First, if you don’t understand why the president’s tweets telling four brown-skinned Congresswomen to go back to where they came from and the chants of “Send her back” at the Trump rally are racist, you’re probably racist. If you don’t believe it, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most people can’t recognize their own bigotry. It’s part of the problem.
More annoying than the racists in denial are the conservative pundits who’ve ignored or defended the racist wing of the Republican Party for decades and now are blaming liberals for the rise of Trump. Jay Nordlinger of National Review laments that accusations of racism have no meaning because liberals unjustly accused conservatives of racism for years. Another conservative pundit, David Bahnsen, says, “[T]he reason so many on the right embraced him despite all his obvious shortcomings, vulgarities, & inadequacies is because of the way the left has treated the right in this country for DECADES.” What a delusional snowflake.
For DECADES, the movement conservatives passed the buck and tolerated stereotypes and demonization of minorities as long as doing so motivated the racist wing of the party to go to the polls. They were fine with demeaning poor people and gay people, even at the height of the AIDS crisis. Their evangelical Christian charity didn’t extend to people who looked or behaved differently from them.
They sat silent as Jesse Helms accused MLK of being a communist while opposing the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. None of those movement conservatives criticized Helms when he sang Dixie to the only African-American member of the Senate as she entered an elevator. They embraced Ronald Reagan’s racially tinged welfare queen stereotype to demean and ridicule poor black people.
They opposed funding for AIDS research, blaming the victims and calling it a “gay disease.” One Republican Member of Congress read descriptions of gay sex into the Congressional record. They’ve consistently supported legislation that allows discrimination against LGBT people, including measures that would outlaw gay sex.
None of the movement conservatives said anything when George H. W. Bush aired the Willie Horton ad designed to scare white people into voting against Michael Dukakis. When Obama won the presidency, few Republicans called out the thinly veiled racism that marked many Tea Party rallies and, while they may have dismissed birtherism as silly, they never called it racist, which it clearly was.
Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which movement conservative routinely deny, brought the racist wing of the one-party Democratic South into the Republican fold. Over the next 50 years, it grew like a cancer until the party had a plurality of people motivated more by race and xenophobia than free trade and limited government. They nominated Trump and he encouraged the racists to say out loud what they’ve long been thinking. Today, the rest of the GOP has fallen in line, confusing racism with patriotism.
Republicans do have a point, though. Democrats, for their part, need to reel in the cries of racism because there are enough real instances out there not to confuse policy debates with bigotry. Instead of focusing on the division, they should emphasize working to heal our country and making it work again. Their greatest responsibility for Trump came in nominating the one Democrat he could beat in 2016. They shouldn’t make that mistake again in 2020.
The lesson that Democrats should learn is the one that Nancy Pelosi is heeding. Call out and denounce discriminatory language before it infects the party and turns into outright bigotry. Ihlan Omar doesn’t represent my views even if she is entitled to hers. Instead of denouncing racism and bigotry in its ranks, the GOP let it fester and even encouraged it as long as it turned into votes. Movement conservatives bear far more responsibility for Trump than the liberals they’re trying to blame.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >