Friday, August 19, 2016

The Republican Party's Great White Problem

The GOP isn't the problem. Uneducated, misinformed, racist White people are.
On the night of November 3rd, 1964, a little under a year after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson won the Presidential Election over Barry Goldwater. It's been written that President Johnson wasn't in a celebratory mood, and given how he had just won the most lopsided victory ever, in terms of popular vote, you'd think he would have been. Johnson had leveraged the nation's grief over President Kennedy's death to get a hotly contentious civil rights bill passed. While common sense, common decency, and morality were on the side of that decision, a very large section of the Democratic electorate weren't too keen on having a key pillar of white supremacy erased. "We've lost the south for a generation. Probably longer,"  President Johnson famously barked after the bill was passed.

Since the end of the American Civil War up until the early 1960s, progressive Democrats from the North and Northeast looking for national success, much to their consternation, had to spend decades placating to the needs and whims of their largest constituency, white Southern voters. The victors of the Civil War, the Republican Party, enjoyed near universal support from African-Americans. Having literally fought to free Blacks, it wasn't hard to see why, but as America began rapidly changing during the late 1950s and early 1960s, many Democratic leaders were left at odds as to where the party should stand on the issue of civil rights.

Of course, and again, common sense and basic human dignity said this was an easy choice, albeit one that could potentially alienate MILLIONS of voters. The leadership of the Democratic Party was forced to look around them and examine their ranks. While their phalanx made up the voting majority of Americans at the time, the party had long been overrun with harden and uncompromising segregationists and/or violent racists. Thus they stood at a crossroads of losing a majority of their voters by pushing a policy that said voters overwhelmingly opposed or stand squarely with their voters on the wrong side of history. This was the moment Democrats had to choose between repudiating themselves from an identity/legacy of racism and white supremacy or to begrudgingly move forward with those voters and those ideals. Their choice, again while historically laudable, cost them dearly at the time and for a few years to come as well.

Nixon's "Southern Strategy" has turned out to be a
poison pill that wouldn't take effect until decades later.
In 1968, using Richard Nixon's infamous "southern strategy", the Republican Party was all to eager to sign the same faustian bargain the Democrats discarded four years earlier, by appealing to the millions of racist White Americans that felt "betrayed" and were able to shift the entire political landscape of the country. Seemingly overnight, the entire south went from blue to red. The effects were so overwhelming that the Democrats lost five of the next six Presidential elections. It could be argued had Watergate NOT been uncovered, and had Nixon not sullied the Republican Party so prodigiously, Jimmy Carter would have likely lost to a Republican in the 1976 election. Few realized it at the time, as most still don't, Watergate wasn't Nixon's lasting and most ignominious effort. It was the "southern strategy" that was the true poison pill. Not just because Republicans KNOWINGLY TIED THEMSELVES WITH RACISM TO WIN AN ELECTION, but because they hooked themselves to religion as well. Racism and religion. Two things they didn't envision going out of style in America.

Traditionally, if you're a racist in America, you're more than likely a White Christian. As little back as the 2004 election the percentage of ALL registered voters identifying as "White Christians" was 64%. More than enough to carry the party that most directly appealed to them to a victory in a general election with little to zero support elsewhere in the electorate. In '08, the number dropped to 61%. In '12, it was down to 57%. Now in the '16 election the number of voters identifying as "White Christians" is down to 45%. So not only did Republicans not work on some much needed outreach to other voting blocks, Republicans have literally did more to alienate themselves to everyone else, while enduring themselves to the one voting block that is quickly evaporating. Their strategy over the past few years has been straight out of the "How to Lose National Elections" handbook. Even the one voting block that Republicans have carried in every election since the party's inception, college educated Whites, are starting to exit.

Yes we're more divided and part of that problem is during an age where communication is faster and easier than ever, where most of us hold the full weight of human knowledge at our fingertips in the form of smartphones, somehow, someway, facts have become "debatable". There's no longer partisan agreement on "basic reality." Traditional media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN are forced into an awkward position of trying to be fair and balanced while being beholden to the actual truth. These outlets want and SHOULD give Donald Trump, his supporters, and his surrogates a platform to make the case for him. Rather than using these outlets to have a nuanced discussion about the differences between the candidates or laying out their candidate's vision for America, Trump and/or his surrogates are coming off as "combative" and the media is then seen as "bias" when they're simply forced by reason and logic to debunk blatant falsehoods told by Trump and his lackeys.

Breitbart CEO Steven Bannon has shifted the political landscape
to a place where the right-wing media doesn't let things like
"facts" stand in the way of pushing a narrative they want.

You know, like "President Obama was born in Kenya." Or, President Obama, not even an elected official at the time, led the nation into the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Or President Obama and Hillary Clinton, not nationally elected officials at the time, changed the ROE (rules of engagement) that led to Captain Khan's death in 2004. Or, Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster. It's impossible for any reputable journalist to let patently false statements to go unchallenged. Supporters are left feeling like their candidate is being treated unfairly and are "forced" to venture off to places like Breitbart or Fox News, that will freely incubate all of the aforementioned fringe conspiracies. Leaving these supporters convinced that these easily proven lies are true and further entrenching them on the wrong side of a position.

Sure, senior leadership like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner could have done a far better job at stopping some of the lies, but Republican leadership has to work on acknowledging the real problem with their party; their voters. The Republican party is overrun with homophobic religious zealots. Gun-loving sycophants. Ultra violent Neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klansmen. Lie spreading, paranoid conspiracy theorists. The latter of which has become way louder and far too influential in terms of shifting our national political narrative. 

Much like the Democrats in 1964 with Civil Rights, Republican leadership needs to be willing to take bold policies stances that'll help them shed those same racist voters the Dems abandoned, in order to return to a place where the party can win general elections. Because again, they (uneducated, misinformed, White racists) don't even have the kind of numbers anymore that make it worth appealing directly to them!

Ultimately, I don't want to see the Republican Party fade away. It was founded for the most noble reason any political party ever was; free slaves. The country needs the balance of conservative politics to reign in spending, control overreaching government policies, and to keep the Democrats honest. It's not the party's fault per say. You have to understand that the type of nativism and white populist politics that Donald Trump tapped into will ALWAYS have a place in American society. One, this is a free country and even as pigheaded as those views are, people have the right to have them. Secondly, and unfortunately, because racism still exist. It'll always be there, only now it'll be, loudly I might add, on the edges of our democracy and not at the center as it once was. And that my friends is a good thing.