Ignoring the GOP’s White Racism

Exclusive: Conservative columnist David Brooks can’t understand why right-wing Republicans are so determined to kill immigration reform, especially since the Senate-approved bill would boost the economy and cut the deficit. But Brooks ignores what might be called the white elephant in the room, Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

Mainstream commentators endlessly dance around the obvious explanation for the Right’s intense anger against “guv-mint” – and indeed against any significant legislation that addresses the suffering of minorities and the poor, whether it’s immigration reform, health care or food stamps. That unspoken word is racism.

Racism is the subtext for many of the actions of the modern Right and the modern Republican Party. The mainstream media may desire to dress up the motivations as some principled commitment to small government, but both historically and currently, the insistence on a tightly constrained federal government has been about maintaining white supremacy.

David Brooks, conservative columnist at The New York Times.

That was true when slaveholders such as Patrick Henry and George Mason fought ratification of the Constitution because they perceived that the document’s concentration of power in the federal government – stripping the states of their “independence” and “sovereignty” as specified in the Articles of Confederation – would eventually doom slavery. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison.”]

Slavery, after all, was not just some peculiar institution, part of the South’s unique cultural heritage. It was the South’s dominant industry. It was where the Southern aristocrats had invested their money.

So, after the Anti-Federalists lost their fight against ratification of the Constitution, they went to Plan B; they quickly reorganized behind the charismatic figure of Thomas Jefferson, another slaveholder, to essentially redefine the Constitution away from its clear intent and to insert new theories about states’ rights, including the unconstitutional concept of state “nullification” of federal law. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up ‘Constitution.’”]

Their political success in this constitutional revisionism – with Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party putting Virginian defenders of slavery in the White House for 24 consecutive years from 1801 to 1825 – allowed the “small government” Jeffersonian philosophy to overwhelm the old Federalists who were the original advocates of the Constitution’s powers. The Federalists maintained some strongholds in the North but eventually faded from the political scene.

Throughout this pre-Civil War period, the maintenance of slavery was always twinned with an insistence on a constrained federal government, even to the point of the South opposing federal disaster relief for fear that the precedent could be used to free the slaves. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Source of Anti-Government Extremism.”]

Going to Extremes

Then, with the election of an anti-slavery president in Abraham Lincoln, the intensity of the South’s commitment to those twin attitudes – defense of slavery and hostility toward the federal government – led 11 Southern states to take the extreme step of seceding from the Union, inviting a devastating war.

And, the South’s bloody defeat did not extinguish those passions. If anything, the humiliation of losing the Civil War made the commitment even stronger.

When the federal government sought to restructure Southern society to give freed blacks education, an economic stake in the society and civil rights, the anger of Southern whites intensified. It was expressed in violent resistance to Reconstruction and in a cruel determination to reassert white dominance after Union troops withdrew in 1877.

After all, it takes real hatred to terrorize people because of the color of their skin, to lynch black men for almost any perceived offense, to rape black women to demonstrate their powerlessness, but that’s what was done across the South.

White racism had a particularly ugly side because the fury was not justified as some reaction to genuine oppression; it was rather an act of oppressing. Historically, whites had economic advantages over blacks and other minorities. If the circumstances were reversed, you might understand the ferocity of the behavior. But here was the oppressor acting out some vengeful victimhood.

To some white Southerners, their behavior was justified by the intrusion of the federal government on their “way of life.” You see, the federal government made them the “victims.” After Reconstruction, the fierceness of this white racism/victimhood – especially resistance to the idea that black people deserved full citizenship rights – continued for generations. It became a dominant feature of Southern life and spread to some areas of the North as well.

Even in my schoolbooks in Massachusetts in the 1950s and 1960s, you would find a sympathetic portrayal of slavery as mostly paternalistic and of the South’s “gallantry” in the Civil War – along with a contemptuous of view of Reconstruction, i.e. Northern “carpetbaggers” and freed blacks running roughshod over the genteel whites of the South.

Resisting Civil Rights

America’s institutionalized racism was finally challenged by the civil rights movement, but that provoked another spasm of fury from Southern whites. Their anger against renewed federal intervention led them to spit on black school children, bomb churches and murder civil rights activists.

Again, the whites conjured up resentment over their victimhood, persecuted by the intrusive federal government once more. Eventually, this white backlash might have petered out except for the recognition among opportunistic Republicans that they could use Democratic support for civil rights as the wedge to pry loose the Southern states from their traditional orientation toward the pro-slavery Democratic Party, the old party of Thomas Jefferson.

So, Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” used racial code words to signal Republican sympathy for Southern whites, a technique that was even more ably applied by Ronald Reagan who launched his national presidential campaign in 1980 with a speech on states’ rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of a notorious lynching of three civil rights workers. In his aw shucks style, Reagan also joked about “welfare queens” buying vodka with food stamps.

But mostly the Republicans sealed the deal with Southern whites by presenting the GOP as the party of “limited government,” i.e. the ones who would keep federal authorities out of the South’s “business,” particularly its race relations. In that way, “small government conservatism” and “libertarianism” became the new code words for the maintenance of white supremacy.

Of course, the Republicans also reached out to some other interest groups, such as cultural conservatives by supporting new government restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. But the intensity of the Right’s activism – especially as it is aimed at the first African-American president – can be best understood as a renewed expression of white grievances, the desire to “take our country back.”

Both the Civil War and the battle against integration also were rationalized by their apologists of the day as principled stands against the overreach of the federal government, not as expressions of racism. To this day, many Southerners insist that the Civil War was not about slavery, but about “states’ rights.” They make that claim although slavery’s perpetuation was explicitly included in the constitution of the Confederate States and the Confederate insistence on continuing slavery was a final sticking point in surrender negotiations in 1865.

So, the intensity of the Tea Party and other extremist groups can be understood as the latest eruption of the same race hatred that led to the Civil War, Jim Crow and the resistance to integration in the 1950s and 1960s.

Weeping for Insurance Industry

These predominantly white groups again insist that their fury is about the federal government – not about race or the color of Barack Obama’s skin. But there is really no other way to explain why so many white folks would get into such a snit over, say, defending the health insurance industry against federal regulation.

Except for a few people who are lucky enough to work for companies that offer “Cadillac” insurance plans, I don’t know anyone who thinks the current insurance system makes sense. It leaves families uncertain about what medical conditions are covered and to what extent they are covered – and it ties up doctors with endless paperwork, including hiring staff to be kept on hold by insurance companies as they figure out how they can deny coverage for some medical procedure.

Yet, in 2009, when President Obama embraced a Republican-devised scheme for reforming the health-insurance industry and providing coverage to millions of Americans without health insurance, the Tea Party and the Right erupted in fury. The anger was so hot that the Heritage Foundation, which had dreamt up the scheme, and Mitt Romney, who had pioneered its use in Massachusetts, had to hastily disown what was then decried as “a government takeover” of the health industry.

What made no sense about the intensity of this reaction was that a group of white middle-class Americans would be so committed to the interests of widely despised health insurance companies that they would jump up and down at congressional townhall meetings and rush to Washington for tumultuous protest rallies.

Even after the Affordable Care Act was cleared as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the fury on behalf of the health-insurance industry has continued with the Republican-controlled House voting again and again to repeal “Obamacare” and GOP governors doing all they can to sabotage its effective implementation. We have seen something similar with the Tea Party’s hostility toward food stamps and immigration reform.

Even as some Republican leaders and a few conservative columnists embrace immigration reform that offers a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants, the Tea Party rank-and-file furiously rejects the notion, particularly the idea of letting those mostly dark-skinned immigrants eventually become citizens with the right to vote.

Killing Immigration Reform

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks is among those who find the House Republican rejection of immigration reform deeply troubling. In a column on Friday, Brooks noted that the Senate-approved reform bill meets all of the major requirements that reasonable conservatives might want: increasing economic growth, reducing the federal deficit, improving border security.

Indeed, Brooks seems genuinely baffled as to why the Right is determined to kill the measure, writing: “conservatives are not supposed to take a static, protectionist view of economics. They’re not supposed to believe that growth can be created or even preserved if government protects favored groups from competition.

“Conservatives are supposed to believe in the logic of capitalism; that if you encourage the movement of goods, ideas and people, then you increase dynamism, you increase creative destruction and you end up creating more wealth that improves lives over all.

“The final conservative point of opposition is a political one. Republicans should not try to win back lower-middle-class voters with immigration reform; they should do it with a working-class agenda. This argument would be slightly plausible if Republicans had even a hint of such an agenda, but they don’t.”

Brooks then backs into the proverbial elephant in the room, noting the ethnic component of the Right’s opposition. He writes:

“Before Asians, Hispanics and all the other groups can be won with economic plans, they need to feel respected and understood by the G.O.P. They need to feel that Republicans respect their ethnic and cultural identity. If Republicans reject immigration reform, that will be a giant sign of disrespect, and nothing else Republicans say will even be heard.

