It should surprise no one that Donald Trump is doing as well as he is in the three-ring circus that is the Republican presidential primaries. He is, after all, the final phase of Republican evolution that began 60 years ago with Richard Nixon and mutated into the Fox News Tea Party after the 2008 elections.
It began with Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” a plan to wrestle the deep south states from the Democratic party. Traditionally, white southern Democrats were opposed to equal rights for African-Americans, and when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they began leaving the Democratic party and aligned with republicans. The Southern Strategy exploited the southern white’s fear and resentment of blacks.
But it did this with subtle innuendo, as opposed to the bombast of George Wallace. The Nixon campaign spoke of “states’ rights” and “law and order,” employing a tactic that would come to be known as “dog-whistle” politics. “States’ rights,” of course, was originally the thin pretense used by southern states as the reason for secession in 1860. Nixon was laying Republican claim to “the angry white male,” which his campaign cynically dubbed “the silent majority.”
Fact: among the eleven states that formed the Confederacy of the Civil War, 77% of their elected representatives and 86% of their elected senators are now republican in 2015. The republican party of today is not the republican party of 150 years ago.
So it would come as no surprise that when Ronald Reagan launched his first presidential campaign in 1979 he chose a county fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where 15 years earlier four civil rights workers from Illinois were found murdered, and that his speech highlighted his commitment to “states’ rights.”
It would also come as no surprise then that Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal, an impeachable violation of the law, mirrored precisely Nixon’s covert, unauthorized expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia. Both men held contempt for the American voting public, Reagan going so far as to state publically that American’s are not capable of understanding how government works.
In order to appeal to the “angry white male” vote, republicans had to simplify their message. And they did this by creating “others” at whom they aimed that growing white male anger. It’s “their” fault you are unhappy/unemployed/uninsured/unhealthy/divorced.
The republican message is vague, hyperbolic and alarmist – the collapse of society, the downfall of America, the end of civilization, specifically western civilization. They express every domestic issue as a choice between two extremes: return to a nostalgic (and paternalistic) way of life last seen sometime in the 1920’s or lose everything to “those people.” They reduce every foreign policy issue to a choice between extremes: establish a U.S. military presence everywhere in the world or face annihilation. Respect for international law, boundaries or treaties is weakness. You are either with us or with…those people. Multilateralism is for pussies.
Republicans identify as Christian (Christian Zionists typically) but quote from the Old Testament. They say they are defending tradition, but won’t say what traditions specifically. They see conspiracies everywhere because it precludes having to deal in facts (“I’m just saying…what if…”). They want their women back in kitchen (preferably pregnant), gays back in the closets, blacks in the back of the bus, Latin Americans back in Latin America and Muslims, well, dead.
They resort to discrediting the messenger, rather than the message. As John Stewart aptly pointed out, when confronted with the indefensibility of their positions, republicans attempt to deny the legitimacy of their questioners. Hence “the liberal media,” “ivory-tower intellectuals,” “liberal elitists” and so on.
Republicans never talk about doing. Only un-doing. Undoing Roe v. Wade. Undoing the Affordable Care Act. Undoing marriage equality. Undoing the Voting Rights Act. Undoing the EPA (a Republican creation, by the way). Undoing Social Security. Because after all, the reasoning goes, these are the reasons why angry white males are so angry. They just didn’t know it until we told them.
To engage in this type of blatant anti-intellectualism one must be incapable of feeling shame; one must be capable of holding to an opinion without lettings facts get in the way, and the more outrageous that opinion, that the president is not an American or that the Affordable Care Act will bankrupt the country, the better. The louder the opinion is shouted, the more it is repeated, the better.
Recently, Carly Fiorina, the woman who wants to become president so she can do to America what she did to Hewlett-Packard, said this of Donald Trump: “It would be nice if occasionally Donald Trump would throw a punch at his good friend Hillary Clinton instead of all the other people in the Republican race.”
Actually, Carly, what would be nice would be to hear some new, fresh ideas come out of your tired old political party, but apparently, stupid is contagious.
It is no wonder that republicans hate Barack Obama as much as they do. He is everything they are not: intellectual, erudite, considered, nuanced, thoughtful, compassionate. He has integrity, and that, too, is seen by republicans as weakness.
And he’s black. Let’s not forget black.
The lesson of the Obama presidency is not in how far we have come. It is in how far we still have to go.