In an interview included in a 1970 New York Times article, Keven Phillips, one of Richard Nixon’s key strategist made clear what Republicans were trying to do with their “southern strategy” Whatever his personal feelings may have been, his job was first and foremost as a strategist:
“ From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
That doesn’t mean Republicans are out and out racist. In 2005, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized to the NAACP for exploiting racial polarization to win elections, and ignoring the black vote. He was completely sincere.
“Republican candidates often have prospered by ignoring black voters and even by exploiting racial tensions,” and, “by the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African-American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out. Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”
It wan’t a passing sentiment. The Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009-2011, Michael Steele, was a black man.
Many, perhaps the majority of Republicans, despise racism whenever they see it. Many weren’t thrilled with Affirmative Action and the trillions of taxpayer dollars spent on improving the lot of our poor, but they weren’t furious. They could live with it. Some probably felt, that given our history of slavery, the black poor deserved it. Quite a few voted for Barack Obama because regardless of his politics, black people’s history of oppression, the paucity of successful role models (other than athletes and people in show business) cried out for a man like Obama to inspire them. Furthermore we seemed to have moved beyond racial disharmony and in their private lives, many former Dixiecrats seemed to welcome black friends and acquaintances.
But suddenly Donald Trumps emergence has made Republicans aware of their own silent majority, not just Southern whites but uneducated white blue collar workers all over America.
There are many Republicans who don’t fit that description. For example, Neoconservatives who during the 60’s realized that their Leftist friends were far too critical of America. Too many on the left seem to hate America. They relished pointing out every last way American motives and actions, seemed to be against poor people elsewhere- how we supported corrupt and sometimes violent dictators. And then there was our lifestyle. They despised our consumerism and crassness.
Neoconservatives found a different history. They lauded the wonder of our empire. Without military conquest, American business ways were being imitated everywhere, bringing prosperity, much like our own, to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and now China. China, for instance now has over 1 million people with a net worth of over 1.6 million dollars. But even back then, they marveled at the magic of capitalism, what it had brought to America, and everywhere it was adopted by hard working people. Their idea and the idea of mainstream Republicans was that, in the thousands of years of world history America, and its effect on other countries, was exceptional. Certainly we had made mistakes, and there were those among us who had been selfish, greedy, and deserving of the criticism leveled at the United States, But on the whole, we were extraordinary. In contrast to the Democrats who focused on our failings, when allowed, Republicans waxed eloquently on what we had accomplished, and would still accomplish, particularly if the Democrats stopped tearing the country down.
Along the way, there were indirect appeals to the silent majority. In 1986, Willie Horton, a black man who had stabbed a 17 year old gas station attendant,19 times before stuffing him in a plastic garbage container to die, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Subsequently, Massachusetts had started a weekend furlough program for prisoners as part of their rehabilitation efforts. The legislature passed a law excluding convicted murderers. Then governor, Michael Dukakis, vetoed it. Willie Horton went out on weekend furlough and didn’t return. Horton twice raped a local woman after pistol-whipping, knifing, binding, and gagging her fiancé. He then stole the car belonging to the man he had assaulted. After he was apprehended on October 20, Horton was sentenced in Maryland to two consecutive life terms plus 85 years. The sentencing judge, Vincent J. Femia, refused to return Horton to Massachusetts, saying, “I’m not prepared to take the chance that Mr. Horton might again be furloughed or otherwise released. This man should never draw a breath of free air again.”[
In 1988, when Michael Dukakis ran for president, Republicans eagerly picked up the Horton issue after Dukakis clinched the nomination. In cities all across America crime was out of control. People had double and triple locks on their doors, and still failed to stop break ins. The sound of car alarms in the street was constant. Finally, everywhere, much of the inner cities emptied out as white people fled for what they perceived as safety. Without directly or indirectly saying a word about black people and crime, using Willie Horton picture in the campaign was nevertheless considered racist. Everyone knew what was meant. Under pressure, on October 5, the Republicans removed the Willie Horton ad. They replaced it with a another ad, “Revolving Door“, which also attacked Dukakis over the weekend furlough program. While the advertisement did not mention Horton or feature his photograph, it depicted a variety of intimidating-looking men walking in and out of prison through a revolving door. Most of them were not black. The controversy nevertheless escalated when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen and former Democratic presidential candidate and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called the “Revolving Door” ad racist.
Following this, black crime, neither directly nor indirectly became a hot political topic. President Clinton joined with Republicans in modifying welfare programs so that they would not be a way of life, but great efforts were made to place the focus on welfare’s downside for both white and black recipients.
The other way Republicans and Democrats fought directly was over life style issues. The sexual revolution, the attack on conventional norms, such as woman’s role in the home, the legitimacy of homosexuality, the far reaching cultural revolution of the 60’s had moved beyond hippies to pretty much become the cultural norm on the media. “Family Values” became the Republican focus point. The Republicans were not only supporting their Southern constituency, evangelicals and other religious Christians, uneducated blue collar workers were generally offended by the liberal agenda. Like Archie Bunker, they hated hippies. So did many conventional Republicans, small businessmen, big businessmen, members of the country club set or plain folk, who, for the most part, had always been turned off by counter culture norms. They understood that the counter culture was counter to everything they held sacred.
The Republicans lost this round. They were totally routed. Illegitimate children were no longer a source of shame. Living together unmarried became a norm. On issue after issue, holding on to the old way of seeing things was, at best, quaint. On issue after issue mainstream Republicans eventually said little. Certainly not loudly. Certainly not passionately.
