The Republican Party is now America's largest hate group

Led by Donald Trump, the GOP has abandoned its traditional dogwhistles in favor of a more overt approach to racism

Published November 27, 2015 1:00PM (EST)

Donald Trump (AP/Paul Vernon)
Donald Trump (AP/Paul Vernon)

The Republican Party has put down the dogwhistle and picked up a megaphone.

After two Bostonians allegedly beat up a homeless Hispanic man in August, one told police he was inspired by Donald Trump's message that “all these illegals need to be deported.” In response, Trump explained “that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” Later, he clarified that in no way, of course, does he does condone violence.

In June, Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and drug-trafficking criminals. “Some, I assume, are good people,” he added.

On Monday, five people were shot at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis. Three white men have been arrested in connection with the incident. It is important to emphasize that the investigation is in its very early stages, and it has not been confirmed who did this, or why.

It is, however, clear that leading Republicans have engaged in extraordinarily racist and xenophobic rhetoric that incites and legitimates vigilante violence. On Saturday, Trump fans allegedly attacked a Black Lives Matter protester at a Birmingham rally. “Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said.

It's not that brazen racism is new to the Republican Party. In 1964, Sen. Strom Thurmond -- who ran for president on the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket in 1948 -- became a Republican in protest of the 1964 Civil Rights Act's passage. That year, he worked hard across the then-solidly-Democratic South to support the Republican candidacy of libertarian and militarist Barry Goldwater, a Civil Rights Act opponent.

In 1968, Richard Nixon ran a television ad stoking fear of black riot and student anti-war protests, unsubtly declaring that freedom from street violence at home was in reality the “first civil right.”

It was in 1990, that Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, as the New York Times recounts, “unveiled a nakedly racial campaign advertisement in which a pair of hands belonging to a white job-seeker crumpled a rejection slip as an announcer explained that the job had been given to an unqualified member of a minority.” And it was in 2002 that incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott strongly suggested that America would have been better had de jure segregation been kept in place.

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him,” said Lott, a Mississippian. “We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

What's remarkable, and hard to imagine happening today, is that Lott was successfully pressured to resign his leadership position.

* * *

The Trump candidacy has combined fears over terrorism, crime and a coming white minority into a spectacular fever dream of dangerous refugees and a criminal threat posed by black people and Hispanic immigrants. That danger, in the right-wing view, is abetted by liberals who criticize police so harshly they are afraid to do their jobs, invite menacing foreigners to live amongst us, and restrain our military because of excessive concern for civilian casualties.

Trump, the white Republican id, has suggested that Muslims be placed on a database and claims, despite it being (or maybe precisely because it is) demonstrably false, that he watched “thousands and thousands of people” in heavily Arab Jersey City “cheering” as “the World Trade Center came tumbling down.”

Ben Carson initially agreed that he too saw this on the news, but generously held back from condemning every single Muslim on earth for it. “I don't know if, on the basis of that, you can say all Muslims are bad people. I really think that would be a stretch.” He ultimately decided that it had actually been clips from the Middle East that he had seen.

Trump, Carson and neo-McCarthyite Ted Cruz make some very conservative people seem centrist by comparison. These so-called moderate conservatives, after all, claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan, a one-time right-wing challenger to the Republican establishment. Today, mainstream Republican Jeb Bush has suggested that we should prioritize Christian refugees, and Chris Christie has stated that many Black Lives Matter activists “advocate for the murder of police officers.”

It was Trump was who outrageously declared that Syrian refugees could be a “Trojan horse” for terrorism. But every single Republican governor save for Utah's Gary Herbert has called for barring the refugees from their state.

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, speaking to Chris Hayes this week, warned that Trump is “whipping up hatred to scapegoat a minority religious group, which has some very dangerous historic precedents. It's the kind of behavior, classic demagoguery, and he's going to get somebody hurt.”

White supremacist activists, as Evan Osnos reported in the New Yorker, have cheered Trump because he is mainstreaming the sort of xenophobia that is particularly amenable to the current American brand of white supremacy.

* * *

The most brazen anti-black racism is still disallowed in the political mainstream. But the white supremacy that undergirds it has found its voice in xenophobia: Remember the widespread belief, amongst people who may no longer feel comfortable publicly saying the n-word, that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya.

On Sunday, Donald Trump tweeted an incendiary and totally false graphic positing that the vast majority of both whites and blacks are killed by black people. (In fact, the vast majority of white people are killed by white people.) Unsurprisingly, the graphic was first tweeted by a real-life, Hitler-admiring Nazi, according to Little Green Footballs.

As for Carson, he has suggested that the left are “purveyors of hatred” who want to “try to make a race war.” He is beloved most of all for being a black man who tells white people that other black people should blame social welfare programs, and not racism, for their failures. “Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” he declared. “It is slavery, in a way.”

By virtue of his skin color Carson offers bigots a sort of funhouse absolution.

The Black Lives Matter movement, like the Syrian refugee crisis and Latino immigration, are the crucible of the contemporary American white supremacy.

Conservatives profess the existence of the so-called “Ferguson effect,” which posits that crime has spiked because protesters have made police to afraid to do their jobs, but which has no evidence basis in reality. There is also idea of a War Against Police, personified by the Illinois cop believed to be murdered but who actually committed a carefully staged suicide in the face of very serious legal troubles of his own. There was the man who shot and killed two NYPD officers last year. In reality, he was no political militant but rather a man with a history of mental illness whose life was imploding. He shot his ex-girlfriend in Maryland before making his way to New York.

Things in the United States and throughout the world are going pretty terribly for a lot of people, as living wage jobs evaporate, prisons are overflowing, and global warming threatens to wipe out human civilization as we know it. But many find it easier to find an embodied demon to blame, from those who have had their way of life overturned by economic crisis to those who exercising a paranoid grip on their political and economic power.

The explosion of brazen racism on the right is not only dangerous but distracting. Extremist politics, and the reaction to it, crowds out discussion of structural problems like poverty and mass incarceration. Every minute spent reading about Trump's idiocy is time not taken reflecting upon the fact that 22-percent children lived below the poverty line in 2013, according to USA Today, a situation more than twice as likely to befall children who are black, Hispanic and Native American.

The media and public have limited bandwidth for multiple crises. There now seems to be a widely shared assumption that national security alone must dominate the stage.

“Senator Sanders, you said you wanna rid the planet of ISIS. In the previous date you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change,” reporter John Dickerson asked Sanders in the last Democratic debate. “Do you still believe that?”

The mainstreaming of extremism also allows establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton who have done so much too abet mass impoverishment and imprisonment to jump over the extremely low bar of I don't remind you of a Nazi.

“I have just one word for Mr. Trump: Basta,” Clinton said recently, hoping that a word of Spanish would paper over her own support for border militarization. “Enough is enough. He’s been trafficking in prejudice and paranoia and it’s bad for our politics and bad for our country.”

By Daniel Denvir

Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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