Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hunting Where the Ducks Are: Part II

Mark Graber

In 1964, the Republican Party made a fateful decision to “go hunting where the ducks are” in Barry Goldwater’s (in)famous words.  Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that of some of his supporters may have been based on the sincere libertarian conviction that government should not tell businesses who they must serve and who they must consider hiring.  Nevertheless, Goldwater and his allies were well aware that the vast majority of persons who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related measures did so because they supported a racist status quo.  The end result was the modern Republican Party, an alliance of elites and interests who advanced intellectual respectable justifications for policies that the mass base of the party supported because they buttressed longstanding racial, religious and gender hierarchies.  Law review articles providing histories justifying the right to bear arms be invoked when repealing gun control laws that interfered with a southern gun culture that partly developed as a means of controlling persons of color.  Justice Antonin Scalia provided cover for the Republican coalition by repeatedly insisting that courts could not look at the actual motives underlying legislative decisions.  As long as some neutral reason existed for not teaching evolution or kicking all persons of color off a jury, the Supreme Court would not ask whether the best actual explanation for the policy was the desire to promote Christian or maintain white supremacy.

This alliance of business, true believers and racists required some delicate managing.  On the one hand, Republicans could hardly inform the many upper-class women in their coalition that they should be at home caring for their husbands and children.  Many affluent Republicans who favored deregulation sincerely abhor crude racist language and practices.  On the other hand, Republicans had to signal to much of their mass base that, outside of practices broadly recognized as beyond the pale, the party was not going to do much to undermine existing racial, gender and religious hierarchies.  On the other hand, again, these signals could not be so blatant as to make it obvious that a significant percentage of the Republican Party was being moved by bigotry rather than, as Republicans liked to tout, by commitments to limited government, family values, and the like.  Country-club Republicans needed to convince others and themselves that they were not merely providing a veneer of respectability for the most bigoted forces in American politics.

Donald Trump’s success in gaining the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency stripped the veneer off of Republican respectability.  Trump demonstrated that a substantial proportion of the Republican electorate was motivated by desires to keep persons of color, women, and non-Judeo-Christians in their place.   Those Republicans preferred a candidate who “told it like it is” to candidates who used such phrases as “limited government,” “right to life,” and “the rights of small businesses” which could be interpreted one way by the more elite wing of the party and a different way by the mass base.  In short, what Trump exposes is that, whatever the personal beliefs of the Romneys, Bushes, and Kasichs of the world, they have been leading a deeply racist coalition.

These observations explain why the drive to have mainstream Republicans repudiate Trump is besides the point.  The real issue is will Republicans repudiate Trump supporters and no longer hunt where those ducks are.  The answer seems already clear.  Trump is to be repudiated only because he speaks too directly and not because he is mobilizing the most bigoted forces in American politics. Republicans want to mobilize those forces as well. They have been doing so for years.  But Republican political operatives want the more respectable forces in the party to lead the crusade through language that will, without making the direct bigoted appeals that turn off more affluent Republicans supporters, again signal an unwillingness to challenge existing status hierarchies.  Should this happen, the repudiation of Donald Trump will have no lasting significance.  A political culture in which a quarter to a third of the electorate is moved by race, gender and religious prejudice is a political culture headed towards a train wreck, regardless of the Supreme Court and regardless of the Constitution.

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