“Whether this bill passes or not, this country is heading toward a multiethnic future. Republicans can either shape that future in a conservative direction or, as I’ve tried to argue, they can become the receding roar of a white America that is never coming back. That’s what’s at stake.”

But “the receding roar of a white America” is, in a sense, what we have been hearing for most of the nation’s history, as whites have engaged in genocide against Native Americans and kept African-Americans first in bondage and then in a de facto second-class citizenship. One could add to this ugly picture the discriminatory treatment toward Hispanics along the southern border and against Asian-Americans mostly in the West.

Jim Crow II

Yes, it may be true that today’s demographic numbers are making it harder for racist whites to continue to impose their will on the country, but it also could be argued that white supremacy has never been as endangered as it is today. Which would explain why today’s white anger is so white-hot.

Just because a reactionary political movement might fail doesn’t mean that it won’t be tried. The battle to preserve slavery cost hundreds of thousands of lives in the Civil War; the KKK and other white paramilitary groups inflicted horrors on blacks for generations; even today, the Right’s obdurate insistence on “austerity” in the face of the Great Recession has spread misery across the country, but especially in African-American and Hispanic communities.

So, one should not assume that the Republican Right will not try to create a Second Jim Crow Era by gerrymandering congressional districts, spending vast sums on propaganda, and suppressing minority votes through ID laws and other subterfuges. Nor should one blithely conclude that failure of this strategy is assured. Remember that the defeat of Reconstruction in the 1870s enabled the First Jim Crow Era to last nearly a century. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bringing Back Jim Crow.”]

Even after the Jim Crow Era ended, the Right regained its political footing by wooing discontented whites to the Southern-strategy Republican Party. That political effort also has worked in parts of the North as Republicans and the Right have successfully mined white resentments toward affirmative action, “political correctness” and other initiatives seen as beneficial to blacks and minorities. Just listen to Fox News or AM radio with endless commentators, like Rush Limbaugh, stressing how white people are the real victims here.

The white racism may not always be overt but its roots are never far beneath the surface. And, like the roots of aspen trees running underground, the roots of racism connect to their more acceptable neighbors, the ideologies of “libertarianism” and “small government.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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12 comments on “Ignoring the GOP’s White Racism

  1. Morton Kurzweil on said:

    It is not racism. It is ethnicity. The belief in the supremacy of an ethnic culture places that group in a delusional state of myth and values of patriotism, morality, religion, and divine mandate, all the symptoms of the bigotry of belief as a form of knowledge. The power of a group replaces the value of an individual. Whether it represents the United States Senate or the Muslim Brotherhood, democracy or feudal theocracy, the cause and effect is the same. There is no equality in ethnic hierarchal population control. Election by populations that vote along ethnic lines are not free or democratic. Hitler was elected. Morsi was elected. Every representative of the U.S. Congress relies on ethnic popularity and retains influence by dispensing ethnic benefits.
    One citizen, one vote serves none but the elected unless the lives, fortunes, and sacred honor of leadership demands that representatives shall not profit from their position as servants of the people.

    • Morton, I don’t understand you. “ethnicity”? You mean like southerners of German ancestry voting against the interests of southerners of Irish ancestry?….please!!!, this is the kind of obscurantism that frustrates any honest discussion of the race problem in America

  2. BillAlphonso on said:

    The fact that the 12 million, equal to the 5th largest state, votes against them 8 to 2? That would be a good reason for a Republican to oppose them become voters.

  3. bobzz on said:

    White racists do not consider ‘ethnicity’. They see black people, oops I mean ‘blah’ people. We fear the very people we brought over here in slave ships to work our fields. We create a system that traps them in high unemployment, so they do things that land them in jail. It is bitter poetic justice that the people we exploited will be the stumbling block that destroys the nation because we cannot get past our racism. Add to that the Mexican horde thanks to NAFTA that Bill Clinton imposed on them among other things.

  4. rosemerry on said:

    thanks, Robert, for a clear and depressing report. As a non-American, I find the attitude of so many Mercans very hard to comprehend. The “them and us” obsession, the refusal of any sort of solidarity, the assumption that “only we are right” and the sickening selfrighteous “godliness” makes such a divided and pugnacious mix.
    What I find difficult to fathom at this time is the frightening laws being installed in States like Texas against women, education, health, all in the name of protecting foetuses. It seems that in Texas, leaving only 5 out of 42 clinics allowed to provide abortions will stop access to poor and Black women ie more babies. Sex education and contraception are discouraged. How can this fit in with any of their other plans? Rational, let alone compassionate, ideas seem lacking.

