On November 8, there will be a many car pile-up on the exit ramp off the Trump Expressway. Republicans will be stepping all over themselves to Matrix-like erase this election from national memory. Every Republican leader will pretend they don’t know who Trump is.
But, not so fast Republicans. …we have the receipts!
The GOP is an addict. The Republican Party is addicted to whiteness, as Jeet Heer painstakingly documents. The “12 Steps” to recovery from any addiction begin – first and foremost – by admitting you have a problem. There can be no forgiveness, no redemption, without first contrition.
After this election the GOP needs, like post-Apartheid South Africa, to set-up a “Truth & Reconciliation” Commission. A half century of political malpractice must be laid bare on the table, and owned up to. The “12 Steps” call for taking “fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” admitting “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Recovery requires “making a list of all persons we had harmed,” then making “direct amends…to them all.”
The GOP is unlikely to do this, making it the only party not doing so. The Democrats are. Hillary has been raked over the coals all year for her husband’s crime bill, for saying “Super Predators,” for NAFTA, for the shortcomings of the 1996 welfare reform, and more. Bernie continues to do penance for the overriding whiteness of his movement, and its “Bernie Bro” culture. Even the Green Party’s Jill Stein was called on the carpet for some less-than-well-thought-out views on race.
Republicans stand alone, refusing to undertake even the most minimal introspection.
I fear this party’s response to Election Day, will resemble less the “12 Steps,” and look more like Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of bereavement after a loss. Worse, Republican won’t even make it to “Acceptance”; they’ll just cycle between Denial, Anger, and Bargaining. Bargaining will be the saddest—pleading to win just one more election with almost-only white votes. …pleading to continue dog-whistling just loud enough that the “alt-right” hears, but not loud enough that suburban moderates hear.
When that fails, they’ll lurch back to denial. “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan,” the saying goes. And come November 9, there are going to be a whole lot of orphans with Republican baby daddies who won’t claim them …Birtherism, the Southern Strategy, the “alt right,” “anchor babies,” and the “segregation academies” origins of school privatization, to name a few.
But Trump is not an orphan. We know the chain of custody. He’s born of a deep malignancy within the GOP – the way Republicans have grown addicted to campaigning for decades. A revisionist history was concocted and sold to voters: the black plight was the result not of white flight and white divestment – both erased from their memories and history-telling – but, instead, black problems were exclusively black people’s doing. A narrative of black deficiency was thus invented.
Seminal to this was Pat Moynihan blaming racial inequality on black single motherhood. This was followed by James Q. Wilson’s “Broken Windows” theory, the flaw in which was well-put by Steve Zeidman: “…we [never] fix the window, we just arrest people who start hanging out by the broken window.” Gone was any awareness of – much less, attention paid to – systemic forces. Nixon and Reagan’s “War on Crime” and “War on Drugs” were the writing of this ‘black people are black people’s problem’ myth into official national policy.
Reagan’s rhetoric of “welfare queens” unfolds in this context, as does the ignoble Willie Horton ad (re: crime), Jesse Helm’s 1990 “Hands” ad (re: affirmative action), Pete Wilson’s 1994 “They keep coming..” ad (re: immigration), and Next Gingrich calling Obama a “food stamp” president in 2012. That’s why today, Trump support correlates strongly with belief that “blacks are lazier” and “more violent.” This is exactly what the Southern Strategy set out to achieve. “…[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognized this while not appearing to,” averred one of the men who devised the strategy – Nixon advisor H.R. Haldeman.
Lee Atwater further explained, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger.’ That hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” So by the 80’s and 90s onward you’re saying “tax cuts” and “budget cuts” targeting against a “mooching” class. “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” elided another Southern Strategist advisor to Nixon – John Ehrlichman – by “getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin” and vilify [both] night after night on the evening news.” “They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote…our leverage in the elections – quite candidly – goes up, as the voting populace goes down,” Paul Weyrich admitted in 1980
You can – obviously – draw a direct line from that, to a senior Trump advisor admitting to a Bloomberg reporter, “We have three major voter suppression operations under way…aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.”
That’s why Republicans still don’t get it. Repudiating Trump isn’t enough; because he’s just saying explicitly what many Republicans have for generations been saying in code. The GOP has yet to own, admit, and recant the Original Sin—which is this entire post-1960s project of getting the white middle class to view poor people and minorities as a chief national menace. Until this lie is admitted, stopped, and Republicans commit to making “amends” for the damage this caused, and campaigning in a new way, then “establishment conservatives’ complaints” about Trump will ring hollow, because they’re proffered in bad faith. As Josh Barro notes, Republican leaders distancing from Trump just because he embarrasses them, are “not really committed to an honest politics, just to a differently dishonest politics.”
Charles Badger is a political strategist and freelance writer. He was coalitions director for Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign.