How the GOP scapegoats Donald Trump for the attacks in Charlottesville

I was raised in a family whose origins began in the southern United States, like many other African-American families.  Like so many others, my family survived the pre-civil rights south.  Some part of that survival took careful planning. Some of it was pure luck.  I share that to help you understand why this week has been an emotional black hole for me, from the beginning of the racist attacks in Charlottesville to the time it has taken me to write these words.  Each day the exhaustion is compounded by the battle over whether the appropriate sentiments of disgust and despair have been uttered by Donald Trump.  It is an important question, but is it the only question we should focus on during this critical time?

While we focus on #Trump’s weak assessment of the attacks in Charlottesville, and an astounding double reversal of blame, which effectively supports white nationalists, there are other words I hear that speak louder to me than Trump’s.  I still hold my uncles’ stories in my head, told with laughter, lived in pain.  I remember the story of the uncle who crossed a pasture, running to avoid an angry bull, taking the dangerous run to get home before dark. He feared the sundown laws more than he feared the bull.  I was too young to realize the absurdity of laughing that risking his life in that moment saved him from a worse fate.  I remember the discussions about the stores my light-complexion mother could safely enter, while her darker-complexion brothers had to wait outside. I think about the legacy of Emmett Till and thank God that my uncles weren’t falsely accused of speaking to white women while they waited.  As sad as their stories of terror and discrimination were, I realize that their stories could have been worse, told by my mother – remembering brothers no longer alive to share their own testimonies.

Shortly after the Charlottesville attacks began, the hashtag #ThisIsNotUS began trending.  The hashtag is interesting in its effect as much as its viral status.  The tag created a sense of open expression for those who believe that we are a better nation than the events on display in Charlottesville – when white pseudo-supremacists attacked a diverse group of Americans.  The hashtag opened expression for persons of color whose lived experiences remind us that #ThisIsTheUsYouDidntKnowStillExisted, sadly.  To a lesser extent than in the past? Certainly, but the virulent strains of racism which negatively affect the lives of people of color have only been modified in terms of degree of existence, barely modified in terms of degree of impact (more on that, another time).  The hashtag has also opened expression for alt-right pseudo-supremacists to try to defend themselves against their heinous acts, and for conservatives trying to defend their party by distancing themselves from the pseudo-supremacists.`

Not that they would care, but I have my own list of #GOP heroes I have placed on  #TheResistance honor roll.  They are GOPers who routinely  stand up to Trump without fear, and without hesitation.  Some are individuals who are granted public forums to discuss their concerns, others are social media heroes.  I am disheartened by the fact that not one of them seems to understand that the violence in Charlottesville is a problem because it is directly and indirectly indicative of what the #GOP has become over time, and not in the moments after Donald J. Trump took office.  The #GOP’s decades long rhetoric about the poor and about minority groups was the powder keg.  #Trump and his alt-right goons have only served as the proverbial lit match.

For decades the republican party traded progress for power.  Wrapped in what the #GOP has claimed as “party policy” is a continuous stream of coded attacks against citizens of color devised to achieve the party’s end goals. Whether the codes were intentional or unintentional is irrelevant, given the outcome.  Those attacks have created a sense of aggrievement in White Americans who were led to believe that “liberal policies” went too far in helping  the poor and persons of color – often conflated as one in the same. The “unwarranted” support for the poor, and for minorities, robbed White voters and their communities of opportunity, the Republican party line implied, when not directly stated.

White-voter-aggrievement appears to have more to do with Republican rhetoric than liberal policy or liberal actions focused on minority communities:

Angry southern Democrats who felt betrayed by the party’s movement toward civil rights were taken in by the Republican party in the 1950s and on, most especially after the 1964 civil rights act.  The #GOP has been playing to the racial resentment Southern Whites have felt since the act was passed, including failing to condemn Atwater’s southern strategy.  The “Party of Lincoln” welcomed the fleeing Dixiecrats, trading the support of loyal African-American voters. What values and beliefs did the Republican party believe the Dixiecrats would bring to the fold?  Which voters did they think the anti-integration politicians would bring with them?

