White Power – Driving Force for Republicans
Could it be that the Great American Divide is about white power? There is a lot of evidence that this may be exactly the case. I am reading the Frederick Douglass biography, Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. Douglass began his life in America as a slave but he taught himself to read, write, and speak at great hazard as reading and writing were forbidden to slaves. Once he escaped north he became a tireless member and leader in the abolitionist movement. David Blight describes Frederick Douglass’s impatience with Lincoln in 1862. Douglass was waiting for Lincoln to emancipate the slaves and to allow them to fight on the Union side in the Civil War. Lincoln had dissenters to appeal to and perhaps that explains why he dithered. Perhaps it explains why the government in Washington pushed colonization along with freedom. Slaves who wished to be sent to found a colony, perhaps in Central America, would be freed. Frederick Douglass felt that American slaves belonged in America. It was now the nation they called home. They should not be uprooted again because white people did not accept black folks as equals.
Douglass says “If men may not live peaceably together in the same land, they cannot so live on the same continent, and ultimately on the same world -If heterogeneity could not work in America where could it. If the black man cannot find peace from the aggressions of the white race on this continent,” he reasoned, “he will not be likely to find it permanently on any part of the habitable globe.” (pg.375)
Here is General Montgomery Blair on the subject (responding to a letter Douglass had written to Senator Pomeroy), “Blair sought to assure Douglass that there ‘was not question of superiority or inferiority involved in the proposed removal.’ Blair invoked the reputation of Thomas Jefferson to underscore the necessity of racial separation. The minority race, argued Blair, must go elsewhere to initiate the civilization established by the majority race: the propriety of colonization stemmed from the differences between them…and it seems as obvious to me as it was to…the mind of Jefferson that the opinion against which you protest, is the necessary result of indelible differences made by the Almighty.” (pg. 375-76)
So brother fought brother in a deadly Civil War and when it ended the union of states remained together, but the racial animosity also remained. There are white Americans who still feel superior to anyone with darker skin, anyone who cannot trace their history to Europe.
I am also reading a book called Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right by Anne Nelson who is offering evidence that there are long tentacles of connection between American Fundamentalists and the Koch Network, which also includes the DeVos family, and that white supremacy and the supremacy of the Christian religion are the doctrines around which these folks coalesce. Nelson looks at the founding of a group called the Council for National Policy, and at its past presidents who include people from just about every radical conservative group in America.
“A century earlier the US population was close to 90 percent non-Hispanic white but by 2016 the figure dropped to 60% and was falling steadily.” (pg. 2)
In 1972 Protestants made up 2/3 of the US population, but by 2012 they had dropped to less than half.” (pg. 2)`
“[The men we are speaking of] represented an American past dominated by white Protestant male property owners. They dreamed of restoring a nineteenth century patriarchy that limited the civil rights of women, minorities, immigrants and workers, with no income tax to vex the rich or social safety net to aid the poor.” (Prologue, pg. xiv)
“If the country abided by a clear-cut democratic process, these constituencies, leaning Democratic, would consolidate their power based on majority rule.” (pg. xiv)
“Once Democratic-leaning youth and minorities reached a decisive majority – which could be as early as 2031 – there might be no turning back.”
Perhaps this explains the conservative meme on the demise of the American nuclear family and the passionate campaign to end birth control and abortion and the constant comments that inform white folks that they are not having enough offspring, which some conservatives are wont to let slip in unguarded moments. (As in, we need more white babies.)
Nelson says that “[t]he key players learned how to achieve minority rule through long-term strategies, which they would soon apply to the country as a whole, manipulating the electoral process and reshaping the judiciary.” (pg. 2)
Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, outraged when the Supreme Court ended public school prayer met in March of 1967, Nelson learned, to discuss these matters and to come up with an organized response which would eventually become the Council for National Policy. Southern Baptists figured prominently in these events. Jerry Falwell was also in the loop. Paul Weyrich would become one of the architects of the CNP. “According to journalist David Grann’s account in the New Republic, Weyrich’s idea for a conservative network arose in Washington one day in 1969. In 1970 Weyrich cofounded The Heritage Foundation, the Republican Study Committee, and ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council which become the building blocks of the Council for National Policy.