Meanwhile talk radio stations sprang up everywhere to carry on the fight. Some of them were crazy. They were often treated as an embarrassment by establishment Republicans but as the Trump campaign is showing, a revolution was brewing.
It is not that Trump has taken a stand that slam bam identifies the issues dear to heart of his supporters. Perhaps immigration. But it isn’t specifically that. It’s his fury. His anger with political correctness. He’s speaking like they would like to speak, like they would like a leader to speak. Their view of things has been totally discredited, treated like only an idiot or Fascist, or racist, or homophobe, or sexist could possibly talk like they do or think that way.
Where do we start? I guess we can start with homosexuality. Until a few years ago most people thought of homosexuality as strange, or sinful, or repulsive, or if they had conflicts on the issue, frightening. For a man to put another man’s penis in his mouth, or his anus. Yuck. Many guys had gay friends or acquaintances and could certainly like them or respect them. Or not. But political correctness dictated that even a small amount of ambivalence on the subject was a sign of a disturbed view of the world. No debate, no shades of grey on the subject was acceptable. Transvestites somehow slipped through as “normal” and then in a number of movies “cool”. And then transgenders, men cutting off their penis became A okay. There was amazingly little shock from standard bearers of conventional morality. They wouldn’t dare risk going up against politically correct valid ways to react
Or let’s talk about the hottest topic this year, race. In my generation having empathy for the history and suffering of black people was rightly expected. But from the very beginning of the civil right era there has been ambivalence about a subgroup of blacks that don’t seem able to get themselves out of the bottom rungs of society. There was and still is horrible violence among them, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, teen-age pregnancy. Until Obama stopped the Justice Department in 2008 from collecting this statistic, there were approximately 14000 rapes of white woman every year.
Among intelligent white people, Republican and Democrat, or people of average intelligence and sensitivity, even before political correctness squeezed out valid discussion, no one, would ever mention any of this. They would be thought of as a racist for it to be on their mind. But aware they have been all along. Both liberals and Republicans, if they lived in the city, sent their children to private schools. And besides door men in the city, they have often moved to gated communities. This does not mean black people were excluded. On the contrary, middle class black people were always welcome and indeed reassured the white people seeking protection that race was not the issue.
Recently Republicans have made a big deal that Democrats, beholden as they are, to the unions are blocking their solutions to the educational failure of our inner city schools. At long last, they believe they have a solution. Charter schools can provide the miracle. It is one of many solutions that have appeared over the last 50 years. All have been failures. Community control. No child left behind. Slogan after slogan. That isn’t to say that sometimes, perhaps many times, children emerge from terrible conditions and do indeed succeed. Or that Charter schools aren’t a great idea facilitating motivated parents to help their kids. But as a group, most of the time, with or without charter schools, kids succeed because they have parents that guided them through the hardships facing them, the same as other children, of any color who managed to get something from their school and succeed. Why is this failure of the black under classes automatically a failure of white society? Why is the high crime rate of the black underclass due to racism? Why is the disproportionate number of blacks in prison explained by their treatment by whites. Why is it always whitey that is the explanation. Every other group of individuals has seen it as their own duty to overcome the difficulties facing them. They didn’t expect to be favored or treated specially. It is in fact only individuals who can succeed or fail.
Political correctness has made the harsh indictments and factual distortions of the Black Lives Matter movement not get challenged. The Justice Department, at the invitation of the Police Chief was asked to study the pattern in Philadelphia. Philadelphia policemen kill unarmed youths three times more often than New York City police. Sure enough 80% of those shot owing to “a misinterpreted threat perception” were black and their average age was 20. However the threat perception failure rate for white policemen was 6.8% with black suspects. For black policemen it was 11.4% and for Hispanic policemen it was 16.8%. All of the shootings of young unarmed black men took place in the most violent sections of the city, where danger is rampant. No middle class black neighborhoods had an unarmed black man killed.
And so on. It is impossible to bring these issues up without being considered a racist, impossible to go over the facts of what happened in Ferguson, (where even Obama’s Justice Department found the policeman was justifiably acting to save his life). Political correctness has made any kind of discussion verboten.
Let us cut to the chase. Peggy Noonan recently wrote an interesting article in which she referred to Trump’s followers as the unprotected. For 50 years, Blacks have had the Democratic Party to take up their cause. The elite of both Democratic and Republican persuasion do not need protection. They went to their fine schools and while Republicans may not agree with the conclusions of the politically correct, it matters little. They can take care of themselves. The white working class has had no one. Unlike people on the bottom, who have Medicaid, they pay through the nose for their insurance and can’t afford health care. They pay a lot of taxes and little if anything comes back to them from government programs. And, in truth, throughout America, they are the laborers being displaced by immigrants. In my part of Connecticut, near Danbury, white plumbers and electricians are so far holding on, but the masons, those who cut down giant trees, landscapers, roofers, carpenters, are almost entirely being replaced by Spanish speaking laborers. I have no contact with factory workers, but I imagine the same thing is happening there
So yes, Trump is a moron. He does not have well thought out ideas. I’m not sure he knows what will come out of his mouth next. But his style, his anger is the anger of his constituents. At last there is someone not intimidated by the political correctness of the media. He says what they have wanted to say, what I assume they say to each other, but has been unheard by the rest of society. We can and should fear that some of the positions Trump expresses could turn into Fascism. The vanity and stupidity of his facial expressions are eery in that they remind me of film clips I have seen of Mussolini. But that cannot be used, as it often is used, to shut up unsavory ideas. More than Republicans ever imagined could happen, their southern strategy, which in the beginning seemed expedient, has metastasized into a force that has surrounded and may consume them.