The GOP's new 'Southern Strategy' evokes civil war and bloodshed — but it has a fatal flaw
On Wednesday, all but two Republicans in the House of Representatives went on record saying it's okay to openly encourage the assassination of one of their own, a person of color and elected Member of the House.
That part about Representative Ocasio-Cortez not being white was no coincidence, by the way. It was really at the core of the issue: Republicans now openly refer to her and the women of color who call themselves "the Squad" as the "Jihad caucus." As in "Muslim terrorists," as in "the Other."
Earlier in the day, known antisemite and racist Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene called for her followers to prepare for war because "Joe Biden didn't win the 2020 election" and "the only way you get freedom back after you've lost it is with the price of blood."
We heard this rhetoric, too, many years ago when a much earlier generation of white supremacists tried to gin up bloodshed in America.
"The time for war has not yet come," Stonewall Jackson said in a speech to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in March, 1861, "but it will come, and that soon; and when it does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard."
Jackson and his ilk frequently tried to pretend the Civil War was about some high principle instead of just being a naked defense of legal enslavement, but their own proclamations of secession betrayed them.
No matter how much Republicans — and some white Democrats — want to try to pretend that the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties today isn't primarily about race, it is. And it's only a small part of a much larger Republican political strategy that, itself, is also all about race.
There was a time in America when straight white people lived in nice, comfortable white bubbles. I grew up in one of them in the 1950s; the most "exotic" people in our lower-middle-class Lansing, Michigan neighborhood were Jewish, and I didn't even realize that distinction until I was a teenager.
The only people of color we saw were on TV; even the milkman, mailman and delivery people were white. And the non-white folks we saw on TV were always, always depicted as either criminals or buffoons. And gay people? Even discussing Liberace's sexuality was a no-no.
Mom was in the kitchen or pregnant, and knew her place. One white man with a union job could raise a family without debt beyond a mortgage and car payment. People of color need not apply for the American Dream.
This is the straight white world today's Republican Party wants to take America back to. They're all but shouting it with slogans like "Make America Great Again!"
When the GOP went nuts about six Dr. Seuss books being dropped by the author's family from publication, it was — no coincidence — the six books in which Seuss had drawn racist caricatures. And he wasn't violating the norms of his day: caricatures of buck-toothed Asians, swarthy gun-toting mustachioed Mexicans, and big-lipped Black people were all over the cartoons we watched as children in the 1950s. They are shocking today, but they were normal and common then, and the GOP wants to go back to that.
When we studied American history in elementary school the 1950s, we learned that Christopher Columbus was a great man who defied conventional wisdom and monsters at the "edge of the earth" to discover this golden land, just waiting for white people to show up and tame it. (A woman around my age who called into my program yesterday noted that she was "really pissed off" when, in her first year of college, she took a history course and discovered Columbus was actually a rapist, child-trafficker and a slaver.)
We also learned that most slave-masters (particularly the Founding Fathers) were really, really nice and thoughtful people who took good care of the poor, uneducated, primitive folks they "had under their care." To this day, there are still some textbooks in America that emphasize how slaveholding white people generously provided not only housing, food and clothing but also medical care for their charges.
Republicans today want to go back to that type of history for their children. They dress it all up with fancy language about "Critical Race Theory" but the bottom line for these white people is that they don't want their kids to grow up knowing that Black people and other people of color are just like them but with a different amount of pigment in their skin. They want that pigment difference to be THE defining characteristic, and they want teachers, police, and other authority figures to enforce segregation based on it.
In the years after the Brown v Board decision in 1954, entire public school systems shut down to avoid racial integration; one Virginia county went five years without a public school opening.
There was an explosion of "religious schools," from private elementary and high school "academies" to centers of higher education like Bob Jones University that were explicitly and entirely whites-only. Promoting these types of functionally all-white schools continued from the 1950s right through Betsy DeVos's time as Trump's Secretary of Education.
When white people show up at school board meetings shouting that "We know where you live!" and leaving death threats on people's home phones, it's not because they're flipped out by historic and legal nuances having to do with past discrimination: it's because they want their safely segregated schools back.
And they're getting them: American schools are more racially segregated now than they were in 1968.
And when those schools are almost entirely "whites only" (the school districts where we're seeing the majority of these "protests"), those "parents" want them purged of anything that might shatter for their white children the idea held by white people in this country for 400 years that everybody who's not white — from genocidally slaughtered Native Americans to Africans brought in chains to Mexicans whose land we also stole to Asians we once excluded from immigration — are all basically sub-human.
This is how these Republican white supremacists think, and if that sounds outrageous simply check out their literature and behavior. A good starting point is with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The news media sanitized the Virginia election, saying that Republican Youngkin won "on education issues." That's patently false: he won on racism. And it's damn well time that the media start pointing it out. It took them three years to start calling Trump's lies "lies" — how long will it take to call Republican racism "racism"?
When I went into the job market in the 1960s, the headings in the "Help Wanted" part of the newspaper were "Help Wanted – Men" and "Help Wanted - Women." There was no "Help Wanted – Black People" because everybody knew there was a very, very narrow range of jobs for which Black people could be hired. Like in much of America then, Black people (and most other minorities) were limited in where they could work, get a mortgage, live, and even walk or drive; if they pushed the boundaries, they risked violence and a horrible, painful death at the hands of police or vigilantes.
When I was a kid, Richard and Mildred Loving were rousted from their wedding bed by police for the crime of getting married; he was white and she was Black. They were sentenced to a year in prison: interracial marriage was a crime in parts of America until 1967.
