Listening to Newt Gingrich in Monday’s Republican presidential debate (on that beacon of “fairness” Fox News Channel no less) in South Carolina the thought crossed my mind: there is the distinct possibility that politicians might never end the scapegoating of Blacks and the manipulation of whites through racist appeals. Sadly, I think there has been too much of an investment in racism for it to be abandoned as a potent political strategy. While we convince ourselves that we are better as a nation than the ugliness we experienced during Jim Crow, there are those who walk among us that want and need to persist in divisiveness.
How symbolic that the debate was held on the evening of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday and in a state where the confederate flag is treated like the Dixie version of the crown jewels. Who says you can’t go back in time? Judging by the howls in the audience when journalist Juan Williams questioned Gingrich over his inflammatory statements there are plenty of South Carolinians who never crossed over into 1965, post-Civil Rights Act America. After all, this is the state where South Carolina State College (now University) students were gunned down in a Kent State like incident that few remember and is not recalled in the manner of the Ohio campus tragedy. For a moment I expected the riled up spectators to storm the stage, grab Williams out of his chair and have a good old fashioned lynching. I heard someone reference the debate as scary; pathetic is a more accurate description.
Republicans have picked up the Dixiecrat cause and adopted the extremism of the Democratic leftovers of the civil rights era. Surely Strom Thurmond was doing cartwheels in hell over how his lineage was keeping the racist fires burning up above. Conservative Republicans don’t tilt right; they tilt over, somewhere between right and crazy. Since the hijacking of the party in 1964 by Barry Goldwater, the GOP has specialized in hate politics and developed a lexicon of racially coded speech draped in patriotic rhetoric to mask their utter disdain for Blacks and Latinos. Food stamps is code for Black woman, affirmative action is now quotas that result in “reverse discrimination,” and “qualified” is used to suggest that racism is impossible in a supposed meritocracy. History has been sanitized to suggest slavery had little to do with the Civil War and that at heart was the preservation of southern “values” and the liberties of Confederate states.
The degree to which the Republican Party has succumbed to hate mongering is startling, as has been the patently racist attacks upon the nation’s first African-American President and similar insults to the First Lady. The political scuttlebutt used to be that the right represented the extreme of the GOP but in 2012 it is clear the extreme is now the norm. This isn’t a Republican “southern strategy,” it is the strategy.
There is no divorcing the quackery of the Tea Party from the Republican mainstream. How else could such a band of misfits emerge as the party’s presidential field? These people are mutants who crave power, and nothing else, and will pledge their allegiance to Jefferson Davis if they believe it moves them closer to the White House. While Democrats, no saints on issues of race, purged these extremists from their party at their convention in 1964 in Atlantic City, the GOP shows no signs of doing the same as the party heads to Tampa this summer. Whatever the number of Black Republicans might be, they are the silent, silent minority.
Having to condemn this sideshow and others like it, is exhausting and annoying but ignoring it carries significant consequences. It is tempting to dismiss this buffoonery as the work of the village idiots but as the debate showed too many whites continue to take up the cause of white supremacy. Make no mistake about it; what we saw in South Carolina on Monday is the Republican Party. It is also the face of a country that cannot shake off its antebellum cobwebs and remains trapped by those who romanticize a nation of white privilege and Black subservience.
If you think the Republican primaries have been ugly, get ready for the general election. The last few months have simply been a trial run, a dress rehearsal for the live production that is going to be one of the most patently racist political campaigns since the days of Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.