Dick Polman, 3/3/2016 [Archive]

Trump is Same GOP Racism Without the Dog Whistle

By Dick Polman

Super Tuesday gave us some priceless moments — Donald Trump bellowing in his personal ballroom while neutered lapdog Chris Christie awaited his master's command to fetch pipe and slippers — but arguably best of all was Paul Ryan's hilarious attempt to distance the GOP from Trump's raw racism.

Nine hours before the polls closed, the House speaker surfaced in Washington to assure everyone that he and his fellow Republicans don't share Trump's affinity for sliming racial minorities. Ryan was upset that the likely Republican nominee had failed to disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.

"If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games," Ryan said. "This party does not prey on people's prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln."

I'm glad I wasn't sipping coffee when I heard Ryan say that, because the liquid would've exited through my nose. I thought of Keith Richard, who wrote in his rock n' roll memoir that life's absurdities are best handled with "legs-in-the-air laughter."

"This party does not prey on people's prejudices ..."

Is Ryan kidding or what? Because it's empirical fact that his party has been preying on prejudice for the past 50 years. Donald Trump is different only in degree. He has merely ditched the dog whistle and stripped away the code words.

Trump's mission to Make America Great Again (or, more accurately, Make America White Again) is rooted in the party's longstanding practice of playing on whites' hostility toward minorities. Political columnist Robert Novak covered a GOP confab in 1963, and presciently wrote that "a good many, perhaps a majority of the party's leadership, envision substantial political gold to be mined in the racial crisis by becoming in fact, if not in name, the white man's party."

In 1964, when nominee Barry Goldwater voted against the landmark Civil Rights Act, he inspired millions of white southern Democrats, led by Strom Thurmond, to join the GOP.

Richard Nixon successfully played to white voters with his 1968 "southern strategy," using coded phrases like "law and order." As Nixon said at the time, after watching a TV ad that featured footage of ghetto riots, "Yep, this hits it right on the nose ... it's all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there." Nixon aide John Ehrlichman later said, "The subliminal appeal to the anti-black vote was always present in Nixon's statements and speeches."

Decades passed, but the formula stayed the same. Ronald Reagan talked about "states' rights" and "welfare queens," and everyone knew what he meant. George H. W. Bush won the presidency in 1988 with help from the notorious "Willie Horton" ad, which featured a black convict who'd raped a white woman after being furloughed in Massachusetts. The governor at the time was Mike Dukakis, Bush's Democratic opponent.

I could go on indefinitely, but let's fast-forward to 2012, when Paul Ryan was on the presidential ticket. Late that summer, Romney-Ryan claimed in a TV ad that President Obama was gutting the federal law (which was a lie — Obama kept the work requirement while ceding more power to the states) that required welfare recipients to find work: "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check, and welfare-to-work goes back to being plain old welfare."

So, according to Romney-Ryan, Obama was gonna let "those people," the takers, loaf around with their welfare checks. It wasn't hard to read that code. White voters were free to conjure the visual imagery.

I don't remember Paul Ryan ever distancing himself from the campaign's racist dog whistling. Yet he had the gall yesterday to harrumph about Trump — and to insist, in defiance of factual reality, that Republicans "do not prey to people's prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals." He seems to have convinced himself that Trump is an outlier, whereas, in truth, Trump has risen from the same swamp where Republicans have long chosen to swim.

Trump didn't say anything incendiary on Tuesday night, but when Ryan's name came up, the GOP frontrunner said, "I'm sure I'm going to get along great with him. And if I don't, he's going to have to pay a big price."

Ah. There's the thug we know and loathe.

——-

Copyright 2016 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

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