For more than fifty years, the Republican Party, has betrayed its distant, noble 19th century origin as ”the party of Lincoln” and has moved inexorably toward its degeneration into the party of Donald J. Trump: the rump repository of poor, ill-educated, mostly white, xenophobic anger and class resentment.
To those who aren’t students of political history, it may seem crazy that a vulgar, bloviating, serially insulting, spray-tanned, combed-over, shoot-from-the hip billionaire real estate mogul turned reality TV personality with zero political or government experience could seize the Presidential nomination of one of our nation’s two major political parties. But, if you’ve been paying attention since 1964 (or you’ve done the least bit of research), you wouldn’t be so shocked.
Given trends in the Republican party over the past half century, The Donald’s domination of the Republican nominating process should not be a surprise at all: the blitzkrieg elevation of Trump 2016 was, if not inevitable, then certainly very, very, very possible.
With Trump as their standard bearer, whether Republicans like it or not, the chickens have come home to roost for the Grand Old Party.
The phrase “the chickens have come home to roost” means that the bad things someone did in the past have come back to bite them. They must deal with the consequences of dark deeds done long ago.
That expression has been fraught with heavy socio-political baggage, ever since Malcolm X used it in relation to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, saying that, “President Kennedy never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon.”
When he was widely excoriated for his remark, Malcolm X explained that he meant, “the hate in white men had not stopped with the killing of defenseless black people, but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked, had finally struck down this country’s Chief Magistrate.”
Regardless of whether you consider Malcolm’s statement offensive, his citing of “hate, allowed to spread unchecked” has resonance in the context of the current state of the GOP. Indeed, the Republican Party has gotten to this woeful point by deliberately stoking the fires of racial animus, anti-government paranoia, religious intolerance and anti-intellectualism to serve its narrow electoral purposes.
The cancer in the GOP that has metastasized in Trump’s primary success began its rot decades ago with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965. These two landmark legislative victories for racial equality and egalitarian progress were passed by overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and signed into law by a Democratic President.
It’s been said that when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he turned to his press secretary and stated ruefully that the Democratic Party had just “lost the South for a generation.”
Indeed, this was the fateful moment for both major parties. Southern Democrats — “Dixiecrats” as they were called — finally bolted their party for the GOP, fueling the Republican Party’s transition from the anti-slavery “Party of Lincoln” into the “state’s rights”, anti-Federal government repository of white resentment and racism a century after Abraham Lincoln’s martyrdom.
From the mid-1960s to the 1980s – from Nixon to Reagan to Bush, the Republicans sought power by exploiting white, working class disaffection with the advancing Civil Rights movement and other progressive social advancements, from feminism to birth control, gun control and affirmative action. Among this new GOP coalition were Nixon’s “Silent Majority” and “Reagan Democrats” — religious conservatives, including formerly Democratic working class Catholics, who rallied to Republican rhetoric against reproductive rights, LGBT rights and other progressive social causes.
To help keep the flames of anger stirred among their new coalition, Republican politicians were not above race baiting – sometimes in subtle ways and often in overt ways. The openly racist candidacies of George Wallace and former KKK leader David Duke were obvious overtures to racial prejudice.
Ronald Reagan was subtle.
When candidate Reagan touted “states rights” in a speech at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi during his 1980 campaign – many heard an unmistakable race-baiting dog whistle.
Reagan and his staff no doubt knew that in June of 1964, just a few miles from where he spoke, three young civil rights workers (called “Freedom Riders) were murdered by white racists in one of the most infamous atrocities during the Civil Rights Movement.
Reagan’s choice of speaking venue that day was a continuation of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”
The GOP has refined its Southern Strategy over the years into a less obviously racist but no less intolerant “God, Guns and Gays” strategy.
The moneyed Republican political elites cynically exploited these hot-button social issues to garner conservative votes. Yet, once they got those votes, GOP legislators rarely delivered on their fiery rhetoric. Tax breaks for the wealthy were what the Republican Party was truly all about.
After more than five decades of this bait and switch, many in the GOP’s angry extreme right wing got wise to the game. The most zealous of the largely Southern, anti-government, anti-choice (and, yes, racist) base grew impatient with “establishment” Republican political hacks who talked big about outlawing abortion, relaxing gun laws, putting prayer back in schools, ending affirmative action and deporting illegal immigrants – but did little or nothing to advance that agenda. And while GOP candidates crowed, “jobs, jobs, jobs” – once in office, they concentrated instead on tax policy that favored the wealthy and large corporations.
Thus, the Tea Party was born. GOP seats in the House of Representatives — and some in the Senate — were soon occupied by a large bloc of true believers for whom compromise was a dirty word. So, we got dozens of attempts to limit a woman’s right to choose and overturn Obamacare and annual threats of government shutdowns — and why not?
If you’ve been told for decades that government can do any good, who cares if it shuts down?
After all, it was Reagan who said in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
This year, the GOP’s toxic sludge of anti-government rhetoric and subtle (and not so subtle) appeals to racism and intolerance have combined with their own constituency’s anger at the party establishment’s failure to deliver on social issues and jobs, jobs, jobs to produce the noxious nomination of political outsider Donald J. Trump.
Let’s not forget that Trump first seized national political attention in 2011 by questioning the citizenship of the first African-American President of the United States. The Donald was a champion of the “Birther” movement. It wasn’t a dog whistle to the racists in the GOP base: it was a trumpet blast.
A year earlier, in an interview in The National Journal, doddering white Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky declared that, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Seriously. Old cracker McConnell’s number one goal was to delegitimize the first black President.
McConnell, of course, failed in his goal.
Just as the GOP establishment failed in its goal of stopping Donald J. Trump from winning the party’s nomination.
After all, one thing leads to another.
And Republicans only have themselves to blame.