How We Got Here

I hadn’t planned to post about Trump’s latest indictment–the media has been all over it, including his trip to turn himself in and the mugshot (which perfectly captures this demented and hateful man’s affect). But the day after that unprecedented event, two newsletters that I regularly receive–from Heather Cox Richardson and Robert Hubbell–when read together, told the story of how we got here and where we are.

Richardson, of course, is an acclaimed American historian–someone well equipped to trace the trajectory of the once-Grand Old Party from Lincoln to Trump. And that is what she did.

In the 1960s, Republicans made a devil’s bargain, courting the racists and social traditionalists who began to turn from the Democratic Party when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to make inroads on racial discrimination. Those same reactionaries jumped from the Democrats to create their own party when Democratic president Harry S. Truman strengthened his party’s turn toward civil rights by creating a presidential commission on civil rights in 1946 and then ordering the military to desegregate in 1948. Reactionaries rushed to abandon the Democrats permanently after Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, joining the Republicans at least temporarily to vote for Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who promised to roll back civil rights laws and court decisions.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was the final straw for many of those reactionaries, and they began to move to the Republicans as a group when Richard Nixon promised not to use the federal government to enforce civil rights in the states. This so-called southern strategy pulled the Republican Party rightward.

In 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan appeared at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, a few miles from where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964 for their work registering Black Mississippians to vote, and said, “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan tied government defense of civil rights to socialism, insisting that the government was using tax dollars from hardworking Americans to give handouts to lazy people, often using code words to mean “Black.”

Since then, as their economic policies have become more and more unpopular, the Republicans have kept voters behind them by insisting that anyone calling for federal action is advocating socialism and by drawing deep divisions between those who vote Republican, whom they define as true Americans, and anyone who does not vote Republican and thus, in their ideology, is anti-American.

The bottom line is the transformation of a once-responsible political party into a racist cult. I would actually quibble with one part of Richardson’s summary–the GOP’s policies haven’t “become unpopular,” they’ve vanished. It is impossible to identify “policies” espoused by the party’s current iteration–unless racism, misogyny, homophobia and anti-semitism can be considered policy positions.

And that brings me to the concluding paragraphs of Robert Hubbell’s newsletter.

Trump’s mugshot will become the defining image of Trump for all time. His facial expression conveys equal parts menace, anger, and defiance. There is no hint of a soul behind the eyes, only animal grievance and feral resentment at being cornered. It is astounding that a mugshot could capture the essence of evil that resides beneath the surface in Donald Trump.

The photo is also a mugshot of MAGA extremism. It captures the hostility and meanness that animates most of the GOP’s “agenda”—including policies that demean and discriminate against Blacks, women, LGBTQ people, educators, scientists, and immigrants. Trump’s mugshot will likewise become the defining image of MAGA extremism for all time. Tens of millions of MAGA adherents will celebrate and glorify the image—confirming the virulent strain of authoritarianism that has infected the MAGA base.

Not just authoritarianism; hatred..raw hatred for the people who have stolen their preferred vision of America–a vision in which straight White (pseudo) Christian men rule the roost. Virtually every Republican candidate, local, state and federal, is pandering to the angry and fearful  members of a MAGA cult that has replaced a once respectable party. 

Hubbell focuses on the rest of the electorate.

By making this gargoyle of hate the “face” of the 2024 GOP campaign, Republicans are reinforcing the suspicions and fears of tens of millions of Republicans and swing voters who are looking for a reason not to vote for Trump—or to stay home. (As they did on debate night by boycotting his Tucker Carlson interview.)  

 Against the deeply unsettling MAGA mugshot, Democrats will feature the kindly face of Joe Biden as he reaches to pet a rescue dog or hug a survivor of the Hawaii wildfires. Joe Biden may be older than some would like, but his face exhibits kindness and wisdom. We should not underestimate visceral reactions to human decency—or lack thereof—in our leaders.

I sure hope he’s right.


  1. I wonder how long 45 practiced that “look” in the mirror before Thursday? F* him. I wish he was still in jail and didn’t whisk off (OJ style motorcade) to the airport for his private jet to take him wherever he lays his orange face and hair sprayed mop. No wonder his wife sleeps in another room. May all his followers and cheering fans eff off too. I couldn’t stomach the news this week and am grateful for HCR’s daily reviews. I’ve learned so much from her and you Professor. Sorry for my language choice today. I just have grown exhausted by his media presence for the past 8 years. Please make him go away. The world is on fire and the media is ruining the minds of those fans and making me seriously regret my American roots.

  2. A coworker yesterday commented that “this is a great time to be a Black person in America…probably the best.” I could only gape in dumbfounded amazement, the obtuse statement caught me so off guard. Finally, I gathered myself enough to reply that this is a really NOT even good time to be Black in America…or female, Jewish, or gay for that matter.

