GOP Reaps What Was Sown

Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has sought out and corralled the angry white vote which was back-lashing against the civil rights movement and black progress. But now that disaffected base is turning on the wealthy GOP elites and no one should be surprised, writes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Now, On May 21, 1946, less than a year after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, physicist Louis Slotin performed a dangerous experiment his colleagues at Los Alamos called “tickling the dragon’s tail.” He took two half-spheres of beryllium, each containing a plutonium core, and brought them together as close to critical mass as he could without triggering a nuclear chain reaction.

Slotin had done this before, keeping the two half-spheres apart with the blade of a screwdriver. But this time, the screwdriver slipped, the half-spheres made contact and there was a bright blue flash and a burst of heat. Slotin quickly separated the pieces but had absorbed a frightening amount of radiation.

Billionaire businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Billionaire businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Well, that does it,” he said. Nine days later, Louis Slotin was dead at 35.

We tell this sad story as a cautionary tale although probably one told much too late to which the Republican Party nonetheless should pay heed. After years of tickling the dragon’s tail, flirting with the demagoguery of America’s right wing and egging on a growing rage within a core constituency of disaffected, working-class white Americans, the dragon has started to breathe fire, and the flames have spread in all directions. The result is the maddening success of raving nativist Donald Trump and to a lesser extent, Sen. Ted Cruz.

Establishment Republicans are shocked, shocked that such a thing is possible. Late last week, Washington Post columnist and former Dubya speechwriter Michael Gerson fell into the prose version of a dead faint. He wrote that, “Trump’s nomination would not be the temporary victory of one of the GOP’s ideological factions. It would involve the replacement of the humane ideal at the center of the party and its history. If Trump were the nominee, the GOP would cease to be.”

Humane ideal? Gerson seems to fantasize a Republican Party that hasn’t existed since Wendell Willkie ran against FDR in 1940.

Gerson’s op-ed was followed by an article in The New York Times headlined, “For Republicans, Mounting Fears of Lasting Split.” Patrick Healey and Jonathan Martin reported, “Rank-and-file conservatives, after decades of deferring to party elites, are trying to stage what is effectively a people’s coup by selecting a standard-bearer who is not the preferred candidate of wealthy donors and elected officials.”

They quoted Leo Martin, a 62-year-old New Hampshire machinist: “The Republican Party has never done anything for the working man like me, even though we’ve voted Republican for years. This election is the first in my life where we can change what it means to be a Republican.”

In the GOP’s rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley tried to throw a cross block. “During anxious times,” she said, “it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.”

Too little, too late (especially given the virulently racist response by some in social media to the Indian-American Haley’s speech, including, surprise, Breitbart and Ann Coulter).

Yet in his Post column, Gerson wrote, “Liberals who claim that Trumpism is the natural outgrowth, or logical conclusion, of conservatism or Republicanism are simply wrong.” But it’s Gerson and his chums who are in denial, refusing to see that their party has been sowing dragon’s teeth for decades.

Start with 1964 and Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” (not to mention his opposition to the Civil Rights Act). Then careen through Richard Nixon’s embrace of “the silent majority” and his 1968 dog-whistle campaign slogan, “This time, vote like your whole world depended on it.”

Pause as Ronald Reagan opens his 1980 general election campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where the bodies of civil rights organizers Goodman, Schwerner. and Chaney were found. Here’s George H.W. Bush and Willie Horton; and the Karl Rove-orchestrated whispering campaign on behalf of Dubya against John McCain in 2000, implying that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child.

All of this and so much more have created the current Republican pickle. Add fear mongering that tramples reason and truth, the thoughtless pursuit of profit at the expense of factories and jobs, the slavish devotion to the hands that feed the party its campaign cash. Then stir in the desecration of checks and balances and the chronic dysfunction of government decried by those most responsible for it, in the manner of the fireman turned arsonist who strikes the match, then wrings his hands at the charred ruins he created.

This is not to say that Republicans invented inertia, corruption and dirty, race-baiting tricks, but you get the picture. GOP, you’ve really done it this time, tickled the tail once too often and now you’re paying the price, as are the rest of us. At risk is not just electoral defeat but the collapse of an already frail democracy. Here be dragons.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article originally appeared at]

24 comments for “GOP Reaps What Was Sown

  1. Lefty left-leaning leftist liberal
    January 18, 2016 at 15:37

    I’m a life long card carrying member of the white male middle class who is proud to have never voted for a republican for president. And I’ve been angered and dismayed at the results of our elections since voting for McGovern in 1972. Well, …
    America is poised to reap what it has sewn. And it is breaking really, really bad. The greatest seismic shift in the American democracy experiment may come at the hands of the “as yet to be appointed” justices to SCOTUS. They’ll be appointed by either a democrat or Trump, and it’s here where the greatest difference between the two parties is apparent, and will be felt for decades to come.

