For so long as we can remember, which stretches all the way back to a vague recollection of Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, it’s been an election year tradition for the Democratic nominee to insinuate that the Republican nominee is a racist. This crazy election year isn’t one for insinuations or other sorts of subtleties, though, so Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton just came right out on Thursday and bluntly accused the famously blunt-talking Republican nominee Donald J. Trump of telling “racist lies” and peddling conspiracy theories with “racist undertones” and “taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”
Clinton made these claims and more at a community college in Reno, Nev., during a 31-minute address that The New York Times described as “building to a controlled simmer,” and we must admit it’s a most remarkable oration. Democratic campaign surrogates have long hurled similar slurs, and as recently as last time around the Democratic vice presidential nominee was thundering to a mostly-black crowd in his most embarrassingly fake black accent that pretty much all of the Republican Party “wants to put y’all back in chains,” but this marks the first occasion when the charges were coming straight from the top of the ticket. Worse yet, for those of us who cherish memories of the previous 13 Republican presidential campaigns, the charges have never been harder to refute.
In ’64 the factual claim was that the Republican nominee had voted against the incumbent Democratic president’s landmark Civil Rights Act, which is still so revered it’s better known as The Landmark Civil Rights Act, but Goldwater’s business record and personal life showed a consistent color-blindness that still convince us he voted against it for principled concerns about property rights and such that have largely been vindicated. By ’68 the Democrats were running Hubert Humphrey, who’d first gained national attention by leading the Minnesota delegation out of the Democratic National Convention to protest the “Dixiecrats'” exclusion of black southern delegates, but the Republicans’ Nixon had a sound civil rights voting record and the best they could come up with was that his talk about restoring “law and order” to burning black neighborhoods was subliminally racist, and in ’72 Nixon was running for re-election against George McGovern, who was from South Dakota. The ’76 race pitted accidental President Gerald Ford and his impeccable civil rights voting record against former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, a one-time protege of the ax-weilding segregationist Lester Maddox, and Ford wound up with a 17 percent of the black vote that any Republican candidate of today can only dream of. Reagan won landslides in ’80 and ’84 and saw black unemployment go down and black household incomes go up, despite losing the black vote by landslide margins, and his vice president George H.W. Bush won again in ’88 despite an ad that suggested black criminal Willie Horton shouldn’t have been furloughed from prison to rape and murder a white couple, which was considered a very racist notion by some people.
With help from self-described billionaire Ross Perot splitting the crotchety old white man vote Democrat Bill Clinton knocked off Bush by plurality in ’92, and then won reelection by a landslide plurality against crotchety old white man Republican nominee Bob Dole in ’96, and all he had to do was wear some shades and play some sax and play the part of the first First Black President. In ’00 the Democrats were aghast that Republican George W. Bush had not signed a “hate crime” bill while governor of Texas, allowing some rednecks who had dragged a black man to death behind their pickup to get off light with a mere death penalty, and in ’04 the Democrats were running the son of a segregationist southern Senator against the incumbent son of a Republican Congressman with an impeccable civil rights record, and we seem to recall that the latter won a respectable 4 or 5 percent of the black vote. In ’08 the racist rap on the Republican was that he had the audacity to be running against the potential actual First Black President, and by ’12 they were reduced that preposterous vice presidential rant about Republicans wanting to “put y’all in chains.”
In this crazy election year, though, we find it hard to rise to the Republican nominee’s defense. Goldwater took the extraordinary step of integrating his family’s prosperous department stores at a time when it was bound to a negative effect on its sales, but Clinton is factually correct in noting that Trump’s record in his prosperous family business includes an expensive settlement with the Justice Department over allegations of racial discrimination at a Brooklyn apartment complex. Trump is using the same “law and order” line that Nixon coined back in ’68, and it’s still black neighborhoods that are burning, but we can’t imagine even “Tricky Dick” praising the “strong” reaction of the Chinese government to the Tiananmen Square “riots” or inviting his campaign rallies to punch a protestor in the face, and really can’t fault our ghetto-dwelling friends for wondering what he might might mean by that. The younger Bush signed off on a death warrant for that redneck who dragged a black man to death behind his pickup, and he had good reasons not to sign that “hate crime” law, but Trump paid for a full page ad in an expensive New York newspaper that called for the death penalty against some young black men accused of a horrible gang rape, and he didn’t back down after the young men were exonerated by physical evidence. Trump can’t point to the impeccable voting records of a Ford or a elder Bush or even such crotchety old white man as Dole, never having held any public office, he’s certainly no Reagan, and his long public record of providing quotable quips to the tabloid press is rife with material for Democratic attack ads.