Reagan and Dole are credited for openly standing up to the racist elements of their party and boldly stating that there is no room in the Republican party for bigots, for people who espouse values that are antithetical to American values.  Dole, in particular, pointed to the exits during his convention speech and unequivocally asked racists to make use of them.  They deserve credit for standing up.  The bigger question is why the statements had to be made in the first place.  What is it about the Republican party that causes the periodic need for tamping down openly divisive and hateful rhetoric from members of the party?  What is it about Republican policy and ideology that continues to draw those individuals to it?

Remember that Reagan’s push back against racists is also countered against his “welfare queen” analogy.  Who was she? ” She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”, according to Reagan, as he explained the need for welfare reform. She was racialized, of course.  To the public, she was the African-American woman living multiple generations on welfare.  She was unwilling (more than unable) to care for herself and the numerous children she continued creating – children raised without fathers in the household  She was a burden on the hardworking tax paying citizens of this nation.  On one hand, Reagan told the party to reject racism and open displays of hostility toward minorities.  On the other hand?

Similar examples are available in every prior and successive Republican administration.   Republican politicians continue to serve as grand marshals of the aggrievement parade by telling some new version of the welfare queen story, without adding the following:

  • Most people who are impoverished are working – they are not collecting payments, sitting on their asses, happy to live their lives on welfare.  They periodically need support to help their families survive tough economic times  until they can land on their feet, again. Staying out of poverty is hard, but individuals who are impoverished keep fighting.
  • Welfare does not make one “rich” by any comparative American standard.  There is no incentive to stay impoverished.
  • Persons of color are disproportionately poor, but are not the only poor who receive welfare benefits.  Many of the aggrieved have most likely received support, or live in places with relatively few minority status individuals, and still have high levels of need and support.
  • People living in those “liberal places” that support “liberal policies”, such as those living on the east and west coasts, are also strong contributors in terms of paid tax dollars.  They often pay more in taxes than they receive by way of federal services and support.  Those who attack liberal policies and programs often live in places that receive more in federal support than they pay in taxes.
Per Capita Spending Taxes
Source: John Tierney, The Atlantic Monthly , May 2014

 

Can you be against the notion of welfare without being racist? Sure. I have yet to hear anti-welfare rhetoric that is not also racist, stereotypic, and just plain hateful.

How else have Republicans traditionally contributed to rhetoric meant to amass votes, despite the likely outcome of heightening division?

Trending job loss in fields such as coal mining were tied to liberal policies favoring “the other”, as well as extreme liberal environmentalism.  Instead of acknowledging the role of automation meant to increase productivity and profit, liberals – who were heavily focused on minority communities, were to blame. Instead of acknowledging the reduced need for coal because of more efficient resources such as natural gas, liberals were to blame.

Books such as “Hillbilly Elegy” were embraced by the media as helping all of America understand the plight of White American Trump voters, whose woes were economic (by implication) and not racial.  I believe that the author J.D. Vance is honest in his assessment.  I believe that commentators such as Krystal Ball and politicians such as Bernie Sanders, believe this.  The wholesale dismissal of the role of race, however, is something I find deeply troubling.  Individuals in those regions of the country lost coal producing, and other manufacturing jobs, for the reasons identified above, among others, and because they had them in the first place – something no one points out when the attacks on liberals, liberal policies and “the other” begins.

Were more minorities hired in those positions they, too, would experience high degrees of unemployment in those same regions of the country.  Republican politicians routinely imply that White voters were intentionally left behind by liberals who only cared about identity politics.  Political pundits and some progressive politicians have claimed the same.  It is odd that these same voters are represented by red state politicians who failed to see the tide turning, and failed to help create other employment opportunities.  Instead, Republican pols have used identity politics, as well, in coded, implicit, and often racist ways.

Minority status individuals are often disproportionately represented in under- and unemployed communities and they were not, largely, charmed by #Trump’s rhetoric. They were not largely chanting “Build that Wall”, or engaging in racist/sexist chants during political rallies.  Trump’s appeal is not primarily  economic, in my opinion, given the average income of Trump supporters and the economic diversity in his alt-right crowds.  It is a point that I don’t believe was lost on the #GOP and the #RNC in the race to trade progress for power.

This group is aggrieved and feeling as if they are under attack because they have been told by the republican officials who represent them that they SHOULD feel aggrieved and that they ARE under attack, by liberals, liberal policies, by minority communities who are coming to take what is theirs – no other explanation needed as the truth is not politically expedient.

