Over to you, Mr. Pierce:
“…the Federal Government has adopted so-called “Civil Rights Acts,” particularly the one adopted in 1964, which have set race against race and class against class, all of which we condemn.”
—The Platform of the American Independent Party, 1968.
Congratulations, George Corley Wallace, you old snub-nosed revolver of an evil-adjacent man. It took a little over 50 years, but you finally did it. You got one of our two major political parties to remake itself in your image. Your deep drilling into the foul national Id has finally come home a gusher. All the demons you unleashed from history are now on the main stage and dancing in perfect rhythm and singing in perfect harmony. It took a little over 50 years, and the effort of a lot of people inside the Republican Party establishment and outside in the conservative movement, but you won, you old bastard. You truly did. Born as the Party of Lincoln, the Republican Party is now yours. It is the party of racist bastards, up and down the scale.
As I said, it took a lot of work from a lot of people. The conversion of the Dixiecrats into Republicans over a relatively banal civil-rights plank at the 1948 Democratic Convention. “Massive resistance” in the South. Two dead at Ole Miss. Three dead in an earthen dam. The slow simmering backlash underneath the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, which you felt deep in your bones, but for which many people did not yet have a vocabulary. Harry Dent, whispering the Southern Strategy into Richard Nixon’s shell-pink ear. The gradual development of the code, the evolution of which was described in detail by the late Lee Atwater, its master modern cryptologist.
Forced Busing. Government Intrusion. Intrusive Courts. Soft On Crime. The Silent Majority. Government is the problem. The gradual inflation of the blame to encompass all of the Others in America—not just black people, but also what you called “pointy-headed” bureaucrats and intellectuals. Not only did they want to run the lives of Ordinary Americans, but they also wanted black people to live in their neighborhoods, go to their schools, and be Ordinary Americans, too. And, finally, the Republicans realized what you had surmised all those years ago—that, in many ways and in many places, the whole country was Southern.
In 1976, at the height of the crisis over busing, South Boston greeted you like a hero not three miles from where Crispus Attucks fell in 1770. You’d arrived then, you old bag of sins.
And they bought it. Oh, lordy, did they ever buy it. Not openly, of course. The GOP became masters of the coded word, of the slanderous cipher. And, as more and more groups began agitating for their rights—women, LGBTQ people—a whole roster of new Others became available with which to scare not only your base audience, which became whiter and older, but which still turned out like gangbusters at election time, energized in their attacks on these new Others by two generations of reactionary preachers and conmen, whom the Republicans eagerly welcomed into the tent, and also energized in their attacks on these new Others by a lushly financed conservative media operation that encouraged them in their hate and distrust over the publicly owned airwaves 24 hours a day. Oh, George Corley. Damn, Bubba. You were born too soon.
And, finally, with the GOP having imbibed your political homebrew for nigh on 50 years, along comes El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago. Every conman loves to find a drunk with money, and the president* found his in the Republican Party. (“Ain’t like playing winos in the street,” Harry Gondorff cautions Johnny Hooker in The Sting.) He gave the party everything it had been asking for since 1968, when it adopted your ideas without adopting you. He gave it Others, trucks and trains full of them, and, going even further, he put them in camps. He wrecked government, ignored the laws, spat on Congress, and, finally, gave voice to the muffled chorus behind everything that the Republican Party has become. And practically every Republican of true influence in the government of the country sang, “Amen,” to it. And we are living your final triumph now, George Corley. The party of racist bastards is here.
There’s no longer any place to hide. Functional racism and enabled racism have merged in this moment, with this president*. His world is your world. His words are your words. No place to run, no place to hide. The President* of the United States proved himself to be a racist bastard. If you support this president*, you become indistinguishable from a racist bastard yourself. And, for the most part, the Republican Party couldn’t find a way to condemn him as the racist bastard we all know he is. Worse, many Republicans tried to turn the arguments of the racist bastard against his primary targets—four elected members of Congress, all women of color, whose only real crime was to identify the racist bastard as a racist bastard. And, on Tuesday, when a measure to censure the racist bastard for his weekend apartheid cosplay came to the House floor, the Republican Party fought it so hard and so long that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri eventually abandoned the chair.
I’m not sure where this ends up. But I am sure that the Republican Party, at its highest levels, has decided to ride with being the racist-bastard party through at least one more election cycle. It is doing so consciously, and with its eyes wide open. It is doing it with the party’s whole heart, and with what little is left of its soul. And anyone who denies that now is simply trying to wipe the gun clean.