How the party of Lincoln became the party of prejudice

Substitute just a few words in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and you get to the nub of what the Republican Party has become over the last half century: a party of white people, by white people, and for white people. Look at a picture of Republican members of Congress in 2022 and compare it with one of the South African legislature under apartheid and you will not find much difference.

It has always been that way. There have been just 11 Black senators in the 232-year history of the institution. Two of those were elected in the nineteenth century during Reconstruction before the South established Jim Crow laws excluding Blacks from voting. Reconstruction was quashed quickly, and then…

Republican Edward Brooke was the first African American U.S. Senator in more than eight decades, and the last Black Republican to have any clout. He was successful in securing an extension of the Voting Rights Act, for instance. Brooke was elected in 1967 and served until 1979. He fought the fascists in Italy during World War II and was decorated for his service. An honorable Republican, a nearly extinct species.

Who do we have today? South Carolina’s Tim Scott who has so little power he wasn’t able to secure police reform legislation even in the wake of a multi-racial mass protest movement against repeated police killings of African Americans. While Brooke was an independent voice who often made waves within the Republican Party, Scott, coming from the state that gave birth to the Confederacy, must be careful to toe the GOP party line. And he does.

This points to the reality that the Republican Party today is much more extreme and punitive than during Brooke’s time. The party base is about as deluded as those who in the 1930s believed in Stalin’s show trials or Hitler’s racial mythology. A recent survey found that Republican attitudes toward Joe Biden were astonishingly similar to those toward Vladimir Putin, which is to say very negative. Republican views of Mitt Romney, a mild renegade within the party, were also decidedly negative although not as much as those toward Biden.

GOP intolerance has become pervasive. Words like coup and purge have been usually applied to totalitarian regimes. Now we need them to understand the Republican regime here and now. The purge of Liz Cheney is the tip of the iceberg. Similar things have been happening across the country at all levels, from election supervisors to school board members to candidates for high office. The thrust to make the party ever more monolithic not only has pushed some people out of office but also intimidated other Republicans into not seeking reelection. Even some Democrats have been scared into breaking with Biden on hot issues like immigration.

The upshot has been a pervasive chilling effect including on some teachers who cannot say gay in Florida anymore. Republicans complain about Democrats’ “cancel culture”, by which they mean that today there can be professional and economic consequences for those who spew prejudice or peddle dangerous disinformation.

But it is Republicans, historically and currently, who have taken ideological persecution farthest, from McCarthyism in the 1950s to Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida who launches jihads against people like Anthony Fauci, and companies like the cruise lines and most recently the Disney corporation. DeSantis is as vindictive as his mentor Donald Trump, as he has shown by threatening to come after Disney economically for speaking against the ‘Don’t say gay law.’ But Disney has deep pockets, and they regularly donate big bucks to Republican politicians in Florida. It’s one thing for a bully like DeSantis to go after the teachers and another to go after a party sugar daddy. DeSantis is good at threatening and delivering demagogic performances, but standing up to huge corporations is not his or his party’s strong suit.

Meanwhile, while Biden, who pulled us out of an endless and unwinnable war, is getting us out of a deadly pandemic, and has not only avoided a major Covid-19-provoked economic collapse, but has ushered in a period of plenty of jobs and increasing wages, is saddled with a low voter approval rating. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin continues to be popular in Russia after waging a ruthless illegal war of aggression against Ukraine—and seemingly losing it!

The most hallucinatory story of the week, however, is Trump asking the Russians to stand with him on a pile of cadavers and from that moral high ground survey the landscape to find some dirt on Hunter Biden to use to smear his father the President—and the Russians doing it, dumping a load of the kind of horse manure they have been putting out about the Ukrainian war.

What is the point anyway? Who in the world is going to believe the Russians after their late string of colossal lies? Who is going to believe Donald Trump, who may hold the world record for lying in public?

Trump should give up on the presidency and retire to Mar-a-Lago and write a memoir about his presidency and focus on such topics as Covid-19, global affairs, American politics, social harmony, and trust. Suggested title? ‘Only I Could Have Screwed Things Up This Badly.’