The Republican establishment has run out of time to stop Donald Trump. The Republican Party is now the party of Trump. As Chauncey Devega wrote, the transformation is plain: “The Republican Party is the country’s largest white identity organization; in the post-civil rights era conservatism and racism are now one and the same thing.”
It’s now up to progressives to stop Trump. The good news is that progressive movement leader and CNN commentator Van Jones has shown us where to start.
The Republican establishment has stood wringing its hands as the bombastic businessman’s popularity soared with every vile racist, sexist statement. Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to denounce him. When Trump advocated barring Muslims entering the U.S., keeping a database of Muslim Americans, and even spoke internment camps as an option, Republicans could not bring themselves to turn their back on him and declare that they would not support him as the party’s nominee.
Republicans stood by as Trump’s political rallies morphed into events that were just one pitchfork and torch away from becoming lynch mobs, with Trump seeming to encourage the violence as his supporters pushed, shoved, punched and kicked Latino and African-American protesters. Trump remarked that one Black Lives Matter protester “should have been roughed up,” and telling supporters “knock the crap out of them, I’ll pay for the lawsuits.”
At a rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, Trump supporters attacked a Black Lives Matter protestor and threatened to set him on fire, amid cheers of “Seig, heil!”
This week, a Trump rally in Louisville, Ky. turned particularly ugly when Trump called for protesters to be removed. His supporters forcibly removed a young black woman as they hurled racist and sexist slurs at her, chanting “You’re scum, your time will come.”
The man in the red cap in the above video has been identified as Matthew Heimbach, leader of a white supremacist group called the Traditionalist Worker Party. Heimbach also claimed in a blog post that he was one of the men who ejected protesters from the rally.
Trump has brought right-wing racism into the mainstream of the Republican party. His failure to disavow the support of former Louisiana lawmaker and one-time grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke should have virtually ended his candidacy in any other sane political season. Yet, while it brought him criticism from such conservatives as former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), only a handful of Republicans were moved to disavow Trump.
Astonishingly, some conservatives defended Trump’s mixed messages on white supremacist support. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) gave Trump a pass on the Klan issue. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) actually said that even if Trump meant what he said about not wanting to “condemn” the Ku Klux Klan too hastily, he would sill be a better choice for president than a Democrat.
It wasn’t until former Obama advisor Van Jones clashed with Trump apologist Jeffrey Lord on CNN Tuesday night that someone pushed back, hard. Lord had peddled his revisionist right-wing history of the Klan as a “leftist” organization on CNN’s “New Day” and gotten away with it. It fell to Jones to do what any journalist worthy of his or her j-school degree should have, and call Lord out on his lies.
After that segment, Van Jones and Jeffrey Lord were brought back onto CNN the next morning for what was supposed to be a six-minute mini-debate. It instead lasted almost 20 minutes.
Lord deserves some credit. After all, one has to know history in order to revise it. Otherwise, how does one know what to leave out? Lord leaves out 60 years of American political history. The Klan and other white supremacists haven’t been Democrats since South Carolina segregationist Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat, and certainly not since the GOP implemented its “Southern Strategy” and Richard Nixon courted southern white conservative voters by consciously appealing to their racist fears and resentments. The rest were won over by Lee Atwater’s more refined application of the strategy.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Conservatives are doing what they have always done on behalf of the plutocracy. Southern planters did it to get poor and working-class whites to buy into white supremacy, so that they would fight and die to preserve slavery and plantation owners’ profits. Union-busting industrialists did it to pit black and white working people against each other, preventing them from finding solidarity with one another and against factory owners.
Preying on racial fears and anxieties to keep poor and working-class whites and poor and working-class people of color from uniting against an economic system rigged against them both is the oldest trick in the book. That’s all Donald Trump and his Republican party are doing. Calling them out on it won’t persuade them not to do it because they don’t have anything else, but it still matters.
As Jones demonstrates, racist and revisionist rhetoric such as Lord’s must first be confronted and called out for what it is. However, in addressing someone like Jeffrey Lord, “winning” the argument depends upon who’s listening. As Scott Timberg writes at Salon, lots of viewers still felt that Lord won, despite Jones’ strong, fact-based argument, because they were already predisposed to believe Lord’s rhetoric.
Progressives have to remember when arguing with someone like Lord, we’re not really talking to him. Susan Sontag wrote, “10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.” The Jeffrey Lords of the world are immovable. We are not so much talking to them as talking through them, or around them, to those Americans who are moveable.
Republicans spent decades paving the way and priming the party base for a candidate just like Donald Trump. They were never going to stop him. As always, that job falls to progressive movements that have always stood against plutocrats and corporatists like Trump and his Republican party.