Donald Trump, the nominee of the shit show known as the Republican Party, is the front man for a political organization that may very well come to an end soon. Do not mourn, but rather let us raise a glass and toast on it. Because this moment was a long time coming.
Republicans, faced with the prospect of the Donald ruining the GOP brand name in a decisively permanent way, have taken one of two directions. One the one hand, some Republican diehards have lined up behind their new Führer, because, well, it’s that whole conservative respect for authority thing going on. Others have engaged in a variation on this tactic by, like Paul Ryan, displaying tepid and wishy-washy support for Trump—the way the captain and crew are the last souls standing on a sinking ship.
But on the other hand, there are the “anybody but Trump” conservatives who realize that the only way to save the so-called party of Lincoln—and Lincoln was a long time ago, but more on that later—is to let Trump’s campaign crash in an Electoral College conflagration. The old guard establishment, represented by the Bushes and Mitt Romney, certainly subscribe to this point of view.
Then there are the 50-or so Republican national security officials who refuse to back their nominee. These neocons would serve as a Praetorian guard of sorts for Hillary Clinton, realizing the Defense Department money would continue to flow under her warhawk administration. Some, such as Ted Cruz, do not regard Trump as a real conservative, and are waiting in the wings for that time when the Donald loses, and they are able to pick up the pieces in 2020. When Cruz is regarded as one of your heirs-apparent, now that is a hot mess, because a choice between Cruz and Trump is like deciding on cyanide vs. arsenic.
All of a sudden, the Republican establishment–some of whom were the anemic yet well-funded rivals to Trump, and their backers—is outraged and appalled that the GOP nominee is so divisive, that he could say such offensive things about Muslims, about Latinos and Mexican immigrants, that he would incite violence against #BlackLivesMatter protesters at his rallies, or set up his Democratic rival for assassination attempts with Second Amendment remedies. This is the same Trump the GOP loved when Romney sought and won his support in 2012, the Trump who questioned the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate and therefore the legitimacy of his presidency, which, along with the entire Birther and tea party movements, was really a backdoor method of calling Obama the N-word.
Indeed, Trump was a sideshow carnival act, and the Republicans loved him because he provided good entertainment and served their purpose of rallying their base of disaffected, low-information, working-class white voters. But no one believed he would take over the entire circus. After all, the GOP has served the role of the White Citizens’ Councils in the 1950s and 1960s—the respectable white-collar white supremacists who opposed civil rights and integration, but didn’t get their hands dirty. But Trump, on the other hand, represents the real Ku Klux Klan—not with a dog whistle, but with a bullhorn blaring a message of racial hatred and threats of violence. And that’s why Trump has earned the support of white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Klan.
These days, the GOP is looking a lot like a hate group and a threat to the nation, at the very least a U.S. counterpart to the neo-fascist, xenophobic political parties found in Europe. American-variety fascism was always going to assume a distinctly American flavor to it, complete with barnstorming reality-show entertainment value and the simplicity of the lowest common denominator in order to appeal to the unwashed masses. And of course, let’s wrap that up in the red, white and blue. Because we want to “Make America Great Again.”
Trumpism is not a radical departure from Republican conservatism, but rather a natural evolution of it, if not the ultimate end game. The final result—white nationalism and the ultimate forum for white tears and white racial grievances—reflects the conservative movement’s opposition to people of color since day one. Since the days of Barry Goldwater—the modern conservative movement has been associated with an opposition to civil rights. Now, there are those who will defend Goldwater—who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act– and proclaim he is not a racist. Whether he was or was not a racist is beside the point, just as it matters little whether Trump, whose daughter and son-in-law are Jewish, really believes the Nazism he is selling to his supporters. By today’s standards, Goldwater may very well appear like a moderate or liberal in the face of today’s Republican Party. “While not himself a racist,” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racists.”
Throughout the years, the GOP has perfected its philosophy of smaller government, when in reality the true message, under the radar, was one of white nationalism. When Lyndon B. Johnson signed the civil rights legislation of the 1960s into law, the Republicans courted disaffected white Southern Democrats from what had been the party of Jim Crow segregation. These segregationists resented the gains made by African-Americans, and found a home in the Republican Party. And Johnson knew the consequences of passing civil rights, lamenting that the Democratic Party may “have lost the South for a generation.”
With the help of strategist Roger Ailes—yes, that Roger Ailes, the Fox News founder and serial sexual harasser—Nixon was propelled to victory under a “law and order” platform, the same banner that Trump borrowed for his speech at this year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Nixon was able to exploit white fear of crime—meaning black people—by crafting campaign ads conjuring images of rampant violence and lawlessness in the streets.
“We shall re-establish freedom from fear in America so that America can take the lead in re-establishing freedom from fear in the world,” Nixon said at the 1968 Republican Convention. “And to those who say that law and order is the code word for racism, here is a reply: Our goal is justice for every American. If we are to have respect for law in America, we must have laws that deserve respect. Just as we cannot have progress without order, we cannot have order without progress, and so, as we commit to order tonight, let us commit to progress.” And as it turns out, the “war on drugs” really was a Nixonian scheme to criminalize his political enemies—the white antiwar left and African-Americans—by locking them up and disrupting their communities.
Reagan–who became known for his racially polarizing “Welfare Queen”—kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi in order to proclaim “I believe in state’s rights.” Reagan knew what he was doing, because after all, this was where three civil rights workers—Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney—were lynched by the Klan and the police in 1964.
And George H.W. Bush won in no small measure due to the infamous Willie Horton ad, which portrayed a black Massachusetts prisoner who was released on a furlough program so that he could rape and murder more white women.
There had to be far more to the GOP brand than small government. After all, how does one account for a coalition, which is unraveling now, of interests as divergent as Wall Street fat cats, neocon war profiteers, Christian fundamentalist fetus worshipers, science deniers, gun runners, homophobes, nativists and Islamophobes? There must be a special sauce in there, somewhere. Lee Atwater, campaign manager for Bush the elder, articulated the Republicans’ Southern Strategy:
‘‘You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N****r, n****r, n****r.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n****r’ — 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 ‘N****r, n****r.”’
Meanwhile, the Republicans—once the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, Reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Bureau and 1,500 black elected officials—have thrived under the anti-civil rights brand name, and controlled the South as a result. It helped them snatch up electoral victories until it didn’t.
Under Jim Crow, the Southern segregationist Democrats responded to the specter of black power—and a black majority in some states—by disenfranchising African-Americans. These days, Republicans have reacted to changing demographics—a rising Latino population, the inevitable majority status of racial and ethnic minorities, and the progressive-leaning politics of millennials—by creating their own electorate. Though racial gerrymandering, voter ID and other voter suppression policies, the Republicans have decided to ignore their own calls for reform, and the need to embrace a more diverse and inclusive audience. Rather, the GOP has decided to ride out the whole people of color thing, and survive on angry, white, older, low-information voters. And yet this is their only plan, which means they are no longer viable as a national party. Either Republicans will die out, or a new party replaces them.
Trump has tapped into the desire by some voters to return to the 1950s, when America was great, whites reigned supreme and people of color, women, LGBTQ folks and others were invisible. But don’t blame him for killing the party. The GOP has been on this course to self-destruction for 50 years.