White Supremacy Is the Point
All the dog-whistling and hypocrisy cannot hide the truth: the GOP is built on white supremacy and thrives because of it.
The Republican Party was born in 1854 as a reaction to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Its founders opposed the expansion of slavery to the Western territories. They believed in “high tariffs to promote economic growth, high wages and high profits, [and] generous pensions for Union veterans.”
This Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, Grant, and Eisenhower, died on July 2, 1964; the day LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act.
The GOP goes South
The landmark legislation led to the division of the Democratic Party and a national reshuffling of political influences. In the 1968 presidential election, George Wallace, the segregationist Governor of Alabama infamous for “standing in the schoolhouse door,” won 46 Electoral College votes.
Seeing the rise of a potential third-party movement in the Deep South, Nixon oriented the GOP towards what he called a “Southern strategy.” GOP political strategist Kevin Phillips described the plan in a 1970 New York Times interview. The intention can hardly be misconstrued:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 per cent of the Negro vote, and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
Nixon could not communicate outright about white supremacy or segregation, as this would hinder his chances of success with voters outside of the Deep South, so he and his team became semantically creative. As H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff explained:
Nixon’s advisers recognized that they could not appeal directly to voters on issues of white supremacy or racism. […] Nixon emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognized this while not appearing to. With the aid of Harry Dent and South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, who had switched to the Republican Party in 1964, Nixon ran his 1968 campaign on states’ rights and “law and order”.
“Law and order” became a central aspect of the GOP communication strategy. So too did the notion of the party being that of “fiscal responsibility.” To this day, this is how GOP legislators and pundits qualify their economic policies.
Let’s listen to GOP strategist Lee Atwater explaining, in 1981, the true meaning of the concept:
Y’all don’t quote me on this. 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”. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the back-burner.
The Immoral Majority
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, it was in no small part due to the unwavering support of the Religious Right and Falwell’s Moral Majority. How could a Californian divorcé actor end up the candidate of the Evangelical right, you might ask? It’s because, behind the appearance of religiosity, behind the anti-abortion movement, once again, their motives were centred on race.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Listen to conservative activist Paul Weyrich explaining the Religious Right strategy at a conference in 1990:
Weyrich tried to make a point to his Religious Right brethren (no women attended the conference, as I recall). “Let’s remember,” he said animatedly, “that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.”
The GOP saw Roe as a new opportunity to communicate discretely on their core issue: race. Abortion has since become a central tenet of the Republican credo, alongside “law and order,” “fiscal responsibility,” and “states rights.” A full arsenal of dialectical weapons in service of white supremacy, weapons that have been honed for over half a century and that are still used today with frightening efficiency:
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Today’s Republicans love to claim that they are descendants from Lincoln and Eisenhower, but both statesmen would denounce them in an instant. The GOP of the late XXth and early XXIst centuries was born from the ashes of segregation and fostered because of white supremacy. They have embraced this ideology and have made it theirs.
We can’t look the other way, or pretend otherwise. White supremacy is the point of the GOP.