2021 Arguments Mimic 1850’s

by Heather Cox Richardson – Apr 17th, 2021

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“Today, news broke that a number of pro-Trump House Republicans, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), are organizing the “America First Caucus,” which calls for “a degree of ideological flexibility, a certain intellectual boldness… to follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation.”

The seven-page document outlining their ideas, obtained by Punchbowl News, is a list of the grievances popular in right-wing media. It calls for regulation of “Big Tech,” which right-wing commentators claim is biased against them; an end to coronavirus lockdowns, which the authors say “have ruined many businesses to bankruptcy such that many Americans are left unemployed and potentially destitute”; opposition to “wasteful social justice programs like the Green New Deal”; support for oil and gas; and rejection of “globalist institutions.”

And, with extraordinary clarity, it shows the ideology that underpins these positions, an ideology eerily reminiscent of that of the elite slaveholders of the 1850s American South.

“America was founded on the basis of individual and state sovereignty,” the document says, but that federalism has been undermined by decadent and corrupt bureaucrats in Washington. The authors propose to get rid of regulation and the regulatory state, thus restoring individual freedom. This is the exact argument that animated elite slaveholders, who vowed to keep the national government small so it could not intrude on their institution of human enslavement.

The authors of the America First Caucus platform lay out very clearly the racial argument behind the political one. America, the authors write, is based on “a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” and “mass immigration” must be stopped. “Anglo-Saxon” is an old-fashioned historical description that has become a dog whistle for white supremacy. Scholars who study the Medieval world note that visions of a historical “white” England are fantasies, myths that are set in an imaginary past.

This was a myth welcome to pre-Civil War white southerners who fancied themselves the modern version of ancient English lords and used the concept of “Anglo-Saxon” superiority to justify spreading west over Indigenous and Mexican peoples. It was a myth welcome in the 1920s to members of the Ku Klux Klan, who claimed that “only as we follow in the pathway of the principles of our Anglo-Saxon father and express in our life the spirit and genius of their ideals may we hope to maintain the supremacy of the race, and to perpetuate our inheritance of liberty.” And it is a myth that appeals to modern-day white supremacists, who imitate what they think are ancient crests for their clothing, weapons, and organizations.

Emphasizing their white nationalism, the members of the America First Caucus call for “the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture… stunningly, classically, beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.” They also condemn the current education system, calling it “progressive indoctrination” and saying it works “to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation.” They conclude that “The future of America’s position in the world depends on addressing the crisis in education, at both the primary and secondary level.” They envision a world in which people who think as they do control the nation.

Indeed, the document embraces the Big Lie that Biden did not, in fact win the 2020 election. Despite the fact that all evidence proves that the 2020 election was one of the cleanest in our history and that President Joe Biden won, fair and square, the America First Caucus Policy Platform insists that the 2020 election was characterized by “massive voter fraud” and calls for limiting the vote.

Behind all this, of course, is the idea that a Democratic victory in an election is, by definition, impossible.

This extraordinary document makes it clear that Republican leaders are reaping what they began to sow during the Nixon administration, when party operatives nailed together a coalition by artificially dividing the nation between hardworking white taxpayers on the one hand and, on the other, people of color and feminist women whose demand for equality, the argument went, was code for government handouts. In the years since 1970, Republicans have called for deregulation and tax cuts that help the wealthy, arguing that such cuts advance individual liberty. All the while, they have relied on racism and sexism to rally voters with the argument that Black and Brown voters and feminist women—“feminazis,” in radio host Rush Limbaugh’s world—wanted big government so it would give them handouts.

It was a political equation that worked with a wink and a nod until former president Trump put the racism and sexism openly on the table and encouraged his supporters to turn against their opponents. They have now embraced open white supremacy.

The platform of the America First Caucus appears to have woken up some of the business Republicans—who want tax cuts and deregulation, but not the mindless white nationalism of the Trump supporters—to what has taken over their party. Today House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took to Twitter to say that “America is built on the idea that we are all created equal and success is earned through honest, hard work. It isn’t built on identity, race, or religion. The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans—not nativist dog whistles.”

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the third most powerful Republican leader in the House, tweeted, “Republicans believe in equal opportunity, freedom, and justice for all. We teach our children the values of tolerance, decency and moral courage. Racism, nativism, and anti-Semitism are evil. History teaches us all we have an obligation to confront & reject such malicious hate.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, former President George W. Bush defended immigration in our past, present, and future as “a great and defining asset of the United States.” “New Americans are just as much a force for good now, with their energy, idealism and love of country, as they have always been,” he wrote as he described his new book, made up of portraits he has painted of Americans who came originally from other nations.

Will the business Republicans’ newfound inclusiveness manage to reclaim their party? It’s not at all clear that what conservative commentator Tom Nichols calls “an extremely dangerous authoritarian party” will not win out.

Republicans in the Arizona state Senate today put teeth into the Big Lie when they announced they have hired a private company connected with Trump to recount the ballots cast in Maricopa County, Arizona, in the 2020 election. They claim they want to “restore integrity to the election process,” although the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, dominated by Republicans, voted unanimously to certify Biden’s win and both state and federal judges have verified that the existing count is valid. County officials have distanced themselves from this recount.

At the same time, though, news is not good for Trump’s supporters. Yesterday, the Treasury Department dropped the bombshell that Trump’s 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort worked with Russian intelligence to swing the 2016 election, while House Republicans accused the intelligence community of spying on them. Today the Department of Justice launched a civil suit against Trump adviser Roger Stone, saying that he and his wife “intended to defraud the United States” by hiding income and that they owe nearly $2 million in back taxes. It is not unimportant that Manafort and Stone began their political consulting careers under Richard Nixon.

Perhaps most notably in this era of social media, McCarthy’s tweet recalling the Republican Party’s older, inclusive days got what is called “ratioed” on Twitter, with significantly more people disparaging the tweet than liking it. The Republicans are “the party of the Confederacy, white supremacy, Black voter suppression, Kremlin collusion, and violent insurrection,” one person wrote. “The party of Abraham Lincoln has become the party of Jefferson Davis.”

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