Ghost of Christmas Past: Racism & Divisiveness in the Republican Party

Have you ever been somewhere or doing something and thought to yourself, “This is strangely familiar. I have been here before, right?” The American comic Steven Wright once said, “Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time.” At this moment in time, this quote holds true for the current process of nominating the Republican Great White Hope nominee. Even though I was not around during the 1940s and 1950s (thank God, I do not know if I would have been tough enough), I am feeling as if our country has been here before, politically and socially.

For me, I have seen this before with the political career of provocative Strom Thurmond. In the beginning, he was known as a progressive legislator with the Democratic Party. Although a racist Dixiecrat, he was once responsible for arresting members of a lynch mob that killed a Black man named Willie Earle in South Carolina. For his pursuit in this matter, he was congratulated by the NAACP.

Later as a presidential candidate in 1948, he began to change his proverbial tune. In order to win, he realized that the nation was negatively reacting to the actions of President Harry Truman and the general Civil Rights movement that was occurring in the U.S. He loudly played to the fear and hatred being felt by Whites. As the presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond won an astounding 39 electoral votes. The formula worked and he continued on this road to later be elected in 1954 to the U.S. Senate. Later in 1964, he even switched parties.

Today, the spirit of Strom Thurmond is present within the current Republican Party nomination process. The likes of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul have all had their turn publicly battering people of color and the poor to the jeers of misguided conservatives who have felt that their country has been stripped from their White hands by a Black man.

Instead of explicitly spouting racist comments, their approach has been quite clever. Throughout the debates we have seen the emergence of exploiting the same “state rights” (10th Amendment) argument that was used to argue against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Simply, the candidates are utilizing the amendment that reserves rights to the state and its people and not to the federal government in order to rid the federal muscle protecting issues such as health care, abortion, immigration, new ID laws which make it difficult for marginalized populations to vote, and civil rights. This is a coded but clearly understood message that makes a call for times of yesterday.
A more explicit example of social ignorance that has been front and center during this election period can be found with Ron Paul and the evidence that has recently been discovered by the press. Ron Paul’s previous political newsletters have been shown to contain numerous statements marked by bigotry and racism. Even though Ron Paul and his supporters have claimed that many of the articles were written by others using his name, I still find him guilty of supporting the weight of what was said. He was a part of newsletters that called Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, a “Radical black Anglican.” In addition, Ron Paul’s newsletter has been connected with:

• Arguing that whites should arm themselves due to the oncoming race war
• Agreeing with the racist findings and comments of eugenics advocate Jared Taylor
• Asserting young Black males, unlike their counterparts, should be tried in adult courts due to the fact that they are “big, strong, tough, scary, and culpable as any adult, and should be treated as such [http://www.tnr.com/sites/default/files/Sep92PolRepRacist_0.PDF]
• Defending the previous owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott, when she referred to her players as “million dollar niggers.”

This is not to mention the fact that the newsletter agreed as well to her statements that held Hitler in high regard.

Moreover, during the greatly expected Republican debate in South Carolina, which happened to fall on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, racism and social ignorance were on full display. The Black moderator, and socially conservative Juan Williams, asked Newt Gingrich if he felt that his previously public comments relating to the need of Black Americans to demand jobs and not food stamps was insulting to the poor and Blacks. As Newt undauntedly said, “No, I don’t see that,” the crowd of mostly White participants erupted into cheers. As Juan attempted to push the matter further, the crowd booed and actually gave Newt a standing ovation.

What was equally upsetting was the fact that the other nominees said nothing. They stolidly stood silent as the social assault on the poor and people of color went down. They were all complicit in their silence to rhetoric that echoed white supremacy. Due to the lack of a critical examination by Matt Lauer or his other blockheaded news associates, I find them complicit as well. In my mind, they were all guilty of the message that was portrayed to the world. David Axelrod was correct when he said, “campaigns are like MRIs for the soul…” We as a country are truly diseased.

Comments

  1. Maria Chavez

    Thank you for your excellent and discouraging analysis of racism and politics.

    Scapegoating the other (immigrants, people of color) is predictable by politicians as you show with your analysis of Thurman’s political development. What makes today’s racism different is that during the 1940s and 1950s a White sheriff could go into the barrio and round up the Mexicans and send them “back” if the white community was angry enough. A white mob could go into a black neighborhood and create terror and fear. I too, know if I would have been tough enough to survive this!

    I agree that our country has been here before, politically and socially; however, paradoxically because these outright acts of violence and discrimination can’t happen so easily anymore, yet the white racial frame is still alive and well, whites are even more angry. Your example of a white audience booking Juan Williams is one example of this festering anger. Juan Williams would not have been up there doing the questioning in the 40’s and 50’s. The mostly white folks in that audience do not seem to like that he is as demonstrated by William’s questioning of Gingrich’s racism. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think the audience would have responded the same way if Chris Mathews had asked Gingrich the same question. Maybe they would have, but I don’t think so.

    I have often felt that now there is a black president. This is just too much for many people and our country is showing a very dark side indeed.

    • Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

      Maria, I totally agree with you. The reaction may not result in physical altercations or other forms of physical terrorism, but the power of the words and intent still leave psychological scars. Thank you for the comments and feedback.

  2. Blaque Swan

    Okay, so how do we handle arguments like this?

    I think Black people vote straight Democrat for two main reasons: 1) Ignorance and 2) They think Democrats suck but are better than Republicans.
    . . .
    There is no fundamental difference between the Democrats and Republicans when it comes to their treatment of Black folks…or really on their treatment of anyone. We’re SOL with either of them (regardless of the race of the politicians in question).

    To give the best context, or rather, to make a long context short, the article I’m quoting also makes the point that:

    Let’s live in this make-believe world where the GOP really is the right arm of the devil and if a Republican is elected president it would be the worst possible scenario for Black people. Have you ever noticed that Black people only make a lot of progress when we’re fighting a clear enemy or for a clear cause (slavery, right to vote, integration, Troy Davis, etc.)? But the crisis has to be drastic and acute…if it slowly builds up over time and is not overt, it’s hard for us to organize around it. It’s bad right now for us, but apparently it’s not bad enough. So maybe a GOP prez would make it so bad that we would get shocked out of our current complacency.

    I don’t know. I just feel like Black people are our own worst enemy and I get frustrated. What do you think about the possibility of getting Blacks to withdraw their undying loyalty for the Democrats and supporting candidates that actually give a damn?

    So what do we do with that?

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