The murder of nine members of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina has had a cathartic impact on the politics of the former Confederate states. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina and other principals in the Republican Party in South Carolina have opted to shatter the mythology of the Confederacy.
The Civil War ended in 1865 with the defeat of the Confederacy but the survivors of the Confederacy clung to the notion that there was something ennobling about fighting to preserve slavery. And thus a whole paraphernalia of Confederate symbols including the Confederate flag endured as a tribute to that legacy.
Even President Abraham Lincoln had difficulty in the early stages of the Civil War to definitively state that it was a war to end slavery. Lincoln argued that if he could save the union without ending slavery, he would. But Lincoln also recognized that the nation could not continue with half of the Union in bondage and the other half characterized by free labor. The forces of free labor triumphed but by 1877 the carcass of the Confederacy rose from the ashes and established the vicious system of Jim Crow. With the resurrection of Jim Crow came the mythology of what the Confederacy represented. At the time the Democrats ruled the South and the racist enforced the asymmetrical racial order often resorting to mob lynching and other forms of terrorism. The white supremacist way of life ruled supreme.
The rise of the Civil Rights Movement precipitated a re-alignment in Southern politics as the Dixiecrats left the Democratic Party in droves and found refuge in the Republican Party. The Party of Lincoln readily accommodated the white backlash movement and under the guidance of strategist like the late Lee Atwater, adopted what became known as the Southern Strategy.
The position of the son of Strum Thurmond, a member of the State Legislature of South Carolina, is that the Confederate flag should not be a symbol endorsed by a multi-racial state and should be dismantled. Strum Thurmond, an avowed segregationist never accepted the death of the southern way of life in which slavery was an integral part of the nefarious social order. What his son, Paul Thurmond, is now saying is that the South can no longer embrace its odious past. Other elected officials in the South have also come to a similar realization. As we have seen with the recent burning of black churches, there is still a fringe element clinging to the anachronistic way of life and as in the past, still willing to use terrorism to intimidate the black community.
The Republican Party read carefully the results of the 2012 Presidential election and published a document that it was in the Party’s interest to appeal to minority voters, particularly the burgeoning Hispanic vote. Appealing to the African American vote is nigh impossible as the black electorate is too sophisticated to take Republican appeals seriously. There is a sentiment in the Republican Party that Hispanic voters are more conservatively inclined and would be more resonate to the policy propensities of the Republican Party.
The Republican Party is trying to turn around a battleship that has for decades tapped into white nationalism and white privilege. Immigration is a difficult pill to swallow as it hastens the browning of America. Representatives like Steve King of Iowa and Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, utter the most asinine comments that expose their hostility to Mexicans and/or to immigrants. The Presidential debates may very well determine whether the Republican Party can increase the number of Hispanics supporting the conservative cause. With Trump on the stage, that will be made even more challenging. Trump’s unscientific remarks about Mexicans will invariably alienate the Hispanic voters.
In 2012, the Republicans primary paraded quite a few jokers including Herman Cain, the pizza man, and Michele Bachman, a sirenish Congressional Representative from Minnesota. Also included in the pack is Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas who wanted to close three Federal Departments but could only recall two of the three while on national television.
For the presidential quest of 2016, the field is broad and the number of aspirants keeps climbing. The Republican Presidential posse includes Senators, Governors, Entrepreneurs and former elected officials. There is a core of belief among the Republican primary voters which would include pro-life, anti-immigration, hostility to big government, uncritical support for big corporations and obstinacy on the raising of taxes yet a commitment to eliminating the deficit. All candidates toe that line of march. Also, candidates and the Republican electorate remain adamant about increasing the number of Americans who are eligible for health care.
The terrorist act of Dylan Roof seemed to have enabled the Republican Party to distance itself from the more odious forms of racism. But in the age of science and globalization, the Party has demonstrated an inability to deal with climate change as it has not been able to extricate itself from the neanderthal forces that have a vested interest in fossil fuel.
Although the United States Senate in the previous Congress passed an Immigration Bill, the House of Representatives under Republican control would not deal with the question of the fourteen million undocumented residents living in our midst, an issue dear to the heart of Hispanic voters. Trump’s unscientific utterances about Mexicans will make it difficult for Hispanic voters to hold their nose and vote for the Republican Presidential nominee.
Trump’s surge in the polls reflect his name recognition but also that there remains an element in the Republican Party that is both racist and xenophobic. Trump’s presence in the Fox staged debates will make it easier for the Democratic Party nominee to hold together the Obama coalition of which Hispanics are an essential component.
*Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.