I recently read an article that traced the roots of Tea Party zealotry all the way back to 1938 and the first signs of the eventual split between Northern and Southern Democrats. The trajectory of intensely racialized politics continued through Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the Reagan realignment, giving us today’s “rigidly homogenous and disproportionately Southern Republican Party.”
That’s a nice way of saying that today’s GOP is a party of Southern white guys, and a lot of them really resent the fact that we have a black President.
My husband and I have friends from the South who still refer to the Civil War as “the war between the States.” I used to think that phrase–and the hostility it conveyed–were remnants of a time past.
Granted, when I went to school in Chapel Hill, NC, in the sixties, there were still separate restrooms and drinking fountains. Just a couple of years ago, a docent at the Rice Museum in Georgetown, SC, told us how unfair it was that slaveowners weren’t compensated for the loss of their “property” via the Emancipation Proclamation. (And before you hit that comment button, anyone who has listened to lame “jokes” at Northern cocktail parties knows racism isn’t limited to the South.) But America was making progress! These retrograde attitudes were on the wane. Or so I (naively) thought.
And then Barack Obama was elected, and–rather than confirming progress– the boil was lanced, the rocks lifted…pick your metaphor.
Now let me say up front that it is perfectly possible to disagree with this–or any–President about policies and priorities. It is perfectly acceptable to criticize a chief executive, and to do so loudly and vehemently. And there are plenty of Republicans whose disagreements with this President are simply that: disagreements.
But only the willfully blind can deny that there are also frightening numbers of people who are clearly and obviously motivated by racial animus.
These are the people whose “policy disagreements” with Obama emerged before he had policies, and whose “principled” disputes included birther conspiracy theories, allegations that he was/is a Muslim, a Kenyan, a socialist, a Nazi–”policy disputes” that took the form of cartoons portraying him as a monkey, pictures of the White House with watermelons on the lawn, vile comments posted to news stories, and the behavior of Tea Party crowds like the recent rally at the White House featuring Sarah Palin, a confederate flag, and demands that the President “put down the Q’uaran.”
Joe the Plumber (remember him?), never the brightest bulb in the room, wasn’t exactly subtle last weekend when he posted an article on his blog titled: “America Needs a White Republican President.”
These aren’t policy disputes.
The vitriol has been hard to miss–unless, of course, you prefer not to see it. And there are a lot of otherwise nice people–people who would never burn a cross on someone’s lawn, or make overtly racist remarks–who clearly prefer not to see what is glaringly obvious. (A lawyer of my acquaintance recently professed surprise when someone commented on the outpouring of racism in the wake of Obama’s election, saying he hadn’t noticed anything of the sort. Evidently he doesn’t get the offensive forwarded emails, or read the comments sections of the daily paper, or listen to Rush Limbaugh or his clones.)
I don’t know what we can do about the seething hatred triggered, ironically, by the election of a black President. Historians confirm that racism, Anti-Semitism, homophobia and the like tend to spike during periods of economic uncertainty, and we can hope that as the economy improves, it will subside.
I do know one thing: Edmund Burke was right when he said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
At the very least, the good people need to speak up. Pretending not to see the ugliness and vitriol just feeds the hatred.
Who’d have thought the Civil War would last so long…..