The chaos of the Trump Administration–not to mention the willingness of Trump’s GOP to abandon “dog whistles” in favor of straight-up bigotry–has led a few of the remaining old style Republicans to admit what they’d previously been loathe to see: Trump is the inevitable consequence of the path the party has pursued for the past fifty years.
New York Times contributor Thomas Edsell recently reviewed a book written by Stuart Stevens. Stevens is a Republican media consultant with what Edsell tells us is “an exceptionally high win-loss record,” who served as a lead strategist for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004; in the book’s mea culpa, he admits that a more accurate name for the GOP might be the “white grievance party.”
Stevens didn’t just work for Bush. The list of his clients is a list of Republican eminences: Mitt Romney, Roger Wicker, Roy Blunt, Chuck Grassley, Rob Portman, Thad Cochran, Dick Lugar, Jon Kyl, Mel Martinez and Dan Coats — along with a handful of current and former governors.
Nonetheless, Stevens’s forthcoming book, “It Was All A Lie,” makes the case that President Trump is the natural outcome of a long chain of events going back to the 1964 election when Barry Goldwater ran for president as an opponent of the Civil Right Act passed earlier that year.
“As much as I’d love to go to bed at night reassuring myself that Donald Trump was some freak product of the system — a ‘black swan,’” Stevens writes, “I can’t do it”:
I can’t keep lying to myself to ward off the depressing reality that I had been lying to myself for decades. There is nothing strange or unexpected about Donald Trump. He is the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party became over the last fifty or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race, self-deception, and anger that became the essence of the Republican Party. Trump isn’t an aberration of the Republican Party; he is the Republican Party in a purified form.
“I have no one to blame but myself,” he declares on the first page. “What I missed was one simple reality: it was all a lie.”
The Republican Party promoted itself as defender of a core set of values: the importance of character and personal responsibility, opposition to Russia, fiscal responsibility and control of the national debt, recognition that immigration made America great, and the fiction that the GOP was a “big-tent party.”
The truth was that none of these principles mattered, then or now. The Republican Party is “just a white grievance party.”
Stevens asserts that a race-based strategy was the foundation of many of the Republican Party’s biggest victories, from Nixon to Trump.
With Trump, the Party has grown comfortable as a white grievance party. Is that racist? Yes, I think it is. Are 63 million plus people who supported Trump racist? No, absolutely not. But to support Trump is to make peace with white grievance and hate.
As the remainder of Edsell’s column demonstrates, definitions of racism vary widely. Some people equate it with genuine hatred, others with unthinking acceptance of social attitudes that attribute certain traits to specific groups. Still others would apply the word to social structures that continue to disadvantage historically marginalized groups.
Whatever your definition, it doesn’t take a genius (very stable or otherwise) to see that racial resentment is pretty much the only genuine “value” embraced by today’s GOP. Stevens says not all Republicans are racists, and I’m sure that’s true. But everyone who casts a vote for a Republican candidate is telling the world that she (or more often, he) doesn’t consider racism to be a disqualification for public office.Is that really so distant?
As one of the scholars quoted in the column put it,
We have focused attention on bigots and white nationalists and not held ordinary citizens accountable for beliefs that achieve the same ends.
And so here we are……