Since this movement involved the church there was already a network of Christian radio stations all across America. “Over time the media empire has expanded its reach into Fox News operations and grown to include fundamentalist television broadcasting, digital platforms, book publishing, and feature film production.” (pg. xv)
“ The ‘wallpaper effect’ of wraparound media can have a powerful effect,” says Nelson. (pg. xvi)
“The CNP set its sights on the Republican Party” (pg. xvii)
Nelson goes on to say, “the movement has also appropriated a vocabulary that it redeploys with Orwellian flair. ‘Family’ is a code word for homophobic, and ‘defense of marriage’ means prohibition of same sex unions…” (pg. xvii) hardly surprising to most of us.
Once we are versed in the history of the CNP and related organizations such as the Leadership Institute, the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, Tea Party Patriots and many more on the right, Anne Nelson begins to delineate the connections of this fundamentalist network with the Koch brothers and their network of organizations mostly connected to the oil and gas industry, very important in the states the CNP grew up in. The most famous Koch organizations include Americans for Prosperity and Donors Trust.
I began to be aware that what was going on in the federal government and in the states was not business-as-usual sometime around 2013 when the scope of Republican obstructionism in Congress became too obvious to ignore. Saying that you plan to make Obama a one term president was a bit abstract, but the use of the filibuster and the Hastert rule to bring legislation to a virtual standstill was pretty concrete. Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham may have amused some Americans, but I found it snarky and disrespectful. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling, shutting down the government – all these actions began to look planned, strategic, ways to prevent the majority party from governing. And of course, I was not the only one who noticed.
I’m not sure the connection to white supremacy was as clear in those years as it is today but actions like defusing the Voting Rights Act to end preclearance for Jim Crow states began to offer us a strong suspicion that white supremacy was not dead and gone in these United States. Voter ID’s, getting rid of convenient polling places and polling times and other anti-voting moves that would be likely to most affect minorities, or would echo techniques previously used to suppress minority votes, brought issues of racism back to the forefront, as did the events that precipitated the Black Lives Matter movement.
Journalists started to connect the dots among the various conservative and fundamentalist organizations that had sprung up like pernicious weeds in a garden that was unattended. In 2013 a group called Muckety traced the web of the Koch brothers influence (along with other wealthy conservative political families). Anne Nelson, finally in 2019, does her more exhaustive analysis of these groups whose goals are to steer American politics inevitably in such a way that white power will stay in charge in America regardless of what changes we see in our population.
Small wonder how we end up with someone like Steven Miller, the merchant of white supremacy (renamed white nationalism) by the side of a president who the Republicans will not touch, because he is busy preserving the white America they have been manipulating Americans to want for an astonishing 50 years.
Tell Americans that Muslims are terrorists and that people from south of the border are gang members. After several terrorist bombings in America, (after 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings and more), after exaggerating MS-13 presence in America, it is pretty easy to understand why people believe the white supremacist activities of this administration are protecting them. The Muslim ban and the Wall calm Americans’ terror of these new immigrants that people have been incited to fear, who are so different from European immigrants of previous migrations.
There is some truth to the fear. If we accept Muslim immigrants some of them could be terrorists. If we give sanctuary to people from South America or Central America some of them could be gang members. But stoking fear of these groups is wrong, it is un-American, it over-generalizes, and, because it relies on Europe to deal with the upheaval driving Muslims into Europe all on its own, it will eventually create massive anti-American sentiment in Europe if these policies outlast Trump. Europe seems to be cutting us some slack for Trump. Can we save ourselves from economic chaos in South America by building a wall? Probably not for long.
As it turns out this is not really about immigration at all and we instinctively knew this; it is about white supremacy; it is about preserving white power. It is about wealth and who gets to keep it. It is about old energy and holding the line. It is the antithesis of globalization which would attempt to see that we all try to understand each other and get along as best we can to offer a life that meets the needs of people everywhere on the planet.
It is about change, an end to white hegemony, and it is so frightening to some that they are willing to destroy our democracy to keep the status quo in America. The Republicans are part of this strategic program to keep America white and Christian and that has everything to do with why they back a guy like Trump who is not afraid to cozy up to white supremacists to get it done (and who insists at the same time that he is doing nothing of the kind). This is not about the base, although heaven knows they need their base. This is about white male Christian power; it is about a minority finding ways to continue to exercise power over a new majority.
Can the left come up with an equally strategic plan to counteract this right wing cabal, to peacefully wend a way to inclusion, to lifting up those who will be affected by climate shifts, and inventing a new more equitable economy? Will our democracy, born in a crucible of racism, be able to survive into a brave new tolerant future? It is not looking good.
Photo Credits: NBC News, Muckety