This piece explores the relationship between the Republican Party and racism in the recent past and the current political climate.
Within the United States, political discourse can’t exist without the imposition of race. Many people who are affiliated with the Republican Party feel as though they can’t politically express themselves without being called racists. I want to explore why the Republican Party is almost inextricably linked to racism and how race issues have been positioned at the forefront of politics regardless of partisan leaning. I want to unpack how race plays a role in the United State’s increase in polarization since the civil rights movement and race’s role in today’s political environment.
The two party system has largely been racialized due to the civil rights movement, the realignment of the parties’ ideologies, and continued relevance and importance of racial issues to minority groups and white americans alike. African Americans became morally bound to the democratic party. Also bigoted democrats left the Democratic Party and liberal Republicans left the Republican party. This doesn’t mean the Republican Party was only composed of bigots or the Democratic Party wasn’t composed of racists at this time. But this dynamic spurred the increase in polarization that created the seemingly analogous link between the Republican Party and racism and the Democratic Party and liberal “anti-racism”. While I don’t think it’s fair to assume the Democratic Party itself is anti-racist, I will be focusing more so on the Republican Party’s ties to racism.
In “Polarization and the Global Crisis of Democracy”, it is stated that ,”In processes of deepening polarization, then, we see greater identification and interaction with in-group members and concomitant distance from the out-group ones. (Esteban & Schneider, 2008; King & Anderson, 1971)”. Through this lens we can see that the civil rights movement had a substantial impact on the political identifications and general opinions of partisan voters about the other political party. Due to this the “other” party is a distant and wrong source of opposition. While the Democratic Party becomes the badge of equality and freedoms for people of color, the Republican Party was in effect the badge of inequality and prejudice. This contributed to the assertion that the Republican Party is hospitable to racists and the Democratic Party in contrast is not.
In the Washington Post’s “How Hannah Arendt’s classic work on totalitarianism illuminates today’s America”, Jeffrey Isaac’s writes, “a society suffused with resentment, according to Arendt, is ripe for manipulation by the propaganda of sensationalist demagogues”. The passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Acts, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, JFK’s Executive Order on Affirmative Action, and the general shift of popular political decisions along with the increased popularity of anti-racist policies contributed to the general resentment of the democratic party and liberalness. As Isaac’s wrote this set the ground for manipulation of the masses through racial political targeting, and propaganda-like sensationalism to oppose what the general resenters opposed.
A good example of sensationalist manipulation through policy and subtle institutional fear mongering is the war on drugs during the Nixon administration that targeted mostly minority and impoverished communities. The war on drugs sparked mass incarceration and mass disenfranchisement of black citizens and increased the analogous associations between the black population, drug use, and criminality through rhetoric, discriminatory criminalizing policies, and imprisonment. Another prime example is George H.W. Bush’s campaign use of an image of one black man, Willie Horton, that played on the general white American fear of criminal black men. The advertisement linked the Democratic opposition as in favor of this one criminal and effectively linked the perceived criminality of blackness to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party was portrayed as in support of black people and hence in support of criminals through making the two seamlessly intertwined. Through these examples you can see part of the way in which the Republican Party effectively positioned itself at odds with the black community during the mid to late 20th century.
The Republican Party remains unconcerned with policy positions that aide historically disenfranchised minority groups. The Republican Party doesn’t need support of the black community and effectively competes and wins without the support of most minorities. According to the Pew Research Center in the year 2017, the Republican Party is composed of 83% of white voters and 6% of black voters while the Democratic Party is composed of 59% white voters and 19% of black voters. Many of the most influential political figures in the Republican Party’s recent history have enjoyed prolonged incumbency and popular support without significant support of African Americans. The support from African Americans isn’t essential to the majority of Republican elected officials in maintaining incumbency. Therefore, these officials in effect don’t have to be explicitly held accountable to their non-white constituents.
Even the campaigns of conservative elected officials continue to be racialized. I don’t think I need to explicitly state the racial insults of the current president but many other GOP leaders conduct extremely racialized campaigns. The general anti Affirmative Action stance of the Republican party in my opinion is racist. The Republican Party’s legislators and judicial appointees are generally anti-affirmative action. The blame for the conditions of the black community as generally poorer and poorly educated are commonly attributed to what people perceive to be laziness and lack of motivation. These sentiments and the people that hold them don’t have a good understanding of the historical impact of colonialism and slavery upon the present day. These simplified stereotypes are seen as facts in the minds of millions and don’t take into account that generational wealth gaps, the mass incarceration of black bodies, the criminaliaztion of the black race, and many other important socio-historical obstacles that shape not only white American perception of the black race but also creates an internalized sense of inferiority within the black community. Not supporting any attempt to help historically disenfranchised and abused groups and then further blaming the same group for its economic situation implies that the fault lies within the people of the group rather than the system that disproportionately benefits whites. More specifically the anti affirmative action position holds that the black people aren’t capable of overcoming the adverse situation at hand and that nothing (no policy) can make black people equal economically or socially because the people simply aren’t equal and never will be. This idea tied to the reality that 52% of Trump supporters view black people as “less evolved” (in a survey conducted by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University) points out major racial trends that exist within the Republican Party.
The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who happens to be one of my senators, sponsors televised campaign advertisements that draw inspiration from George H.W.’s racialized tactics. The difference is that Senator McConnell’s ads slander the former President, Obama. The advertisement plays into the same racial tropes of using a black man’s face and nearly that alone to deter ‘resenters’ from the Democratic Party by associating the Democratic Party with blackness, which is inherently negative in this country. This isn’t only present in one of McConnell’s advertisement it is recurring in every ad he sponsors the position is anti-Obama. It is not anti-Obama in a policy way but anti-Obama in an ‘anyone who is tied to this bad black man should lose’ way.
Also the leadership and platform of the GOP has wholly accepted Donald Trump and his racist and bigoted opinions and in effect has deepened its perceived ties to racism. I believe the association between Republicanism and racism is something that was created organically due to the ill-treatment of communities of color and the general indifference of acquiring non-white support by the leaders and the institution of the party itself. This prolonged treatment has contributed to the increase of racialized polarization in the United States and effectively paved the way for Donald Trump to become president.
1.“Party Realignment And The New Deal | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives.” Party Realignment and the New Deal | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives,history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Keeping-the-Faith/Party-Realignment–New-Deal/.
2.Jennifer, et al. “Polarization and the Global Crisis of Democracy: Common Patterns, Dynamics, and Pernicious Consequences for Democratic Polities.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 62, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 16–42, doi:10.1177/0002764218759576.
3.Isaac, Jeffrey C. “How Hannah Arendt’s Classic Work on Totalitarianism Illuminates Today’s America.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Dec. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/12/17/how-hannah-arendts-classic-work
4.Withers, Rachel. “George H.W. Bush’s ‘Willie Horton’ Ad Will Always Be the Reference Point for Dog-Whistle Racism.” Vox, Vox, 1 Dec. 2018, www.vox.com/2018/12/1/18121221/george-hw-bush-willie-horton-dog-whistle-politics.
5.“2. Changing Composition of the Electorate and Partisan Coalitions.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 2 Jan. 2019, www.people-press.org/2018/03/20/changing-composition-of-the-electorate-and-partisan-coalitions/.
6. Jardina, Ashley, et al. “How Do Trump Supporters See Black People? ‘Less Evolved.”.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 7 Nov. 2016, slate.com/news-and-politics/2016/11/the-majority-of-trump-supporters-surveyed-described-black-people-as-less-evolved.html.