Toxic White Supremacy in the Republican Party

Republicans’ white supremacist problem is a threat to America

The party has reinforced racism, homophobia and misogyny to tilt the electorate as far to the right as possible

People take part in a prayer and vigil at Ponder Park in El Paso, Texas.
 People take part in a prayer and vigil at Ponder Park in El Paso, Texas. Photograph: Wang Ying/Xinhua/Barcroft Media

The Republicans have a problem. A white supremacist problem. Decades ago they made a crass political calculation to use the Southern Strategy and ride white resentment and patriarchy to untold power and glory. Instead, they ended up with Donald Trump. He is a man who wallows in white supremacy so virulent and toxic that it has provided the blueprint and the targets for mass murderers.

The Republicans’ road to perdition required mastery of coded racist policy language, such as “welfare queen”, “forced busing” and “law and order”, to lure disaffected white people out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party. The Southern Strategy was so ruthless in its lurch to the right that it actually neutralized the moderates and drove the majority of African Americans out of the party.

Yet it turns out that white supremacy can only go so far. In its unvarnished Trumpian form, it has become so repulsive that the Republican base is rapidly shrinking, Senate leadership is facing valid questions about the Republican commitment to US national security as the president cozies up to a nationalist regime in Moscow that launched a “sweeping and systematic” cyberattack on the United States, and there have been a slew of retirements by congressional representatives who were rising stars and supposed to be the next generation of the party’s leadership.

The Brennan Center recently reported that within the past two years, 17 million Americans have been purged from the voter rolls. Worse yet, states that had previously been subject to oversight under the Voting Rights Act, because of proven rampant discrimination, aggressively removed registered voters at a rate “40% higher than the purge rate in jurisdictions that were not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act”. This, of course, is in addition to the 16 million eliminated from the rolls between 2014-2016.

In short, 33 million Americans were just electorally erased. To put this in perspective, that is the equivalent of the combined populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Phoenix and Dallas, as well as the states of Wyoming, South DakotaNebraskaIowa, and Idaho. Gone. Not surprisingly, these massive removals are error-ridden and concentrated in precincts that tend to have higher minority populations and vote Democratic. Similarly, other voter suppression techniques, such as poll closures, deliberate long lines on election day, voter ID laws and extreme partisan gerrymandering all weigh disproportionately on minorities and urban areas.

‘Trump is a man who wallows in a white supremacy so virulent and toxic that it has provided the blueprint and the targets for mass murderers.’
 ‘Trump is a man who wallows in a white supremacy so virulent and toxic that it has provided the blueprint and the targets for mass murderers.’ Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

For the Republican party, it had to be so. As of July 2018, even with all of that purging, there were 12 million more Democrats than Republicans in the United States. Democrats are 40% of registered voters compared with just 29% listed as Republicans. In fact, the percentage of Americans who identified as members of the Republican party dropped by 5% in four short years. And independents lean overwhelmingly toward Democrats.

With moderates neutralized while the nativists are emboldened, the Republican party has intensified an agenda that includes hostility to civil rights, the environmentreproductive rights and the constitutional separation of church and state. And that list of ignominy is coupled with downright cruelty to non-white immigrants. All this hatred has been wrapped in a fig leaf of legality by demolishing Senate rules and confirming nearly 25% of the federal judiciary without any real vetting except a stamp of approval by the Federalist Society.

The Republicans, therefore, continue to resort to voter suppression because that kind of policy frame simply cannot resonate with the majority of American voters, who are concerned that there have been more mass shootings (292) than days in the year (216), anxious that 12.5bn tons of Greenland’s ice melted and poured into the ocean in early August alone, angered that in 2016 the Russians hacked the election systems of 50 states to call into question the very legitimacy of the vote and democracy, and furious that refusal to expand Medicaid and provide access to Obamacare has cost more than 15,000 lives.

The Republicans’ white supremacist problem is, indeed, lethal. It extends far beyond “the freak show of the Trump presidency”, however, and threatens to devour not only to the party of Lincoln, which is bad enough, but America itself.

  • Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler professor of African American studies at Emory University and the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy

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