In the Age of Obama and Donald Trump, the Republican Party and movement conservatives exist in a state of temporal upset. This condition manifests itself in two primary ways. First, today’s Republican Party is a revanchist organization: it is fighting to take back “lost territory” as it yearns for an imagined “good old days” of unrepentant and unapologetic white male supremacy. Second, movement conservatism and the Republican Party are reactionary forces. They are actively working--and have been for many years--to destroy the consensus politics that governed American politics from the New Deal to the election of Bill Clinton.
As such, there are heavy echoes of the past in the talking points of Republican elites and the political noise that reverberates throughout the right-wing news entertainment disinformation machine today.
The right-wing’s paranoid fixations on “Islamic terrorists” are a contemporary version of the Cold War era Red Scare. “Muslims” are now the new “commies”. The public policy goals of the John Birch Society still exert a powerful influence on the Republican Party and movement conservatives. And, as Richard Hofstadter famously described in The Paranoid Style in American Politics, the American Right-wing is still possessed of conspiratorial fantasies where instead of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy searching for “Manchurian candidates” and “fifth columnists”, a large percentage of Republicans actually believe that the country’s first black president is a secret Muslim, not an American citizen, hates America, and whose political career is the result of a plot hatched in some other country decades before his election to the White House.
Donald Trump wants to “Make America Great Again” by building a wall between the United States and Mexico, then forcibly deporting millions of “illegal aliens”. His antipathy to immigrants from Latin and South America is a sentiment shared by other Republican politicians and voters. Such animus extends to other groups as well. For example, a plurality of Republicans want Muslims to be banned from the United States. In all, this is the raw and naked nativism of the nineteenth century Know-Nothing Party.
The Republican Party and the Christian Right have a prurient and scatological obsession with how gay, lesbian, and transgendered people use the toilet. The American Right’s “potty politics” is nothing but homophobia mated with a preexisting framework of hatred and bigotry that has its origins in panics about “race mixing” during the reign of Jim and Jane Crow. Moreover, American Apartheid was defended by language such as “states rights”, “local control”, and “federal overreach”. The same defense is used by Republican politicians in states such as North Carolina, Kansas, and Oklahoma, who want to harass transgendered people (and apparently also inspect their genitals) while they use the bathroom. During and before Jim and Jane Crow, white elites and others were afraid that black men would rape white women in bathrooms if public facilities were desegregated. Now the same types of right-wing voices are obsessed with transgendered and queer folks supposedly molesting their children in the toilet.
There is another ugly ghost of the past that is given life in the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the Republican Party in the Age of Obama. It hides in plain sight. It is omnipresent. It is a type of new normal, one that crept over the Republican Party and movement conservatives beginning with the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth of the infamous Southern Strategy and reaching maturity with the presumed nomination of Donald Trump as the 2016 presidential GOP candidate.
Much of the rhetoric, policies, and goals of the Republican Party and Donald Trump in 2016 are disturbingly similar to those of the white supremacist, racial terrorist organization the Ku Klux Klan which was founded after the American Civil War.
The present platform of the Ku Klux Klan’s advocates the following:
- The recognition that America was founded as a Christian nation.
- The recognition that America was founded as a White nation.
- Repeal the NAFTA and GATT treaties.
- Stop all Foreign Aid Immediately.
- Abolish ALL discriminatory affirmative action programs.
- Abolish all anti-gun laws and encourage every adult to own a weapon.
- Actively promote love and appreciation of our unique European (White) culture.
- Drug testing for welfare recipients.
- Balance the budget.
- Rehabilitate our public school system. We must remove the humanist influence in our schools and teach fact based curriculum to further the students knowledge not someone’s opinion. Parents should have the option of private or home schooling if they prefer and students should be free to practice their Christian faith in the classroom.
- A flat income tax should be introduced to allow for the funding of community, state and federal projects.
- Abortion should be outlawed except to save the mother’s life or in case of rape or incest.
- We support a national law against the practice of homosexuality.
- Restoring individual freedom to Christian America.
- Everyone who can work should work.
- We support state sovereignty resolutions.
The Ku Klux Klan has massaged these goals in an effort to win more “mainstream” support from the white American public. Since (at least) the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has moved farther to the right. The result is a convergence between the Ku Klux Klan’s platform and the Republican Party’s political agenda.
This should be no surprise. The Republican Party is the United States’ largest de facto white identity organization. Conservatism and racism is now one and the same thing in the American post civil rights era; Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumed 2016 presidential candidate is a proto fascist, racist, nativist who is endorsed by white nationalists and white supremacist organizations.
Both “old fashioned” and “modern” racism exert a powerful hold over the Republican base. Here, racism and hostility to Barack Obama are highly correlated. As detailed by new research from Michael Tesler, “old fashioned” overt racism is resurgent in America and now predicts partisanship and Republican voting for white Americans. Analysis of the 2016 American National Election Studies shows that Donald Trump supporters are especially receptive to white identity politics.
As shown in a recent paper by David Cunningham, Justin Farrell and Rory McVeigh, the presence of an active Ku Klux Klan chapter in a given area in the American South had a direct impact on the number of white voters who switched their support from the Democrats (the part of African-American civil rights and President Johnson) to the Republican Party (the party of Nixon and Reagan’s Southern Strategy and the “silent (white) majority”).
Ultimately, the racism and bigotry of Donald Trump are not in conflict with the desires of Republican voters. As reported by a NY Times/CBS News poll, 80 percent of Republicans want their leaders to rally around their party’s presumptive presidential candidate. Racism and bigotry, both overt and covert, are the name brand of today’s Republican Party. Its voters find such values appealing. They are not rejecting Donald Trump. Instead, they are embracing him.
Donald Trump is the logical result of at least five decades of Republican political strategy from the end of the Civil Rights Movement to the present. The election of Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, twice, is just the proximate cause for “Trumpmania”-- what is really just a mass political temper tantrum on the Right caused by a potent mix of authoritarianism and racism.
While liberals, progressives, and others have, with great cause, celebrated the election of a black man twice to the presidency—and what this symbolizes about forward change along the color line in America—many of them have been blind and deaf to the persistence of white supremacy in the Age of Obama.
The spring board and potential for Donald Trump’s rise to power in the Republican Party was hiding in plain sight. Alas, too many members of the commentariat and political chattering classes simply chose to look the other way.
“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” There should also be a caveat or amendment to this wisdom: A person is rarely correct when they underestimate the historic power of white racism in American politics and daily life.