  3. A great description of trump, feral, evil, hostile & mean. The decline of the GOP, which is obvious to us who pay attention, is dismissed or ignored by the republican party faithful who insist the parties are much the same as they used to be: dems being the party of the Klan, repubs the party of those who freed the slaves. Obtuse “thinking” and inability or unwillingness to see beyond FOX sound bites is just one danger this nation faces as republicans try to make us a white nationalist “Christian” autocracy.

  4. Biden’s face exhibits wisdom and kindness? Really That’s a crock of shit! Propaganda! Biden was most pivotal at supporting harsh drug laws aimed at black Americans. Once a always a segrgationist. It is incumbent for one to ask the person posting this propaganda why did she stay with the Republican Party decades after Nixon”s Southern Strategy. Someone is passing on my back and telling me it’s raining.

    Cornell West 2024

  5. Biden’s face exhibits wisdom and kindness? Really! ??That’s a crock of shit! Propaganda! Biden was most pivotal at supporting harsh drug laws aimed at black Americans. Once a segregationist always a segrgationist. It is incumbent for one to ask the person posting this propaganda why did she stay with the Republican Party decades after Nixon”s Southern Strategy. Someone is pissing on my back and telling me it’s raining.

    Cornell West 2024

  6. The lesson provided by Heather fails to cover the impact of the Koch brothers’ dark money network on the GOP, which can be seen as a coup d’état. The billionaire oligarchs have taken control of the party’s entire functioning and are working in opposition to the Wall Street corporations that support the DNC. It is important to note that an incomplete history lesson can lead to misinformation.

    What we are missing is the Fascist elements of our corrupt capitalist system. Hubbell may want us to see Biden as a gentle old man — it wreaks of propaganda. We might end up with two tired old corrupt white men which is fitting for capitalism that has run amok. Hopefully, a well-educated American populace can embrace something different, but I am not holding my breath.

  7. Thanks for a rational summary today, Todd. The comment above yours most certainly is not.

    We are all suffering from overexposure to insanity. The media, of course, is making hay over it all. Sadly, that media-grabbing idiocy of the GOP distracts from the actual accomplishments of the “old man” who is our current, rational President. Biden is SO MUCH the opposite – in terms of psychological presence – than his predecessor, that so many fail to grasp that he is actually trying to heal the wounds left us by the most corrupt, incompetent and probably psychopathic president in our history. No small feat. It may take decades to rid the general population of the stink of such evil.

    BTW, Cornell West is “merely” a political op-ed writer and strategist. I like his opinions, but how is he qualified to be president? Anyone? Ian?

    Joe Biden will do fine in 2024 despite all the yammering about his age. But if he dies in office, Kamala Harris – a most underrated woman – will rise to the occasion to lead the nation out of the sewer created by Republicans.

    Maybe more importantly, getting the asshole caucus out of Congress will be the most important task assigned to the voters.

  8. We, the “60’s generation” care and are in extreme pain at the situation. Unfortunately, the majority of voters (not MAGA or PROGRESIVE/sick of both party’s power antics/self-serving behavior) who are “ok” economically and back having “fun” with sports, travel, entertainment, marijuana, social media are numb to the state of our democracy and will “maybe” vote.

  9. AgingLGirl, I had the same thought about practicing His Look. Furthermore, I’d bet he negotiated several mug shots so he could pick the best. And furtheryet, note that he and Rudy don’t cast a shadow!

  10. AgingLGirl and John, That is one of 45’s standard looks. He didn’t have to practice it. The White House staff called it “the stare”. It’s indicative of a man who has no emotional capacity.

    I understand that it’s hard to put a complete history in a blog, but I go farther back to the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, who actually should have been the loser, but the Republicans sold out the Reconstruction to hold onto power (1876). Then they split Dakota into two extremely small states just to get 3 more Electoral college votes. On the other side of the coin, I give credit for any advancement of civil rights under FDR to Eleanor, not to FDR, who left black Americans out of most of his progressive agenda.

  11. Racism directly correlates to prejudice, discrimination and exclusion!

    When you look at that mugshot, all you can see is a black shirt, emblazoned with a swastika or SS.

    Remember, that regime was manipulative of the German combined Church, but also was a true believer and practicer of the occult. It’s no different now than it was then.

    The entire religious nationalistic hierarchy is not as loosely connected as one might think. With the internet available everywhere, the entire global network is in constant communication.

    Look no further than the proposition concerning bombing Mexico! To send special Opps troops antactical targeted strikes against a neighbor country.

    Gee, what would be wrong with that? Well instead of having people to come here and live, you’d have people coming here to create havoc and the desire for revenge. The relative stability of the borders here compared to everywhere else in the world, would be eliminated. And it would open the door for much more foreign terrorist activities making things worse and not better. The way things are today would actually be the good old days, lol!

