster ever trying to stop the 1957 Civil Rights Act. But after a much more aggressive civil rights bill passed in 1964, he switched parties, eventually followed by most of the other Dixiecrats. As Philip Bump demonstrates, blacks unsurprisingly did the opposite at the same time, shifting very heavily towards the Democratic Party.

In other words, government benefits play, at best, an incidental role in black support for the Democrats. Republicans today are not segregationists, but they are the inheritors of a legacy of outright white supremacy. Thurmond was in the Senate until 2003. At his 100th birthday party in 2002, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) praised Thurmond’s 1948 run for president under a third party apartheid ticket. (Lott later resigned as leader after his comments were made public.) Democrats have not been the finest stewards of black fortunes, but it’s pretty obvious that they’re better than the alternative.

That brings me to the hypocrisy. While Democrats support social benefits in a wishy-washy way, conservatives are absolutely obsessed with directing huge monetary benefits to their favored constituencies — namely, the rich.

George W. Bush’s tax cuts were violently skewed towards the wealthy — over 73 percent of the benefits went to the top income quintile, and fully 30 percent to 1 percenters alone. Jeb Bush aims to pull the same trick, proposing another corpulent set of tax breaks — only this time, over half of the benefits would accrue to the top 1 percent alone. You can’t win an election solely with the support of billionaires, of course, but Bush and his allies have also already raised over $120 million. Not, one suspects, a coincidence.

Overall, welfare benefits for the top income quintile — largely a result of conservative policymaking — cost roughly $355 billion yearly. Meanwhile, what passes for new policy in Republican circles — a child tax credit — is a government benefit for middle- and upper-class parents that carefully and deliberately excludes the poor.

But it would be a mistake to stop here. Good government types often rail against the blatant cronyism of Bush family politics — i.e., you give me hundreds of millions of dollars for my presidential campaign, and I’ll cut the capital gains tax so you can better loot your company — but making good policy isn’t as simple as being against patronage in general. As Francis Fukuyama points out in Political Order and Political Decay, Boss Tweed-style patronage politics can also be a first step towards an efficient, decent modern state. There is no bright line between handing out jobs to one’s ethnic community in return for votes, and constructing a modern bureaucracy that provides universal social benefits like clean air and water, low crime, a safety net, and so forth.

For what are governments good for, if not providing universal security and prosperity for as many citizens as possible? Even in a jalopy country like the U.S., the vast majority of state activity is dedicated towards this end, at least ostensibly. The military, to defend the nation; Social Security, to provide for the retired and disabled; Medicare, Medicaid, and ObamaCare, to provide universal access to health care; various safety net programs like food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit, to keep people from destitution — these together, plus interest on the national debt, account for 84 percent of direct federal spending. Many of these could be improved, or are badly misused, but that’s their bedrock ideological justification. Other nations with better versions of similar policies show that universal high-quality health care and an end to poverty are easily within our grasp.

So the problem with Bush’s logrolling — and Republican policy in general — is mainly that it directs almost all the benefits to people who don’t need it.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, September 28, 2015

September 29, 2015 Posted by | Black Voters, Economic Inequality, GOP, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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