Racism Is Built Into the DNA of the Republican Party

August 25, 2019

By Steve Jonas

So Trump is at it again. His trope is that Rep. Ilhan Omar (an elected-Representative, with a majority of the popular vote cast, who just happens to be, literally, an African-American) "hates America." Then there are his other attacks on "the Squad," and of course his "dual loyalty" attacks on Jews. Let's face it, his racism and white supremacy tweets and statements are far too many to list.

This is the Trumpian version of the Leader Principle (otherwise know historically as the "Fuerher Principle "): "If you don't agree with me and aren't white (on policy, e.g., national health insurance; practice, e.g., how to deal with asylum-seekers, or whatever), you are not a "true American" and "you hate your country."

Although there are a few rare Republicans. here and there, who have taken exception at one level or another to what Trump has been laying out there in doses of increasing intensity, most are either staying silent, or supporting/excusing him, like the Dominionist, oh-so-principled, Mike Pence and Trump's Josef Goebbels imitator Stephen Miller did.

On Xenophobia

Well, is what Trump is doing right now anything new? Is it a sudden violent departure from traditional Repub. policy? Well, no. In fact, the xenophobia part has been in the genes of the Republican Party since its beginnings. Millard Fillmore was the 13thPresident of the United Sates, and the last Whig to hold that office, succeeding to it upon the death of Zachary Taylor. Denied his party's presidential nomination in 1851 he joined the American Party (otherwise known as the "Know-Nothings") and became their presidential candidate that year. His party was known for its violent (sometime literally) antagonism towards the Irish (Catholic) immigrants who had been fleeing a very poor homeland since the 1830s, a flow that only increased with the potato famine in the mid-1840s. Fillmore became one of the founders of the Republican Party and brought his "know-nothingism" with him, where it festered over the years.

In 1875 the Republicans enacted the first specifically anti-immigrant law, the Page Act, which prevented the immigration of Chinese women (can't be birthing Chinese-ancestry people here, now can we --- sound familiar?) and then in 1882 they enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act. Then came the infamous, Republican, Immigration Act of 1924. It banned all immigration from all of Asia and set severe quotas for immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, among other restrictions. This led to, among other things, the virtual impossibility for Jewish refugees from the Nazis getting into this country during the 1930's and early 40's, until the Second World War cut off Europe completely.

In the mid-60s, what is now looked back upon as a remarkably liberal Republican Party, the party agreed to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which liberalized matters very significantly. But with xenophobia gradually rearing its ugly head in portions of the Republican Party in this century (specifically among the members of misnamed "Freedom Caucus," which should continue to be referred to by our side as the "Tea Party"), Trump has put it back to the head of the line of Republican policy. But, the point here is that this is nothing new for the Repubs. It is just a resurgence of policy that has been in the blood (one might say) of the party since its founding.

On Racism

For most of its existence since the end of Reconstruction following the election of 1876, the Republican Party has been the reactionary party in the United States. In fact, the only reason that Rutherford B. Hayes, the GOP candidate in that disputed 1876 election, won, was that he agreed to end Reconstruction, essentially turning over the Southern states to the former slaveholders and the Ku Klux Klan. Very quickly, despite the best efforts of President Grant, 1869-1877, "The Party of Lincoln" (some Repubs amazingly still use that term) became the party of his predecessor, the racist, pro-slavery, Andrew Johnson (who most unfortunately Lincoln has chosen to "balance" his ticket in 1864). In practice, the party then very quickly turned a blind eye to the successor to slavery, Jim Crow. There were two bright exceptions to this rule (to a greater or lesser extent), Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. But their influence did not last long.

But then came Richard Nixon. In his early days he was an avatar of Joseph McCarthy (and his vicious and ruthless right-hand man, Roy Cohn, who would later become Trump's mentor), a violent political red-baiter, a virulent "anti-communist" abroad (who nevertheless later engaged in the first "detente" with the Soviet Union in the late 1950's and later than that opened the door to China) as well as an expander of the war on Vietnam. But he wasn't known in his first 20 years in politics as a racist.

However, then, in the late 1960's, he began to implement the Republican Southern Strategy, openly moving into the Southern racist politics that the Democratic Party had left behind when it got solidly behind the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. The Southern Strategy has dominated Republican Party politics ever since. Even before that, they nominated Barry Goldwater for President in 1964 (Goldwater had famously voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and then in the 1970's, after the Nixon resignation began the "clean out" of the relatively liberal wing of their party, starting with the last major "big-government" and inclusionary voice in it, that of Nelson Rockefeller.

Although comprising an overall minority in the country, far right-wing voters are concentrated in the Republican Party. And they came to dominate the Republican primaries, meaning, of course, that Republican reactionaries and racists always had a better chance of winning their party's nomination at any level than did liberal Republicans. And so, within the Republican Party the "Right-Wing Imperative," that is to be able to win a Repub nomination one had to move ever further to the right, was born. And so too, did the party eventually end up with the Louis Gohmerts, the Steve Kings, and the Jim Jordans of this world.

Ronald Reagan truly initiated the historical stream of GOP-led right-wing reactionaries that we now see in front of us, every day, for example on racism. The first campaign stop that Ronald Reagan made following his nomination for President by the Republican Party in 1980 was to the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he made an appeal to the coded expression of "states rights." The town is significant historically only because it is the place that three northern civil rights workers were murdered by white racists, including members of law enforcement, in the "Freedom Summer" of 1964.

That was followed by his usage of racist terms, during his Presidency, like "welfare queen" and "young bucks." Such epithets and actions came to be known as "dog whistles," because they were not openly racist. African-Americans, however, understood with trepidation where Reagan was coming from.

Trumpian Racism/Xenophobia

And so, it came to Trump to take the hood off, politically, including his vocal exhortation that the Central Park Five should receive the death penalty (they were famously exonerated), his open and virulent sponsorship and use of the birtherism myth, then continuing in the 2015-16 election campaign with birtherism still, and the anti-Mexican/anti-Muslim tropes. And the Trumpublicans are now openly racist and xenophobic. How the Democrats can and must combat this political racism generally and Trumpublican racism specifically is the challenge the Democratic presidential candidates face, as well as progressives who are struggling to advance vital policies for the public good while resisting Trump's authoritarianism and white supremacy.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook Medicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a “Trusted Author,” he is a deputy editor for The Greanville Post; a contributor to American Politics to The Planetary Movement; and a contributor to From The G-Man and BuzzFlash. He is also a triathlete (35 seasons, 255 multi-sport races).