Other moves in the republican trade of progress for power?  Most are self-explanatory:

Republican officials who promoted racist, stereotypic, policy suggestions that would have done little to reduce the effects of poverty on minority households.  Who could forget Newt Gingrich’s proposal that janitors in schools be fired and that poor teens take their places in cleaning schools?

“This is something that no liberal wants to deal with,” Gingrich said. “Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. ..

Note that he referenced “neighborhoods” and not “rural communities”.  I guess internships with local businesses and jobs that would allow teens to save for college would have been a bit much for the kids in those “neighborhoods”.  Kill the wage-protecting unions and place teens in those positions. (Not)Brilliant?

Republicans failed to stand up to racist attacks against President Barack Obama.  They didn’t stand up to the noose-hangers, the birthers, those who led the birthers, the racist joke tellers, and a host of others who were either voters or elected Republican officials who demeaned President Obama for eight years, using an obviously racist lie.  The aggrieved lived eight years believing that an interloper had taken control of the federal government and created policies and programs that disadvantaged them… such as Obamacare.  Their elected pols neglected to tell them that Obamacare also benefits rural (largely White) communities, the same communities that are now finding it difficult to continue without Obamacare.

Romney sought support from the chief birther, Donald Trump, semi-legitimizing Trump, despite his obvious racist birther movement.  The party should have cut ties with Romney when that happened.

Birtherism is not the only racist language Republicans are comfortable using.  Who can forget the “Plantation talk” which permeates the party, even recently in the Osoff-Handel race?  The notion of being on a voter plantation apparently does not extend to White voters who reliably vote republican each year – even in the reddest red states where education attainment is low, on average, incomes are low, health care outcomes are dismal, and teen pregnancy rates are high.  If there is a plantation that should be avoided… Well…

Trump entering the race referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists, murders, and drug dealers, despite the fact that the data tells us just the opposite – that crime rates are below the national average in immigrant communities.  Instead of cutting him off at the knees, Republican politicians traded progress for power, indulging him, complimenting him, hoping to curry favor with his largely uncritical voting base… until it was too late and they realized that he would become their nominee.  Never let it be said that the Republican party learns from its mistakes.  They doubled down their support during the general election, despite Trump courting the “frog-loving alt-right” and his increasingly erratic behavior.

Paul Ryan recently promoted “building that wall”, while on horseback at the border.  The man who once said that Trump’s language was indeed racist, joined him in advocating building a wall against people who have done little to harm us.  The Wall is Trump’s signature promise based on a false racist claim.  Well done, Speaker Ryan.  Another epic failure.

I am disheartened when I hear Republicans champion their party and its heroes as anti-racist, and fault Trump for everything that is happening now.  Why?  For me, it is the surest sign of a party that is unable and/or unwilling to change.  It is a party looking for a scapegoat and #Trump is as good as any, for now.  For people of color, it is a temporary reprieve, since we are usually the party’s scapegoat.  As stated earlier, Trump is the lit match but that match would burn itself out, if not for the powder keg the Republican party provided.  This was a partnership, an ugly, hurtful partnership – a long time in the making.

Will Charlottesville bring about a real change in the Republican party? I would like to think so, but for now, I doubt it.

 

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The alt-right was always one step away in the GOP

This past week, Hillary Clinton said THIS:

I don’t disagree with Secretary Clinton that Donald J. Trump receives credit for opening the door to the white supremacist/ alt-right movement (or the “so-called alt-right”, to quote Andrea Mitchell… so-called? How about self-identified????).  I would contend two additonal points.  First, the door was partially opened, when Trump got there. That’s how he made his way in.  Second, Trump’s additional “crime” is in taking the door off of its hinges and posting the “welcome” sign for supremacists when he was done.  The #GOP unlocked that dWelcome Signoor long ago, making room for Trump,  when it first nominated Goldwater , who virulently  opposed the civil rights bill.  The party has been toying with Goldwater-esque politics at varying depths since then.  