When I got my first job in 1965 as a teenage hamburger-flipper in an all-white burger joint, there were large parts of Lansing where Black people simply couldn't go. I still remember my parents taking me to a fancy downtown hotel's restaurant for some celebration in the mid-1950s and there was a sign off to the side of the door that pointed toward the rear of the building and said, "Colored Entrance." That, at the time, was considered enlightened: at least the hotel let Black people into its public areas.
But race has always permeated politics, and voting is at the foundation of the political process.
In 1993, no state in the union required ID to vote, even though Paul Weyrich (co-founder of the Heritage Foundation and then with the Reagan campaign) said right out loud that, "I don't want everybody to vote. … As a matter of fact, quite candidly, our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down."
But then Democrats in Congress pushed through the 1993 "Motor Voter" law that required states to let people register to vote when they got their drivers' licenses. Republicans went insane, charging that "millions" of brown-skinned "illegals" would now get drivers' licenses, get registered to vote in the process, and begin flipping elections toward Democrats.
We then used signature-matching to confirm identity (you showed ID to register to vote, and your signature was kept on record), which is the most secure form of identity confirmation easily available. You can buy a reasonably good fake ID for $50, but try forging somebody else's signature while an election official is watching you: it's pretty much impossible. Signatures are called "biometric markers" and they're even more secure than ID.
But Republicans were so certain that hoards of Brown people were going to show up at the polls that they passed laws in state after state to require ID at the polls on top of comparing the voter's signature. It's a pathetic and futile effort: those "illegals" never showed up. Virtually all of the extremely rare "voter fraud" that happens in America is done by white people (most Republicans, based on those busted after 2020) or ex-felons who didn't realize they couldn't vote in their state.
As I lay out in The Hidden History of the War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote and How to Get It Back, the past thirty years have seen a grotesque orgy of laws, regulations and policy changes designed specifically to make it easier for white suburban voters — and harder for college students, Black city dwellers, and social security voters — to cast a ballot.
Using the political power they get from skewing elections, Republicans want schools to help their children to grow up like many in my generation did, thinking at some unconscious (and often conscious) level that those racist caricatures were depictions of reality and only white people could be thoughtful, intelligent, peaceful problem-solvers like Dad on Leave It To Beaver or Gunsmoke's Matt Dillon or Superman. Or members of Congress or presidents.
White is good, they want their kids told: everybody else is weird, odd, comical, dangerous or "one of them." Or a Democrat.
The last Democrat running for president who won a majority of white people in his election was Lyndon Johnson.
While it's sometimes mentioned tangentially that Carter, Clinton, Obama and Biden all lost the white vote, a sort of parenthetic footnote to election results, it's the foundation of the entire Republican strategy and has been since Nixon invented it with his "Southern Strategy."
When LBJ signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964/1965 he left the white racists who'd supported the Democratic Party since before the Civil War without a home. Nixon prepared one, Reagan fluffed up the pillows, and Trump stood out front with a bullhorn and a "whites only" sign.
As it's becoming increasingly obvious to these "racially apprehensive" white people that America as a whole is never returning to the Leave It To Beaver era, they're falling back on their old intimidation and segregation strategies. Red counties in Oregon, for example, are teaming up with white voters in next-door Idaho and won nonbinding ballot measures to secede from Oregon. That sort of thing is popping up all over the country.
It won't work, any more than liberal fantasies of avoiding the armed and angry racists by having California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii split off into their own country will work.
Red/Blue rhetoric aside, America is one country. The Mike Flynn's and Donald Trump's of the world realize this and are calling for straight white people to rise up and take over by force, imposing a single religion, rigid gender roles, putting women "back in their place," and re-marginalizing all nonwhite minorities.
The "battle for the soul of America" so often highlighted, headlined, and bemoaned by the media is real, but they almost always miss the real story, the signal, for all the noise (to paraphrase Steve Bannon). It's actually a battle between a vision of America that's once again entirely under the thumb of straight white people versus one where everybody has an equal voice and an equal chance.
There are a hell of a lot of white racists out there; enough to put Trump in the White House, put race-baiting Republicans in the House and Senate, and secure control over thirty states.
But culture is inexorably changing. People from a multitude of hues and gender identities are showing up in media and business, and their numbers are growing. White supremacist school board assaults aside, educators and their students are teaching and learning the true racial history of America. (It's increasingly hard to avoid!)
No matter how much people like Marjorie Taylor Greene talk up civil war and bloodshed, they can't stop progress. They may win for a short while, maybe even a few years or election cycles, but time and history run against them.
The fight for democracy and humanity will continue, no matter how many people vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse or the cops kill, no matter how many racist white Republicans threaten the lives of their nonwhite colleagues.
Genuinely patriotic Americans who want a country that pulls together for the good of all — an E Pluribus Unum ("Out of Many, One") America — are on the ascent across America, even as the GOP has gone insane.
Nonetheless, it will take a lot of involvement and work to overcome both our racist history and the forces (both domestic and foreign) that seek to exploit racial divisions in this country.
Racism and violence are the GOP's brand these days, and if the media doesn't start calling them out explicitly for it, things are going to continue to get worse.
A new poll by the Marquette Law School found that while the GOP is largely united behind a 2024 Trump run for the White House, only 28 percent of all Americans agree. Seventy-one percent of Americans want Trump to leave our politics alone and go back to being a billionaire grifter.
Racist Republicans are the outliers, but they are motivated and well armed with significant white billionaire backing.
If we want democracy and decency to ultimately prevail, we have an enormous amount of political and restorative work to do before we rest. Don't lose faith: as Winston Churchill famously said, "Never give up!"
Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of American Healthcare and more than 30+ other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute and his writings are archived at hartmannreport.com.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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