If the GOP doubles down on fascism & racism, Lincoln’s “last, best hope for Earth” will rest in the hands of the European Union, and America will become unrecognizable.
The Democratic Party hit its crossroads moment in 2021 when President Biden embraced a progressive vision for America, breaking with Clinton’s and Obama’s neoliberal centrism.
Even if Senators Sinema and Manchin prevented him from putting them into effect, Biden’s hearty support for Bernie Sanders’ $3 trillion Build Back Better plan and John Sarbanes’ For The People legislation that ends gerrymandering and big money in politics showed his newfound commitment and progressive credentials.
The GOP is hitting their crossroads moment with the election this year and their preparations for the 2024 presidential election. Will they continue to embrace white supremacy, misogyny, and fascism, or go back to just being the party of the rich?
The fate and future of American democracy may hang on the decision they make.
Prior to the late 1960s, the Republican Party under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, Hoover and Eisenhower had been the party of big business and the rich. It was southern Democrats back then who mostly carried the banner of the Confederacy, of racial and sectarian hatred, of paranoid conspiracy.
But in 1954 the Supreme Court overturned its own 1896 Plessy v Ferguson “separate but equal” decision and ruled that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional and, thus, illegal. Out of that ruling came an explosion of right-wing white supremacist groups, particularly the John Birch Society, funded in part by morbidly rich oligarchs like Fred Koch.
The Birchers erected billboards across the nation demanding the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, as whites-only private schools — most operating as “Christian schools” — popped up across America.
By 1960, Joe McCarthy’s heirs and the Birchers had been firmly embraced by the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater famously said , as he accepted the GOP nomination for president that year:
“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Five years later, as President Johnson completed JFK’s promise to end racial discrimination in public accommodations, business, and voting, the southern racists deserted the Democratic Party en masse and joined the Birchers in the Republican Party.
President Kennedy, seeing the direction things were going, warned the nation about them in a speech to Democrats on November 18, 1961:
“In the most critical periods of our Nation’s history,” he said, “there have always been those on the fringes of our society who have sought to escape their own responsibility by finding a simple solution, an appealing slogan or a convenient scapegoat.”
Referring to groups like the Klan and the Birchers, he noted that:
“[T]he discordant voices of extremism are once again heard in the land. Men who are unwilling to face up to the danger from without are convinced that the real danger is from within. They look suspiciously at their neighbors and their leaders. They call for ‘a man on horseback’ because they do not trust the people.”
Kennedy pointed to the demagogues within the Republican Party — Senator Joe McCarthy was probably the most famous of them at the time — saying:
“They equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the welfare state with socialism, socialism with communism.”
Kennedy’s advice to both the GOP and the American people was straightforward:
“So let us not heed these counsels of fear and suspicion. … Let us…devote less energy to organizing armed bands of civilian guerrillas that are more likely to supply local vigilantes than national vigilance. Let our patriotism be reflected in the creation of confidence in one another, rather than in crusades of suspicion.”
The GOP, in one of the great and tragic mistakes of history, ignored him.
They doubled down on racial hatred and promoting suspicion of Americans against each other, culminating with Richard Nixon’s infamous “Southern Strategy” of 1968 and his subsequent War on Drugs that focused on anti-war protestors and Black activists.
White supremacist preachers like Jerry Falwell became a force in the GOP, an anti-woman faction went public with Limbaugh’s proclamation of “Femanazis in the Democrat Party,” and a plethora of conspiracy groups formed, most recently the Qanon cult.
We’ve now seen where the use of fear and hate as a political tool by Republicans has led America:
- *Mass shootings stalk the land but Republicans refuse to remove from our streets the weapons of war beloved by their white supremacist militias.
- *Republican politicians purge Black voters en masse from voting rolls with the 2018 blessing of five Republicans on the Supreme Court.
- *The Supreme Court and Republican politicians from coast-to-coast are hell-bent on inserting themselves between women and their doctors.
- *A Republican president assembled a small army to storm the US Capitol to assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House so he could retain power, despite losing the 2020 election by 7 million votes.
- *Armed vigilantes are now the number one terror threat in the United States; of all the politically motivated murders that happened here last year, 91% were committed by people affiliated with rightwing extremism; only 3% could be traced to Islamic extremism and 6% to “left wing” extremism including anarchists and Black nationalists.
Now, as the January 6th Committee’s revelations continue to expose the criminality and treason committed by Donald Trump and those close to him, the Republican Party faces a stark choice:
Do they go back to being the party of the corporate and the rich as they were before Nixon, or do they double down on racial hate, misogyny, and violence as their main strategy for holding white voters to their side?
Mitt Romney, Tim Scott, and Liz Cheney probably best represent the Republicans who are willing to set aside bigotry, misogyny, and hate and just go back to shilling for the morbidly rich. Southerners Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, and Ted Cruz lead the hate and fear crowd.
America’s best chance to step back from the precipice of fascism is for the GOP to repudiate misogyny and white supremacy and return to the pre-Nixon values of the Party: shilling for rich people and big corporations, fighting unions and protective regulations, cutting taxes and creating tax loopholes for the morbidly rich.
Doing so would require rejecting Trump and Trumpism, although that may be a lot easier after the January 6th Committee has finished their work. At least then Republicans would present an anti-fascist but conservative party so voters can decide which vision of our country they want.
If, instead, Republicans double down on fascism, misogyny, and racism — like Reagan and Trump did — America may quickly become something that few other democratic nations in the world recognize, and Lincoln’s “last, best hope for Earth” will rest in the hands of the European Union.