The Unmasking of the Republican Party

The silver lining of Donald Trump’s election is the unmasking of the Republican Party and the United States itself as deeply racist. Previous Republican presidents wore masks, hiding their racism in dog whistles and code words. That the Republican Party is now openly a party of white nationalism clarifies the issue. There is no sitting on the sidelines in this debate because it is not about policy, it is about the very character of this nation.

The United States was established through the genocide of indigenous people and built by black and brown slaves. It is a myth that slavery was ever abolished: it was simply limited to prison labor. And so, slavery carried on and continues to this day, as prison laborers toil for a pittance while contributing to the profits of corporations like McDonalds and Starbucks.  A direct line connects slavery to today’s mass incarceration, which is simply slavery in a mask. This mask helps obscure the injustice being done to real human beings.

Many people don’t remember that the Republicans were once the party of Abraham Lincoln. The ranks of the Democrats were once filled by Southerners – the Dixiecrats. But when the Democratic Party passed the Civil Rights Act, the Southerners abandoned theDemocrats and flocked to the Republicans. Since then, Republican politicians have shrewdly used the Southern strategy: stirring up racial resentment to win votes. The key was doing so in a subtle way, so you could claim plausible deniability to charges of racism.

But Trump has abandoned such subtleties in favor of overt stirring of racial fear and xenophobia. All signs point to his continuing his strategy of stirring up racial and cultural resentment to keep his base mobilized and distract his opponents with reality TV controversy while he and his cronies run amok.

Countering such a vicious strategy will require clarity combined with aggressive, no holds barred political action:

The election of Donald Trump has flattened the poetry in America’s founding philosophy: the country born from an idea of freedom is to be governed by an unstable, stubbornly uninformed, authoritarian demagogue. And in response to this there are people living in visceral fear, people anxiously trying to discern policy from bluster, and people kowtowing as though to a new king. Things that were recently pushed to the corners of America’s political space—overt racism, glaring misogyny, anti-intellectualism—are once again creeping to the center.

Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just. Now is the time to speak up and to wear as a badge of honor the opprobrium of bigots. Now is the time to confront the weak core at the heart of America’s addiction to optimism; it allows too little room for resilience, and too much for fragility. Hazy visions of “healing” and “not becoming the hate we hate” sound dangerously like appeasement. The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated but to the denigrators. The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity.

Now is not the time to dismiss minorities fighting for justice as indulging in ‘identity politics.’ The empowerment of racist nationalists is a physical threat to the safety of non-whites everywhere, and so demands an equally aggressive response to counter. If overt racism is normalized in public discourse, it will have a profoundly negative effect on the future of the nation and the planet itself.

Now is the time to recalibrate the default assumptions of American political discourse. Identity politics is not the sole preserve of minority voters. This election is a reminder that identity politics in America is a white invention: it was the basis of segregation. The denial of civil rights to black Americans had at its core the idea that a black American should not be allowed to vote because that black American was not white. The endless questioning, before the election of Obama, about America’s “readiness” for a black President was a reaction to white identity politics. Yet “identity politics” has come to be associated with minorities, and often with a patronizing undercurrent, as though to refer to nonwhite people motivated by an irrational herd instinct. White Americans have practiced identity politics since the inception of America, but it is now laid bare, impossible to evade.

It is a myth that the United States is the “land of the free.” A nation founded on genocide and slavery where only property-holding males were allowed to vote cannot be said to be free. The myth of an inclusive United States is not historical but aspirational, it is an ideal to which the nation should reach. But with the election of Donald Trump running a campaign promising exclusion, the vision of an inclusive country is one that must be fought for relentlessly.

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