  5. Eddie on said:

    While scientifically & philosophically speaking ‘racism’ is an anachronistic concept (like anti-Semitism or eugenics previously) I can’t help but believe that especially nowadays it is more of a TACTIC used by ‘fiscal’ right-wing conservatives than a truly held core belief. Another way of saying this is that ECONOMICS underlies virtually all of our current social/political problems here in the US (at least). The ‘fiscal’ conservatives (ie; the true 1%-ers) need some way to get at least 50% of the VOTERS – - – NOT the general public, but the VOTERS, which is a significantly smaller population already – - – in their camp to counter-act the only power capable of controlling them – - – government. As a result, they prey upon the low-information voter with irrelevant minor emotional issues (“God, guns, guts, & gays”) that they distort, exaggerate, & lie into the outrage du jour (just watch 30 minutes of Fox ‘News’ during daytime hours as a classic example). The fiscal conservatives have little interest in the long range plight of society at large — they undoubtedly feel they can ride-out any problems behind their protective ‘walls’ (literally & figuratively speaking) — so WHATEVER needs to be said or done to maintain or increase their wealth & position is said & done, since they have the resources to do it.

    Viewed through this perspective, the seemingly disparate events and ravings of the right-wingers can be finally understood, and rejected out-of-hand.

  6. Hillary on said:

    The Spanish slavers were a competition nuisance, so in 1713, the Treaty of Assiento was signed in which Spain granted England exclusive rights to the slave trade, and England agreed to supply Spanish colonies 4800 slaves a year for 30 years.
    England shipped tens of thousands of Irish prisoners after the 1798 Irish Rebellion to be sold as slaves in the Colonies and Australia.
    Many West Indies natives spoke Gaelic right up until recent years.
    http://www.raceandhistory.com/cgi-bin/forum/webbbs_config.pl/noframes/read/1638

  7. George on said:

    What is really intriguing and troubling is that all the author says about second Jim Crow would have become a reality had the recommendations of a black woman (not a white southern republican) Barbara Jordan become law. Had Jordan’s recommendations been adopted, we would not have a Barrack Obama Presidency today as whites will still be 80% of the electorate in 2008. So let us also give credit where it is due..to a black woman named Barbara Jordan, who wittingly or unwittingly was a friend of racists, bigots and anti-immigrant groups!

  8. hammersmith on said:

    Robt. Parry is a white Al Sharpton, peddling, living off of, dated prejudices of a peculiar subset (his own) of the American population. The good little white boy grows tiresome after a while.

  9. rich beckmann on said:

    Mr. Hammersmith, out of all the comments I have just read, yours is the most
    non-sensical, idiotic, and completely lacking of all common sense I have ever seen. Whew! I’m a white guy, and I gotta admit we have screwed the other guys
    over quite a bit. Out of four hundred years of oppression, genocide, and all kinds of denigration, inhumanity and plain old disgraceful behavior, all you
    can come up with is “the good little white boy grows tiresome”? Please stick
    to Fox news where your childish comments are considered meaningful.

    • Bill Dunn on said:

      Hammersmith makes me long for Krauthammer. Never thought that would happen.

  10. Erica Stuart on said:

    Republican Racism
    I fully agree on the Republican Racism motivating their action. However on immigration there is a better reason to object to the new Immigration proposal
    the Republican could use but are blinded by the Racism. Immigration does not involve the black community, they were brought here against their will and I believe they should be compensated for it as were the Jewish people. It was not as dramatically tragic and hatefull but the suffering was extended over a long period of time, so they deserve a financial compensation instead of silly laws that exposes them to white anger for preferential treatment.
    Immigration to many of us is a matter of respect for the law on which this nation was founded. It is disrespctfull of the legitimacy of this Nation to have poeple disregard our borders. This would not aplly to children brought in. Next is the issue of citizenship, it is an insult to all of us to have such Document that is like an ownership Title to this land to which we owe duties to protect and maintain against all threats,internal and external, to have Citizenship be no more than a barganing chip for political Party votes. It is disgusting and the only Latinos that argue for it are politicians most other would be happy with a Work Card, they are not refugee they love Mexico and vote there. The bill should separate citizenship from the rest.