By Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Ever the showman, Trump staged two separate 4th of July speeches demonizing protesters who were challenging police brutality in the murder of George Floyd. Calling protesters “far-left fascists,” his baseless “Cancel Culture” message claims totalitarianism is “driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.”
Trump is firing up his shrinking base by stoking the perceived grievances of white voters. He proffered that “America is imperiled” apparently by those who seek police reforms and social justice. Instead of unifying America by finding solutions in the wake of the protests or announcing strong Federal actions to address the worst pandemic in a hundred years, Trump’s divisive messaging doubled down on cultural division.
Trump called protesters “angry mobs.” He claims they “are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, defac(ing) our most sacred memorials, and unleash(ing) a wave of violent crime in our cities… In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.”
Taxpayers are footing the bill for these divisive political events. From the military band, Mount Rushmore facilities, and fireworks to the jets and helicopters flying overhead, Trump’s extravagant reelection event for 3,700 Trump donors and supporters was held at our expense. Images of these lavish events will no doubt soon be a part of Trump’s political ad campaign.
Trump claims to be concerned for monuments, but he dismantled the Native American’s Bears Ears Monument by cutting its acreage by 85% for uranium miners. Trump’s border wall cut through the ecologically fragile Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Trump cut the two-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument nearly in half to open it to coal miners.
Trump’s racist rhetoric and Antifa claims have consequences too. Armed self-appointed militia and white nationalists from around the country traveled to the National Parks at Gettysburg on the 4th of July to stop a hoax. An anonymous provocateur on social media created fake plans for non-existent “Antifa” protesters to converge Gettysburg on Independence Day to burn American flags. While it was a perverse hoax, it exposes Trump’s followers who are being hoodwinked by false Antifa claims.
When Trump tweeted a video of a Trumpster shouting “white power” at protesters, others in the administration falsely claimed that he did not hear those words. Trump’s racist diatribes, blatant anti-Muslimism, treatment of innocent Latino children, and past comments about “very good people” who were chanting “the Jews will not replace us” has made it painfully clear that Trump is a racist.
The racist shift in the Republican Party did not start with Trump.
The Democratic Party long-held white southern voters dating back to when the Democratic National Convention in 1864 nominated General George B. McClellan-a reluctant general that Lincoln fired for inaction. At that same convention, Democratic “Copperheads” succeeded in adopting a platform advocating dividing the Nation to seek an immediate peace with the Confederacy.
Southern white voters consistently supported conservative Democrats, including racist President Wilson. A majority of black voters backed Republicans up to and including Eisenhower’s elections in 1952, and in 1956. Ike had a deep respect for his African American soldiers. He gave a good reason for African Americans to stay Republican. The Eisenhower administration following in the tradition of Lincoln’s Republican Party and accomplished much for civil rights. Eisenhower integrated the armed forces. He promoted more blacks into the federal bureaucracy than his predecessors. He appointed federal judges and lawyers to his justice department, who supported racial justice. In 1954, Ike sent U.S. National Guard troops to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School enforcing the 1954 unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
While the courts were dismantling Jim Crow laws, the historical relationship between Southern white voters and the Democratic Party began to decay. The civil rights movement increasingly gained the support of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, President Kennedy, and later President Johnson. When Johnson signed the Voter Rights Act of 1964, he acknowledged to his press secretary that he had just given the South to the Republicans. Bill Moyers shared with me that he checked in with the President each night before the President turned the lights out. “The night the Act passed, I found him in bed with the bulldog edition of the Washington Post lying on his chest. The headline was “Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act.” While the media proclaimed the unprecedented and historical Act, yet, Johnson was glum. Did I ask him why? The President responded, “I think we’ve just delivered the South to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.”
Republican Presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater ignited a shift in the Republican Party when he voted against the Voter Rights Act. Goldwater believed Brown v. Board of Education, and associated Jim Crow court actions were “abuses of power by the court.” Goldwater also believed Eisenhower embraced socialism. With his racist rhetoric, Goldwater’s campaign ignited a movement within the party of Lincoln in the direction of Southern white voters angered by changes in Democratic leadership on civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr generously reflected, “While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racists.” After hearing Goldwater at the GOP convention in 1964, Jackie Robinson helped launch Republicans for Johnson.
Senator Albert Gore Sr. broke from the southern tradition. He lost his election in the conservative state of Tennessee in 1970 in large part because he voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Republican Bill Brock attracted the support of many white, conservative voters who traditionally supported Gore and the Democratic Party.
Despite Goldwater’s loss, Kevin Phillips, a Republican operative, recognized the trend and made a compelling case for the Republican Party’s political realignment shifting southward and much more conservative. Richard Nixon embraced Phillip’s “southern strategy” and coded language calling on the “Silent Majority” to attract Wallace voters. Nixon’s Silent Majority was mostly blue-collar and white apolitical people in suburban, exurban, and rural middle-class. Embracing Phillip’s strategy, Nixon nominated Southern Conservatives to the Supreme Court and proposed a Constitutional amendment to ban school busing for racial integration. Ronald Reagan continued the phrase Silent Majority and found success using the same Southern Strategy.
Republicans have appointed the majority on the Supreme Court that dismantled critical provisions of the Voters Rights Act undercutting the protections afforded to minority voters.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump often referred to the Silent Majority and claimed in a Phoenix rally that “the silent majority is back, and we’re going to take our country back.”
Trump is now sowing racial divisions in the middle of a raging pandemic while he is winding down Federal testing for COVID-19 in critical locations. Ignoring the compelling evidence that Russians were paying a bounty to Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers, Trump calls the matter “fake news” and a “hoax.” He has failed to respond to Putin’s surrogate war against American Soldiers. Instead of confronting Putin to protect American troops in Afghanistan, Trump suggests that a “left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”
The Lincoln Project, led by traditional Republicans, is running ads that make a compelling case for change. The Republican Party is no longer the Party of Lincoln. It now traffics in racial division and hatred. Supine Republic lawmakers are complicit since they fail to repudiate Trump’s now blatant racism and his deeply troubling failures in leadership. Republican Governors are also failing to take the hard steps necessary to protect Americans from COVID-19, and Republican lawmakers are unwilling to differ with Trump to protect our troops in Afganistan. Voters who have traditionally voted Republican must now decide if they will be complicit in Trump’s takeover of Lincoln’s Party. Every Republican voter must do a self-examination and ask, how did the party of Abraham Lincoln become a dysfunctional party led by a racist?