The Rise of Pennsylvania’s Racist Right Is a Warning to the Nation

Daniel Doubet

State Senator Scott Wagner, the waste treatment millionaire who wants to become Pennsylvania’s next governor, derides left-leaning donor George Soros as a “Hungarian Jew” who harbors “hatred for America.”

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Dave Reed used campaign funds to pay for his membership in the “Indiana Armstrong Patriots,” a Tea Party group in western PA that defended Neo-Nazis when they attacked counter-protesters in Charlottesville.

When Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R), who claims the state is under attack by “illegal aliens,” invited avowed White Nationalist Bob Vandervoort to testify in favor of making English the state’s official language, he defended Vandervoort’s racialized views.

To say somebody is a nationalist and for the independence of their country and a patriot to defending their country, is a lot different from saying somebody is a racist,” Metcalfe said.

Congressman Lou Barletta (R), who built his career on xenophobia and unconstitutional profiling as the mayor of Hazleton PA, holds a board post at “FAIR,” a nativist organization whose founder calls for a “European-American Majority” in the United States.

What do these Pennsylvania officials have in common? They all try to mainstream racist views, and make the commonwealth a vanguard in White Nationalism’s push to take over the GOP.

It’s a cautionary tale for the rest of the nation. Welcome to Pennsylvania in 2017.

More Than a Pattern

This is not just a pattern, it’s a well-honed strategy. Pennsylvania Republicans have long used strategic racism to advance the party’s agenda. Whenever the GOP wants to dismantle a public program or win an election in the state, it resorts to dog-whistles, racially-charged comments about the “inner city,” and retreads of Ronald Reagan’s myth of the “welfare queen.”

Despite majorities in the state legislature, the congressional delegation, and one U.S. senator, the Pennsylvania GOP does not have a single person of color among its ranks in elected office.

What’s new is that Pennsylvania’s dog-whistle blowers now feel free to blatantly spout outright racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. One may point to the ascendance of President Trump, whose own deployment of strategic racism won him the highest office in the land, and argue this has emboldened Pennsylvania’s leaders to drop their pretenses.

An Extreme-Right Turn

Pennsylvania’s turn to the extreme right is like a Frankenstein’s monster run amok. The advantages Republicans have gained in the state through gerrymandering have led them to distill their ethos into its most repulsive element: hate.

By systematically eliminating electoral competition, they allow themselves to be increasingly driven by the basest and most corrosive influences within their coalition.

As the Pennsylvania GOP has pushed for ALEC-approved, Norquist-sanctioned pilfering of the public coffers, they have adapted an increasingly Machiavellian style. Elected officials feel less confined to maintain a veneer of racial civility when they throw red meat to the most extreme elements of their base.

Bannon’s Shadow

What’s most insidious about the Pennsylvania GOP’s racist rhetoric is that it advances policies that reinforce oppression. Ousted White House aide Steve Bannon supports Wagner’s bid for governor, which promises to relieve the wealthy from taxes, destroy public education, and kill the labor movement in the state.

The definition of a political insider, Wagner spends millions of his own dollars to buy elections for far-right allies. He spent at least $450,000 last year on a single state senate race in Erie, and has already spent more than that this year to influence races all across the state.

Wagner is shrewd enough to be calculating in his deployment of hateful speech and dollars. Is it a coincidence that Identity Europa and other White Supremacist groups have stepped up activities in recent days in Pennsylvania?

Don’t Be Surprised

Don’t be surprised, then, to hear Wagner talk about “those people,” the “inner city,” maybe “illegals” or “black people,” or even worse as the governor’s race goes into full swing, and he bangs the drum for hatred and fear.

Wagner’s platform and candidacy can only divide and destroy Pennsylvania’s working people. Organizations like Keystone Progress, Reclaim Philadelphia, Lancaster Stands Up and the 215 People’s Alliance are coming together to counter the rise of the racist right in Pennsylvania with a multiracial coalition to build power and win victories for racial and economic justice.

From Philadelphia to Erie,  and all points in between, our movement is growing. Join us in believing that the people of our commonwealth will come together in 2018 to reject hate, and elect leaders who work for all of us.

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