    The coming SCOTUS will make decisions to either further diminish the power and rights of the majority of Americans while solidifying the power of the .1%. Or it will give America the opportunity fix the recent damage to our country – corporate personhood, obstruction of voting rights – to name a couple problems that scream “that’s so wrong, fix me!”.

    With some savvy democrats in the white house and congress there may also be the chance to restore Glass-Steagall, roll back the Benedict Ronald Reagan marginal tax rates, have universal lifetime voter registration, universal health care, correct wealth distribution, …

  2. Joe535
    January 17, 2016 at 15:13

    “GOP Reaps What Was Sown”

    This is another article in a long list, the majority of articles that always demonize one part of the political equation. The issues that are most emotional- abortion, 2nd Amendment and same sex marriage are not major or pivotal economic issues of the nation. They have great emotional impact, but not great impact on the budget of the U.S. government, therefore they are truly minor issues of great importance to many or to a few.

    Bipartisanship in the nation has created the following: impending insolvency of social security and medicare, disastrous Iraq and Afghan Wars costing $trillions, irresponsible government of wars and financial mismanagement, financial collapse and bailout of Wall Street in 2008, massive federal debt and enormous annual interest on debt payments and national infrastructure neglected. The two parties have destabilized the Middle East making a more dangerous world. In fact there foreign policy has been more harmful than effective for the nation. This list is endless.

    We have a two party system that fails to manage the country responsibly through reckless spending and laws that often favor a few at the expense of the nation.

  3. Carroll Price
    January 16, 2016 at 12:12

    Both political parties are corrupt to the core. What the American people have to do is create a 3rd party that responds to the needs of the majority, rather than the needs of a privileged minority of fat-cat donors. In the meantime, conditions will become a lot worse than they already are.

    • elmerfudzie
      January 16, 2016 at 23:14

      Carroll Price, why bother looking towards third parties or Washington DC for anything what-so-ever? Yes, I’ll vote again but it’s damn near meaningless! The time has come to bring democracy back to each individual state in our Union. Ask yourself a good question; how has it come to pass that the European Swiss citizenry, contrary to our voting methods here in the USA, use a (superior) referendum voting method that translates directly into what their people, canton by canton, desire from their federal government. The new approach, our new approach, should be a city-by-city, county by county, state by state Accountability Act. It would bring the charters of each corporation into annual review as this relates to the sovereign interests of the surrounding community- wherever each business entity happens to exist. No corporate charter would be renewed unless a majority of the local community’s voting referendums, re-approves their incorporation papers and or charter(s). Who needs a damn wet noodle President or corrupt Senators or Representatives for that?! The substance of any incorporated guideline could include, for instance, using local banks for business transactions that do NOT have a digital account with the federal reserve system (as remains the policy of the Bank of South Dakota). Where speculative loans are separate from retirement and savings funds, and further, where the FDIC is tossed out and replaced with state lands and similar public trusts or properties applied towards bank account insurance. It’s time to dissolve the enactments and strategies forged by President Lincoln, removing all states rights! In effect, kiss that Sodom and Gomorrah- Washington D.C. good bye! Let their “chad” techniques falsely elect another CFR and corporate media lackey! Let them do whatever the hell they please! Look at good ‘ol Texas, Hail! to the Lone Star state! give up guns did you say?! NO WAY, now the citizenry at large in Texas don them, it’s their right and local privilege to do so. Texans didn’t fall for that raw propaganda razzmatazz, Prez O-bomber was giving US….I mean that alligator tear routine; but where were his tears for the slaughtered or maimed thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of children in Baghdad? with blown off limbs, eyes and ears torn away…wandering those hammered streets forever! We don’t need a third party, we need to take back local control and dump the festering oligarchs and feudal lords.

  4. enemy of the state
    January 16, 2016 at 11:55

    Those who are deluded like the author, fail to understand that both parties are the same. The entire system needs a good flushing, and its comming. If you vote these days, you are part of the problem. Now, before you attack me consider this. The entire system is rigged, and fact proves this, as does our lack of representation in our government. The only interests represented are those of large corporations, and foreign nationals. If you choose to vote when it matters not, you are insane and delusional and worse, you are giving consent to those usurpers who abuse power daily. Why would anyone vote in the falsity that our electronic elections have become? Do you still think it matters. Stop listening to the outside influences and listen to yourself. If you seek to make the world a better place, get off your bottom, smash your televisual programming device and act. Only you can save you…no government or puff piece journalist can.

  5. J'hon Doe II
    January 15, 2016 at 16:45

    The below links’ scene plays out precisely as Samuel P. Huntington described in his 1987 book – AMERICAN POLITICS; THE PROMISE OF DISHARMONY — Where, in it he forecast a cataclysmic split, beginning in 2010, that’d lead into authoritarian gov’t in America.

