In one of the little acts of subversion that creeps into “The Simpsons” every now and then, a helicopter from Fox News was shown in 2010 with a logo, “Not Racist, But #1 With Racists.”
So it can be said of the Republican Party, a shelter for the kind of dead-enders who used to be Democrats, then Dixiecrats, but have found a home of sorts in the attic of the Party of Lincoln. It’s encouraging to see some party leaders trying to sweep these dark-hearted elements out, but they have work to do yet — starting with Donald Trump.
The accused killer of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., Dylann Roof, appears to have been moved to mass murder by incendiary tracts turned out by a white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The leader of that same group, Earl Holt III, has donated more than $60,000 to various Republican office holders and candidates, including presidential aspirants Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul.
The candidates, of course, are shocked — shocked! — that an extremist hate group would contribute to their cause, and most of them have now returned the money or given it to a fund for victims’ families. But it raises an obvious question: Why would someone whose ideas belong in the graveyard of history contribute, across the board, to leading Republican conservatives?
Guilt by association can be unfair, or at least calls out for nuance. So let’s move on to a more overt racial firebomber in the party, Trump, who is polling second — just behind Jeb Bush — in one recent survey of New Hampshire Republicans.
Trump does not use dog whistles or code words. He’s blunt. And his wealth affords him a halo of respect in some circles that a low-rent racist would not get. In the spasm of surreal narcissism that was his presidential announcement earlier this month, Trump said some things you would expect to hear at a Klan rally — 20 years ago.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Because Trump is a buffoon, a punchline and a fact-checker’s full-time project, he gets away with things that more serious candidates cannot. So Mexicans — and by extension, all immigrants — are not “you,” but rapists, drug lords and leeches in our fair land. Ha-ha. That Trump — what a straight-shooter.
For his “insulting remarks about Mexican immigrants,” Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster, dumped its relationship with Trump’s Miss Universe pageant. (He’s a part-owner.) Great. Now where are the Republican leaders — supposedly intent on trying to make the party something more than a collection of grievance-gorged old white guys — giving Trump a similar message?
Trump also has consistently challenged President Barack Obama’s legitimacy as an American citizen, making a clearly racist play in his questioning of the president’s place of birth, even after the release of a long-form birth certificate.
Money insulates Trump. But the same cannot be said of Mike Huckabee, who also questioned the president’s American authenticity, concocting a lie about how “his childhood” in Kenya shaped his worldview. Huckabee sent a well-received video, in 1993, to the supremacist Citizens Council, though he later condemned the group.
Huckabee’s buddy — a “patriot and a friend,” in his words — is Ted Nugent, a raisined rocker who often appears on stage with a Confederate flag, wrapped in it or wearing it. It was Nugent who called Obama “a subhuman mongrel.”
Let’s yield to a British-born comedian, John Oliver, to set Lost Cause apologists straight: “The Confederate flag is one of those symbols that should really only be seen on T-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world.”
The House whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, has had trouble trying to explain why he spoke, in 2002, to a white supremacist group founded by former Klan leader David Duke. Scalise now says he finds the group’s beliefs repugnant. But earlier this year, Duke told a radio interviewer that Scalise “agreed with all my ideas.”
The party label is meaningless. The white South was solidly Democratic after the Civil War, vowing never to vote for the party that liberated the slaves. A hundred years later, the white South changed allegiances with the advent of the civil rights movement. Richard Nixon then sealed the transformation with his Southern Strategy, which parked Southern whites firmly in the Republican Party.
For the many Republicans who believe in free markets, less government and the racial legacy of Lincoln, the question has to be asked: What do some of society’s worst elements see in their party? It’s the coded language, yes, the hard voices of its broadcast wing, but also actions. Of late, this is the party that has been behind restrictive voting measures aimed squarely at blacks. Don’t give racists anything to root for, and they’ll crawl back under their rocks.