In reality, the #GOP has always tolerated racism from its candidates, as long as racism was carefully coded, enough so to allow a plausible deniability of anything untoward taking place.  The sentiment had to be “warm” – accompanied by a smile,  none of the bile dripping, vein popping, raging racism of the pre-civil rights movement.  It had to have finesse, and be described as benevolently patriarchial “concern” for minority groups.  It had to be inconsistent enough to create a sense of cognitive conflict by having its actors behave in ways that seemed to run counter to the charge of racism.  It was ok to hire individual minorities.  It was not ok to ensure equal access of opportunity for ALL minorities.  

Below are some of the #GOP’s greatest hits.  If they need explanation, you should talk to some of your progressive friends more often:

Richard M. Nixon (whose tendency toward grievance counting and vindictiveness is  often viewed as having the most direct connection to Trump’s brand of modern Republicanism)

The Nixon legacy: 

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “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.”

John Erhlichmann to Dan Baum, 1994

You tell me, did it work?  It would be easy to believe that Erhlichmann made it all up.  How could the Nixon WH view minorities, African-Americans, in particular, as being the enemies of the Republican Party?  Many African-Americans were still registered members of the party, right?  He won an enviable 32 percent of the African-American vote despite his reported disregard for African-American people.  The problem for those who are in denial regarding Nixon’s racist disposition is that there are over 265 hours of audiotape from the Nixon White House,  which confirm his prejudices against African-Americans,  Jewish-Americans, and many others.

 If you follow this Miller Center link, and listen to more of the recordings, his comments about  minority groups will make your hair stand on end. 

Ronald  Reagan  (who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968)

Source: Bill Moyers

Those comments are only shocking or confusing to those who supported Reagan.  To those who understood the real issues of poverty in minority communities, those comments were sad and unnecessarily divisive.  If this helps (current data, but consistent over time):

Income Spending Chart

Source:  NPR

Why is spending on food higher for low income people?  Impoverished and lower income people have household budgets, too, they aren’t buying steak and lobster.  They tend to live in communities, which rely on more “mom and pop” stores instead of major chains. Major chains have more buying power to pass lower costs on to consumers.  They offer fresher produce and more product choices. There is a huge grocery gap in our communities.   Low income individuals spend more money for food, but are able to buy less.  “Young Bucks” buying steak and lobster with food stamps while everyone else eats hamburger is more a figment of the racist and classist imagination than it is reality.

Consciously or unconsciously, Reagan’s supporters make a distinction that I refer to as the politicized Reagan vs. the projected Reagan.  Politicized Reagan is the person his non supporters see and judge based on the legislation he did (or did not support), and the rationales he gave – including the refusal to support sanctions against S. Africa. It is not always clear whether his choices were politically motivated or reflective of his true beliefs, but at some point it no longer matters.  He supported the frighening Goldwater,  fought civil rights legislation, was PUBLICLY unclear of whether he thought MLK, JR was a communist sympathizer, engaging in dog whistle politics despite the truth of the lives of minority people.  Of Dr. King, Reagan  wrote, to Gov. Meldrim Thomson (member of the John Birch society): “On the national holiday you mentioned, I have the reservations you have, but here the perception of too many people is based on an image, not reality. Indeed to them, the perception is reality. We hope some modifications might still take place in Congress.”

 The proejcted Reagan is the man I think his supporters, who were typically not impacted by his more unsavory beliefs and policies,  have chosen to believe in – despite all evidence to the contrary.  I see a  revisionist approach to the man, one which allows his supporters to view his  values as non-racist or non-harmful.  After all,  he was merely seeking to help minorities help themselves, wasn’t he?  They see him as someone who couldn’t have held racist sentiments because he occasionally said nice things about minorities  or displayed some act of contrition for a lousy thing he’d said or done.  I think it’s worth noting that Reagan’s most openly positive PERSONAL actions, regarding race, reported in the link above, occurred prior to his political transition.  As President, he spoke about overt acts of racism that he found troubling.  None of those feelings stopped him from promoting the false notions of welfare queens and young bucks buying steaks with food stamps.

10 Real Facts About Ronald Reagan That Republicans Never Choose to Admit

 

Jesse Helms (who attempted to filibuster the bill which created the MLK, Jr. Holiday)

“White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races.” – Ad created by campaign strategist Helms and friends for the blatantly racist (and successful) U.S. Senate campaign of Willis Smith in 1950. During the same campaign, Helms described UNC as “the University of Negroes and Communists.”  Creative Loafing 

The Helms Center denies any involvement, officially or unofficially, in the Smith campaign.  Then there is this:

Helms gained a political following in the 1960s as a commentator on Raleigh’s WRAL-TV and the Tobacco Radio Network with his denunciations of the civil rights movement, liberalism and communism.  As a senator, he explained that he voted against Roberta Achtenberg, President Clinton’s nominee for a Housing and Urban Development position, “because she’s a damn lesbian.”

