By Ben Pavey
Donald Trump has been drawing a lot of flak recently regarding his call to deny all entry to the US to Muslim immigrants, a call which has been derided by a spectrum of people from his own party to politicians abroad. But the weakness of some of the condemnations- Ted Cruz’s “Not my policy” or Reince Pribus’ “I don’t agree”- hint that the fervor is not as heartfelt as it should be. The problem for most of the party is that the Republican party has made unashamed racists part of their base. Trumps remarks are not, as various candidates have tried to suggest, an outlier of republican thought, but the logical end point of the past 50 years.
Historically the Democratic party was the party of outright racism, but this changed in the sixties with the civil rights movement and the resulting backlash. Associated most with Nixon, the party aimed to deliberately poach “Negrophobe” white voters away from voting Democrat in what was then a traditional stronghold of the Democratic party, but were also aware that the time of open racism was over and that they needed to signal the message in such a way that the intended audience would understand the message, but that would provide plausible deniability when noticed by others. This message system, known modernly as dog whistling, is summed up best by this semi-famous Lee Atwater quote from 1981:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced bussing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the bussing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” ”
Historically the Democratic party was the party
of outright racism, but this changed in the sixties
Over time this coding has become part of the internal language of the right- when Reagan talked about Welfare Queens it was obvious to everyone that he intended to mean black women, specifically single mothers, but the phrase allowed any accusation of racial bias to be met with counterclaims that the original phrase had not specified race; why had the accuser brought race into this?
These decisions to appeal to racist whites were a cynical move, one intended to grab a greater share of the vote to propel the party into power and, which would then allow the Republican Party to implement their economic policies and to keep themselves in power. The impression given to those outside the Republican sphere was that the movers and shakers were throwing out meat to the base but they didn’t believe their own stories, backing down from implementing anything too extreme as they both would have nothing to appease their new base with later on, not too much of a consolation to those trampled under these mild concessions.
The past fifteen to twenty years has seen this detached racism flake away as more and more of the power players in the party become those who grew up inside the bubble leading to a friction between the establishment and the base, a bubble which is more and more often coming to the front of political conflict. The most famous example of this is the unseating of Eric Cantor, a senior Republican who lost his primary to an outsider, Dave Brat. Cantor was an establishment politician who was next in line to be speaker of the house but was unable to pass as a true believer to the base and lost his position. Since this enormous upset the party has struggled to balance the awakening true believers in the party with the power-men.
This increasing split in the party has allowed more political outsiders to become figureheads in the party, such as Ben Carson who has made a political career out of insulting Obama while Obama was nearby. Even establishment republicans now find themselves keen to paint themselves as outside of the political scene. Indeed Senator Ted Cruz is placed as an outsider candidate rather than an establishment one and has positioned himself as such to try to poach any Trump voters once Trump leaves the race.
. Even establishment republicans now find themselves
keen to paint themselves as outside of the political scene
A common phrase popularized by Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio superstar and shaper of republican thought, is that conservativism cannot fail, it can only be failed. Combined with the constant claims that all mainstream media (outside of conservative bastions such as Rush’s radio show, Fox news and occasional other radio or online safe spaces) has created a constant escalation of policy proposals. Every time a tax cut fails to generate growth it was because it wasn’t cut enough, or spending wasn’t reduced enough.
It is in this intersection of constant escalation, of a party whose modern roots relied on appealing to a racist demographic, and on anti-Islamic rhetoric following the 9/11 attacks which created the ground for the kind of policies that Trump has been espousing. Kaisch has called for an agency dedicated to spreading Judeo-Christian values while John Ellis ‘Jeb!” Bush (the exclamation mark connotes excitement!) said that America should only accept Syrian refugees if they were Christian. It’s not that Trumps call to refuse all Muslim immigrants outside of the realm of republican thought, it’s skating to where the puck is going to be.