As much as we hate to give the devil her due, Clinton is also right about Trump’s penchant for bizarre conspiracy theories. He’s a frequent guest and unabashed admirer of the downright deranged Alex Jones and his “Infowars” outfit, which is at least bipartisan crazy enough to have been spinning looney ideas about both Democratic and Republican administrations for years, including that Bush Lied, People Died nonsense the Republican nominee now spouts, and even after he wrapped up the Republican nomination he was still touting The National Enquirer for a Pulitzer Prize for exposing how vanquished rival and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ father had been in on the Kennedy assassination. We suppose he’s still insisting that First Black President Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, with whatever “racist undertones” that might carry, and as much as we’d like to believe it we’re still awaiting the long-promised proof.
Nor can we honestly deny that a worrisome segment of Trump’s support comes from some very unsavory people. We don’t mean the insignificant number of unabashedly racist yahoos in pointy-headed robes who always wind up supporting even the Republicans with the impeccable civil rights voting records because they’re at least not openly hostile to white people, but rather that small but more sophisticated number of unsavory sorts who are savvy enough to call themselves the “alt-right.” The term is newly-coined and the movement seemingly newly-fledged, and is thus hard to define at any given moment, but at all times it is explicitly nationalist and racialist and what most people would consider misogynist. They’re not much enthused about capitalism or constitutionalism or the Judeo-Christian tradition of any of that old-fashioned right stuff, and are “far-right” more in the European sense than by recent Republican terms.
They seem to have an even greater disdain for the Republican Party as previously constituted than they do for the Democrats, and in the comments section of almost any article slightly suspicious of Trump they refer to such GOP throwbacks as ourselves as “cuckservatives.” If you’re not familiar with this neologism, it’s a portmanteau of “conservative,” or “so called conservative,” and “cuckold,” an ancient term for a betrayed husband and a more recent reference to an obscure pornographic genre, which is meant to suggest that any white man claiming to be a conservative but isn’t a white nationalist secretly harbors a desire to see his wife ravaged by black men. Clinton makes the claim that they’ve hijacked the Republican Party, and as much as we’d like to disbelieve it they’re making the very same claim.
In every other election we can recall we could have said that it’s not the Republican nominee’s fault that such unsavory people are supporting him, and that it’s just because he’s not openly hostile to white people, but in this crazy election year the Republican nominee’s “chief executive officer” was until recently running a website that he bragged was “the platform for the alt-right.” Stephen Bannon’s “Brietbart News” also provided plenty of fodder for Democratic attack ads with such headlines as “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer,” “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” and “Dear Straight People: I’m Officially Giving You Permission to Say Gay, Faggot and Queer.” That last one topped a piece by “alt-right” apologist Milo Yiannopolous, who is openly homosexual and therefore feels entitled to confer such permission, and we expect there are nuanced arguments to be on behalf of the others, but this isn’t a year for such subtleties, so we’ll leave it to Trump and his campaign’s “chief executive officer” to make own defense. So far that seems to involve walking back on all that mass deportation talk that got the fans so riled up, while assuring them he’ll still be firm, and countering that Clinton’s the bigot.
If this were a year for subtleties, and the Republicans were running one of those boring old “cuckservatives” with the impeccable civil rights records and fending off just the usual implausible insinuations, we suspect that Clinton would be on the defensive. She and her party are beholden to a frankly nationalist and racialist “Black Lives Matter” movement that is openly hostile to white people, and leaving black neighborhoods in flames and putting black lives at risk in the process. Neither she nor that First Black President who promised a post-racial America have condemned the naked race hatred that had mobs chasing down black passersby in Milwaukee, and a boring old “cuckservative” who had been “tweeting” obviously bogus statistics about the serious enough problem of black-on-white violence might have made hay of that. A boring old “cuckservative” could be making a case that capitalism and constitutionalism can create an ever-expanding economy that all can share in under a constitutional system ensuring individual liberty, instead of crowing that “I alone can solve,” and we would probably be talking mostly about the Democratic nominee’s latest corruption scandals and how she’s utterly unfit to be president.
At least Clinton’s speech acknowledged that all that past Republican presidential nominees weren’t so racist as was insinuated at the time, and that Romney didn’t really want to put all the black people back in chains, and that Trump isn’t really a conservative in the sense we cling to, but we’re sure that will be long forgotten the next time the Republicans have the good sense to nominate some old-fashioned “cuckservative” with an impeccable civil rights record. In the meantime, Lord, how we hate this crazy election cycle.
— Bud Norman