“Let it GO! “, you say.  Everyone was racist, sexist, and homophobic in the 1950s and 60s, you say.  Well, that’s WRONG, I respond. Not everyone was racist, sexist, and homophobic.  That’s one of the reasons there was support for the Civil Rights bill and cross cultural participation in the movement.  Jesse Helms did not give up his beliefs after the Civil Rights movement (which he opposed). 

Same source:

When Helms encountered protesters during a visit to Mexico in 1986, he remarked: “All Latins are volatile people. Hence, I was not surprised at the volatile reaction.”

Let’s not forget his reported comments to Orin Hatch about Carol Moseley-Braun (D), the first elected  African-American female U.S. Senate, serving from 1993 to 1999:  “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.”  The Helms Center,  of course, reports the interaction as much more  friendly. It adds that she heard his comments to Hatch and told him that his singing would make her cry if he sang “Rock of Ages”.  Awwww, see, racism can be warm and friendly too, depending on which side of that interaction you’re standing.  No need to realize that CMB managed to defuse an awful situation with humor…. just so those associated with the Helms Center know, slaves did not sing in the fields out of joy.

Strom Thurmond (who left the Democratic Party because of its support for 1964 Civil Rights Act)

His most famous quote – the unsanitized version?

“I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres into our swimming pools into our homes and into our churches.” 1948

The quote is reported with either “Nigger” or “Nigra” being used.  Which matters more? Neither.  What matters more is that by the time he uttered those words, Thurmond was the father of a 23 year old African- American woman named Essie Mae Washington-Williams.  He’d kept her hidden from the public.  Thurmond fathered her when he was 22 years old and Ms. Washington-Williams’ mother, Carrie Butler, was 16 years old and a maid working  in the Thurmond household.

When his daughter was 32 years old,  the then-Democrat, Thurmond had successfully filibustered the 1957 Civil Rights Act by speaking for more than 24 hours.  Would it surprise you to know that he supported Barry Goldwater in 1964?  No?  It shouldn’t. He did.  He also worked aggressively for Richard M. Nixon in 1968. 

Slate outlines the reasons why Thurmond’s later actions should not be treated as a repudiation of his earlier beliefs.  For me, the fact that he died, never acknowledging his daughter is sufficient.  She set the historical record straight, on her own, six months after her father’s death.

Steve King

For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.” July 2013, referring to Dreamers.

Calves the size of cantaloupes?  75 pound bags?  Ok, Whatever, Steve King.

(While in Cleveland, Ohio,  July 2016):  “This whole ‘white people’ business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie. I mean, I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?”

I’m sure if he’d just asked anyone who studied African-American history, or anyone who knew anything about that city, that they would have told him about Kentucky born Garrett Morgan, who made Cleveland, Ohio his home: Inventor of the first safety hood, one of the first stop lights, and a host of other inventions.  King’s race baiting comments are too numerous to name.

Paul LePage

Everything you need to know about this guy is summed up in the following statement: 

In addition to the GOP’s stand out all stars, above, there are the assorted bunch of racially insensitive characters (elected at all levels of government) whose actions mirror the above, to varying degrees.  I do not believe that all of the above are equal in terms of the depth of vulgarity of their approaches to race and racism.  I do believe they are tied to an ideology that binds them to the Republican party.  As stated earlier, Trump didn’t open the door to the alt-right, he just took the door off the hinges so that they could move about freely.  It is up to GOP voters and supporters as to whether the door is closed, or if they leave it open and allow the alt-right to eventually burn the party down.  The constant denial of its troubles with race will mean that the door can never be properly secured to keep out the fringe. If the party doesn’t start to look deeply into its soul  and then take action, it will never again be the party of Lincoln, in the way that it has hoped to be.  Their refusal to take action after the 2012 autopsy tells us that.

Let’s hope that post-Trump,  things change for the better.