  6. elmerfudzie
    January 15, 2016 at 11:52

    Isn’t this the same guy, who despite being an educated kid from the Eastern Establishment, silver spoon class, had to declare bankruptcy? How can any of these political creeps, running for the highest office, preserve the Four Freedoms outlined by that great president, Franklin D. Roosevelt; Freedom of speech, Freedom to Worship! freedom from Want and lastly, Freedom from Fear! So far, everything I’ve heard and seen, emanating from speeches and the demeanor of the so called ” elect-ables” opposes every aspect, every dimension, of FDR’s Four Freedoms!

    • dahoit
      January 15, 2016 at 14:14

      I have no clue as to Trumps fiscal history,but the govt. didn’t bail him out,he wasn’t a bankster,are you implying?

  7. AriusArmenian
    January 14, 2016 at 21:50

    So what is my choice, to vote the More War Party or the More More War Party?

    The US has killed millions since just 1990.

    It is so depressing I simply don’t care anymore about the US or who gets elected.

    The US Deep State always wins.

  8. Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
    January 14, 2016 at 20:40

    Democrats and Republicans are almost identical if one can see through the smoke screen of Abortion Rights, Guns, and Size of Government stuff…………The REAL difference is that Democrats are smooth talkers while republicans like to talk like Cowboys (Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Dubya, Trump, Cruz, Robio, Palin, etc etc etc)……….The end result is the same……….BOTH are enslaved by the powerful 150 or so families that own the banks and big corporations………….THEY are the TRUE POWER………..The ignorance of the very vast majority of Americans IS the reason for what is happening…………

    • January 14, 2016 at 23:43

      YES SIR!
      you have it square on the head …
      repubs are to dems as pepsi is to diet pepsi …
      same policies … different style of implementing them.

  9. Berry Friesn
    January 14, 2016 at 20:13

    I appreciate this attempt to explain the Trump phenomenon. But I find it rather too partisan and ultimately unconvincing. The roots that are feeding the enthusiasm for Trump are thoroughly bipartisan. I write about that in “25 Years of Dishonesty” at

    • dahoit
      January 15, 2016 at 14:11

      Yep,I’m a lifelong democrat,and so far,despite some stupid rhetoric,which is belied by the current occupants actions,his nationalism attracts me as the only solution for our current capture by the enemy,those who don’t believe in our Constitution and its level playing field,but rather in supremacy,strife and murder to achieve their dubious aims..

  10. Robert
    January 14, 2016 at 19:46

    Israel must surrender all its nukes and accept the terms of a Trump brokered mideast settlement.

  11. Jerad Howell
    January 14, 2016 at 19:07

    You can tell a writer’s bias by their choice of words for similar situations involving different constituencies. When black people are dissatisfied with their lot and band together to stand up for themselves and their rights, this writer calls it “black progress.” When “working-class white Americans” try to do the same we see words such as “rage” and “the angry white vote.” These words are used to paint lower-class white grievances as being driven purely by emotion and irrational racism, rather than being based on the reality that nobody in power is looking out for them.

    • Mike
      January 14, 2016 at 20:13

      In his book “Deer Hunting w/ Jesus”, the late Joe Bageant takes up these same issues. A great read!

  12. angryspittle
    January 14, 2016 at 19:01

    Leo Martin, a blue collar machinist, is an idiot for voting Republican for years…..

    Jeez… many times does anyone have to have the red hot poker shoved into their nether regions to figure that out?

    • Jerad
      January 14, 2016 at 19:09

      Probably has something to do with the only other legitimate voting option being openly hostile to white males who don’t hate themselves.

    • dahoit
      January 15, 2016 at 14:04

      Tell me what voting for democrats has done for US lately?Everyone but the 1% are hurting.

  13. Lee Pham
    January 14, 2016 at 17:12

    The Republican presidential candidates will simply fight a culture war they are losing, and insult groups of voters the GOP presidential nominee is going to need to win.

    20 Most Likely Questions to be Asked at GOP Presidential Debate…/twenty-20-most-likely…

    1. How weak and pathetic do you think President Barack Obama has been at everything he has done while in the White House? If possible, rank him on a scale of zero to zero.

  14. Joe Tedesky
    January 14, 2016 at 17:10

    Taking Justice Powells 1971 memo to heart, people like Lee Atwater, Carl Rove, and Ruppert Murdoch have done a good job of destroying any hope that the GOP will suddenly become sane. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if the Democrates could dump the likes of the Clinton’s, and return their platform back to the people. It’s all about the money, and the average American is just plum broke.

    • jo6pac
      January 14, 2016 at 18:32

      Sadly the demos haven’t been the party of the people for a long time. I’ll be voting Green again because change has to start somewhere.

    • jo6pac
      January 14, 2016 at 18:34

      Sadly the demos haven’t been the party of the people for a long time. I’ll be voting Green again because change has to start somewhere.

    • Will Toffan
      January 16, 2016 at 13:33

      The two party system has left a large voting demographic no choice but Donald Trump. It is not the ‘growing rage of the white working-class’, but rather the ‘growing rage of the white non working-class.’

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