Not all Republicans are racists but it would be folly not to argue that most racists in the United States are Republicans. The Grand Old Party’s stance on racial and gender inequality has been a hallmark of the Republican Party since the early 1950s. But it wasn’t always that way.
Scholars debate when exactly the tides turned and the Democratic and Republican Parties morphed into the ones we know today, yet no presidential historian of merit can argue that the Republican Party of the 1860s and the Republican Party of today are in any way related other than name.
A far right wing pundit could weave tenuous factual threads from the past and present into a blanket confirmation-bias argument, however the reason the current G.O.P. still banners Lincoln as their political patriarch is, simply put: human rights. And had Lincoln been a flag-waver for states’ rights (which is one of the tenets of the current Republican Party), the U.S. would have been cleaved irretrievably into two countries.
The original Party of Lincoln’s legacy is that of a beacon for human equality — a lantern that today’s Republicans have repeatedly, and legislatively, snuffed out.
Southern Republicans began openly splitting within their party while the Emancipation Proclamation was still being drafted. And those rabble rousers would, over time, become the leaders of the Republican Party that we know today: wealthy white men afraid of losing their social and political stature bound together in their mutual racial and gender-biased bigotry.
And during this time, the pro-abolitionist faction within the party who fought for the rights of freed slaves — who overturned President Andrew Johnson’s veto on the Civil Rights Act of 1866 — were ironically known as the Radical Republicans. However, not surprisingly, their archenemies were the Southern conservatives. The seeds were already planted for a major shift within the Grand Old Party, and it would yield a bitter fruit, ripe for the pickin’, in exactly 100 years.
The Democratic Party has long been the party of the people, enacting social reforms, creating social programs that help the poor or infirmed, and passing laws that protect the rights of all American citizens. Those civil-rights battles were fought piecemeal through many presidential administrations but the one thing they have in common is that after Lincoln they were all signed into law by Democratic presidents.
The second wave of equality came under President Wilson, who succumbed to the demands of Suffragettes and helped pass the Nineteenth Amendment allowing women to vote. (The fact that Wilson opened up an entire new block of voters seemed to all but assure a third term for the stroke-addled president. But that would not be the case, and just like axed kegs of Scotch whiskey and busted bottles of beers on the eve of Wilson’s decidedly unpopular Prohibition, Wilson’s reelection went down the drain.)
President Franklin Roosevelt, with his implementation of the New Deal featured a stipulation that at least 10 percent of welfare assistance be allocated to African-Americans (who coincidentally made up 10 percent of the population at the time and were also within the 20 percent of the population who were living below poverty levels).
Roosevelt’s so-called “Black Cabinet,” (Federal Council of Negro Affairs) which was comprised of forty-five African-Americans (the most famous being Mary Jane Bethune) in lower level federal executive positions, began to swing more blacks toward the Democratic Party. In 1932 most blacks voted overwhelmingly Republican but just four years later Roosevelt, along with members of the Black Cabinet working in tandem with urban mayors (most notably in Chicago), won over the black vote throughout the country.
Prior to 1948 the South was steadfastly Democrat until segregationist Dixiecrats lead by South Carolinian senator Strom Thurmond began whittling away at their party – all under the bunting of “states’ rights.”
By the time President Lyndon Johnson barreled though the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction with the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 the party schisms had changed irrevocably.
Democrats below the Mason-Dixon Line broke with Johnson, a fellow Southerner, fought against desegregation and other morally soiled remnants of the Southland’s “peculiar institutions.” And as blatant racist ideology began to infiltrate the Party of Lincoln, Republicans who stood for racial equality had nowhere to stand and thus crossed the aisle to side with the Democrats. It was southern-styled, boiled-in-wool racism that officially altered the Republican Party.
Continuing with President Carter’s push for the women’s Equal Rights Amendment and to President Obama’s recent support for gay rights (specifically marriage equality), the Democratic Party has consistently been the party of the people since Wilson.
Meanwhile Republicans, including Governor Romney, continue to tamp down the rights of others by proposing the Defense of Marriage Act, which would be the only Amendment to the Constitution that would actually deny American citizens of equal rights.
The term “post-racial America” ebbed into our collective vernacular during President Obama’s first inauguration in 2008; we had entered a new era and the electorate had, in effect, made reparations for our nation’s soul. And it seemed, for a breeze of a time, to be all behind us. Yet the bigotry continued.
If it appeared there were increased demonstrations of racism during the 2012 presidential campaign season, there’s a reason for that: A survey from the Associated Press reported that people who admit they harbor prejudice against blacks and Hispanics actually increased in four years from 48 percent to 51 percent.
As Election Day neared in 2012, the expressions of bigoted disdain toward both the president and the first lady were cresting. Photographs of chairs being hung in pseudo-effigy were being reported daily and while that may sound like child’s play to some, the implication carries historical racial overtones. And throughout the country, Halloween “decorations” of the president could be seen swinging in lawns from California to Indiana, and even a mannequin with the likeness of the president was photographed being lynched on a truck in the parking lot of a county fair in North Carolina.
How many college degrees must a black man get — to what lofty ambitions must a black man aspire — how refined must a black man’s demeanor be? How honorable must a black man be as a son, as a husband, as a father, as a president? And to what extent must be prove himself as a man before he can rip off the mantle of “nigger,” “pickaninny,” and “sambo?”
It is a testament to the intellectual inferiority of Teflon bigots that no matter the success or mental superiority of the black man, to a racist it’s all for naught. While most signs of belligerent prejudice can be seen in impoverished rural areas within the Bible Belt, other racial slips of the tongues are coming straight from the mouths of G.O.P. politicos: Republican Governor Sununu even mocked General Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama saying, essentially, that Powell, a Republican, was only voting for the president based on his race.
In October 2012, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin’s former chief-of-staff and fellow Republican), came out publicly and admitted rampant racism within his own party:
“My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people — not all of them, but most of them — who are still basing their positions on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that’s despicable.”
Many right wing politicians’ racial biases are so ingrained, their loathing of Obama so intense, and their prejudicial comments so common that they barely even registered on the radar. Governor Palin’s recent “shuck and jive” comment about Obama (a reference to cartooned foot-dragging “darkies”) went virtually unnoticed. And while twice-failed would-be politician Donald Trump in an attempted extortion-esque promise to donate $5 million to a charity of Obama’s choice if the president released his college transcript simply came off as buffoonery, few people noticed its racial intent. Trump taunted via Twitter:
“If my offer is refused, every undecided OH voter will be fully aware that Obama denied $5M to charity all because he is hiding something.”
(As an aside, Trump had the wherewithal to wager $5 million to help people and because no one would play his game, he did not donate it. This is further proof that his bet is not an act of altruism, but a desperate act of egotism.)
But what most people missed from Trump’s self-celebrated “very, very big” stunt is the racial intent in his so-called offer. Trump believed, as did Rush Limbaugh (who has played a song on his radio show entitled, “Barack the Magic Negro”) that the president was accepted to Columbia University and Harvard Law School based solely on Affirmative Action. Even if this were the case (though no evidence exists to validate the claim) Trump’s intent to parade Obama as a man of lesser intelligence is moot; not only was Obama the president of the Harvard Law Review but he also graduated magna cum laude.
And those aforementioned Republicans actually consider themselves members of the Grand Old Party. Were he alive today, Lincoln would be a Democrat and they’d be stringing him up by the nearest poplar tree, too.
Maybe it wasn’t a mirror that Colin Powell looked into for voting inspiration — maybe it was a history book.