Analysis by Reporting San Diego
Editor Note: We will deal with the President’s words as well but within a much larger context of what is going on in the country.
August 15, 2017 (San Diego) if you have spent any time on social media, I am sure you have seen some particularly nasty memes. One shows Klan, in hoods, and blames Democrats for that. Then there is the other popular one about the Party of Lincoln, and that Martin Luther King was a Republican. They are used mostly by people still trying to defend the president. It is a great exercise in what about them? The Soviet Union used to use this one regularly as well.
There is a grain of salt here. Why it is being used, and why they are repeated.
From the vantage point of 2017, these memes seem ahistorical and meant to insult. At best they are meant to deflect. So my goal here is to equip you with the history behind them. There is one critical concept you need familiarity with. This is the concept of party realignment. This is a critical concept if you are to understand why these memes have a grain of truth.
Americans do believe that parties are static entities. This benefits both parties. Why Republicans tell you that they are the party of Lincoln, while Democrats sing the praises of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mind you, neither party embraces the views of these two Presidents. If they did, Republicans would be a pro-labor party and Democrats would fully embrace the safety net and the Second Bill of Rights. As a nation, we would be in a far different place incidentally.
This is at its core what party realignments are. When political parties change their underlying coalitions and ideology change as well. Parties do not remain ideologically static. The fight that the Democrats are engaged in, is partly a realignment fight. The Republicans are in a life or death fight of their own, partly because of who nominally leads the party. Some Republicans, like Senators Corey Gardner (R-CO) and John McCain (R-AZ), have gone one way. While through silence, others are failing, like Rand Paul (R-KY).
The New Deal and Dixiecrats
For Democrats, the New Deal is almost a mythic period, with everything going well, and all boats rising. Then there were the Southern States, where Congressmen and Senators had one goal. You can have all this legislation, as long as you leave Jim Crow alone. They were collectively called Dixiecrats. They had a special set of laws to maintain, and a social order to keep. This was a social order premised in white supremacy. Among them was Strum Thurmomd. He was a Democrat, a powerful Democrat. He was the leader of a coterie of people whose goal was to get all the goods and services they could, for white people in their states. He was appointed to the Senate in 1951, after running as a States Right candidate for the Presidency in 1948.
White supremacy was open in the South, and Democrats knew this. So starting with the New Deal, politicians from the North were careful to craft legislation that they could get support from their Southern member of the party. This coddling continued for years. Why? There was no way any of this legislation could pass nationally without their support. The old right coalition was very strong.
The day this came crashing down, openly that is, was the day the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965. The realignment of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in the south happened in the course of a few years. Thurmond left the Democratic Party, but not his allegiance to the politics of race. It is said that LBJ spoke words to the effect that they had lost the south for a generation. Democrats did, for more than a generation. The South remains solidly Republican. This is also the origin of the Southern Strategy that the Republican Party has employed since then. When you have white supremacists join your ranks, that gives you a whole region of the country that voted reliably for the other party for over a century, it made sense, politically.
If you held racist believes in your heart, that makes it easier as well. there is something to be said about fellow travelers.
Here is the nugget in this story. When you see the memes that Democrats were KKK members, that is true. However, they mostly joined the Republican Party in the 1960s, and have remained in the Republican Party since then. This is now a crisis for the party, as they have encouraged this part of the party base for decades.
MLK Was A Republican
Here is another one of those memes. Martin Luther King was a Republican. Yes, like most members of his generation, up until the 1950s, they voted for the minority party in the south. That would be the Republicans.
Just like Thurmond and his friends left the Democratic Party, Blacks all across the South left the Republican Party and became Democrats. Why? The same reason they were Republicans at one point. Lincoln did emancipate the slaves. LBJ gave them the right to vote. So people of that generation, in particular, became very loyal yellow dog, Democrats. This means they will vote for Democrats no matter who it is.
This is the context of these two memes. Context does matter.
What About Them… a Speech Device
President Donald Trump engaged in this tactic today at Trump Tower in New York. He expressed White Nationalist views today and blamed what the White Nationalists are calling the Alt. Left for what happened on Saturday. We quote:
“And, you had a group on one side that was bad, but you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And no one wants to say that. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”
He added that not all of these people were white supremacists:
“You had people in that group who were protesting the taking down of what to them is a very, very important statue.”
He also said something that should perk ears:
“You’re changing history; you’re changing culture.”
Which is in reference to this longer quote:
“Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee. So … Excuse me. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you’d know it if you were honest reporters — which in many cases you’re not. But many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop? But they were there to protest- excuse me. you take a look the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of the Robert E. Lee.
All this is a dog whistle for the Lost Cause, and it is white supremacy code. He also blamed both sides engaging in “what about them” propaganda device. He is incapable of blaming his white supremacist base. He is becoming the spokesperson for this toxic philosophy.
His statements today will add much wind to those sails, so expect more violence.
They Both Do It…
Again, the President of the United States engaged in this rhetorical device, and you will see it as well. Online it is a common one. No, those standing up for the rights of others are not the same as those standing up for white supremacy. Let’s say it. If you are a white supremacist, you are not the moral equivalent of those demonstrating against you. Neither did the ones demonstrating against the Nazis and Neo-Confederates come armed, wearing tactical helmets and carrying police shields.
Nor in the most extreme of examples, did they come in wearing military fatigues, and carrying AR-15s (For the record the state is an open carry state, so legally there was very little the police could do, that is a different discussion.)
So to equate the action of those who came to confront white supremacist with that of white supremacists is at best tone deaf. In reality, this is an off the rails comparison and will encourage the true base of the president, the white supremacy movement.
Here is a word about language. Why am I refusing to use the term Alt. Right? It was a marketing ploy by Richard Spencer to make Nazis like himself more palatable. I will either use White Supremacy, which is the full collection of groups or identity by a specific ideology.
This is one of the favorite talking points of people who are trying hard to shut down these uncomfortable discussions. Incidentally, this includes the President of the United States, who justified White Supremacists today in the White House.
In their mind any discussion on how white supremacy and slavery of the original sin of the nation, is simply not worth having. It makes them icky for starters. They might have to face facts. Secondly, many of the people engaging in this talking point are very comfortable. They are facing a country that is becoming increasingly colorful, and they do not want to lose their place of privilege.
The phrase is one to make you stop and doubt yourself. It means that you are trying to take rights away. It has been adopted by many well-meaning people who do not understand what this phrase implies.
We know that the president has used this phrase. We also know that he has embraced much of this world view. By his words, over the last four days, he has fully embraced the white supremacists in this country. He called White Supremacist and Neo Nazis, “very fine people.”