    These things should be brought out, exposed and discussed, but they are not. They are put on the back burner until the lid blows off the pot. Now you’ve got 24-hour news. Now you’ve got the next big thing. So media is complicit in the entire ethnic boondoggle.

    A couple of decades ago, UNESCO put out a statement that was quite telling. “It’s not too much to say that the slave trade built the edifice of racism and cultural contempt against black people.”

    The slow roll to civil societal collapse has been like a slow motion train collision that’s taken more than a century to happen. And it absolutely starts with the rollback of rights for minorities and women that were fought for and paid for in blood.

    This particular country we live in, did a fine job of developing its exceptional taste for racial elites. Starting out with the theft of native American land, and the import of African slaves. That mentality has never left, UNESCO obviously hit that nail well. When ethnic black soldiers came back from World war I, if they manage to come back physically whole, they were attacked and murdered by the racists in this country. Because, those racists were afraid these men had all this training, so they needed to be eliminated. And many many were.

    American exceptionalism is a myth, unless you use it to point out the exceptional hypocrisy of this government. Or maybe the exceptional inequality in education, healthcare, food and water quality and availability, work opportunities and the pay that goes with it, the import of the drugs into this country by the government to destroy black American enclaves, yes, this is truly exceptional!

    Racism, homophobia and xenophobia, have exposed the underbelly of the beast. Racial hatred, bedroom politics, or nationalistic hatred of the different others.

    If this beast could have been vanquished, it would have been done so long ago. Unfortunately, it seems this beast is extremely resilient! But where do we find this beast? Well, look in the mirror.

  12. John P. Sorg. Maybe you see a beast in the mirror, but I don’t. I see a human, capable of both good and evil who strives to be good and occasionally fails. I see a person influenced by the time and place in which I live, just as we all are.
    Hitler, Stalin, Trump. Three modern day sadists who rose to great power. Perhaps American exceptionalism is shown by its ability to restrain the third by the rule of law before he resorts to mass slaughter.

  13. I find it ironic that Trump’s Fulton County prisoner # closely resembles the # of votes he was trying to wrangle out of Georgia. He’s getting what he deserves.
    I agree with Sharon, our system of laws is attempting to hold the tyrannical Trump accountable for his “roving, continuous crime wave” while in office and after. The quote is Raskin’s description of TFG’s m.o.
    Fulton County is a place where the people have lived with the brunt and grind of racism and poverty. There is a strength that comes from living those hardships. That strength is being harnessed and channeled by Fani Willis and team against the lead perpetrators of racism for political power. It is like a David and Goliath story. Just hope the slingshot works this time too!

  14. A nice summary of what I have long maintained about the Republican Party. Sorry, but a lot of good people in the party looked the other way (or missed the cues) while this was happening.

    As for the multiply indicted candidate, a perfect mugshot, and you just knew he would find a way to make money off of it. Still —

    I have to put this out there – the true vision for America under MAGA rule:

    China under the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution!

    Ban books. Put the intellectuals in rehabilitation camps (jails) while the unqualified run the show. Meanwhile everyone running around reading Quotations from The Donald, or regurgitating what they heard on Fox, which is the same thing, of course, now they can directly get Quotations from The Donald from X (formerly known as Twitter).

  15. Sharon Miller,

    Exactly when have you ever seen compassion empathy and mercy coming out of those who happen to be in control or power? Any gains made by those who had struggled against the higher powers have been rolled back or are being rolled back. Fair and equitable treatment is just a thought that isn’t even open for debate. It really shouldn’t have to be.

    The Khmer Rouge, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, The European initiated slave trade, the American slaughter of native inhabitants and theft of their land, the slaughter of native Canadians, the slaughter of South Americans, the slaughter of Australian Aborigines, You might look in the mirror and see something different, but human is human! And inhumanity is an obvious problem humans possess.

    We can go back to the Meads and Persians, and their wholesale slaughter of conquered peoples. The crusades by European Christians into the Middle East. And slaughtering Jews and Muslims.

    I mean I could go down the list and fill a novel, but basically it’s just one after another after another after another. The same thing happens over and over. Civil rights? Human rights? Love for one’s fellow man? None of it really exists in our global society.

  16. John Sorg, i dont always agree with everything you say, but I certainly don’t want argue against your points. Well thought out.
    The constitution is the only thing we can rely on in such uncertain times.
    Remember the documentary “2000 mules”. Who is in charge and why is there no follow up after such evidence of election tampering by billionaires who need funds of their big government puppets.
    Quantatative easing has been the economic plan since 2006. Each President has escalated it hoping for a time the GDP can out pace the government’s bad habits.
    During Trump we had an economic boom with trillions added to the debt, exactly the opposite for Biden who is a puppet Presidency for what some say is Obamas third term.
    George Soros is one of many billionaires who say, if I dont do it, some one else would have.

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