By Lee A. Daniels
It’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with the lengthening list of people, groups, and nations the Republican Party’s presidency-seekers are designating as targets.
Undocumented Latino immigrants – and their American-citizen children? Check. Gays and lesbians? Sure. Asian immigrants and alleged “birth tourists” who take advantage of the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship clause? Yep. Black Americans? Of course. #BlackLivesMatter? Univision television anchor Jorge Ramos, for not having good manners? Add them in. Poor people? Right. Women who want to do anything that differentiates them from a doorknob? You, too. Muslims-Americans, and Muslims across the globe? Absolutely. Mexico – for “sending” undocumented Latino immigrants to the U.S. and now, China, whose own economic crisis proves it’s trying to wreck the U.S. economy? The GOP has found you out.
Welcome, all, to the Republican Party’s enemies list. For what would American conservatism be without “enemies” to blame for spoiling the pure, Whites-like-us-in-charge vision that’s always been its driving force?
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist, got it exactly in his August 26 observation that, contrary to its supposed principles of religiosity and faith in markets, conservatism is just “a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.”
That dynamic, bolstered by deeply-held racist and sexist notions, is why the GOP Base hails Donald Trump, who otherwise has virtually none of the personal history or qualities conservatives say they value. Krugman wrote, “The point is that Trump isn’t a diversion, he’s a revelation, bringing the real motivations of the movement out into the open.”
In that regard, what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said two weeks ago is equally revealing.
Speaking at a New Hampshire campaign event, Walker criticized President Obama for not stating the global war against terrorism is in fact a war against Islam itself. Walker declared that “radical Islamic terrorism” was fighting “a war against not only America and Israel, it’s a war against Christians, it’s a war against Jews, it’s a war against even the handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam who don’t share the radical beliefs that these radical Islamic terrorists have.”
Got that? This man who would be president of the United States believes that out of the roughly 1.6 billion followers of Islam around the globe, (compared to 2.2 billion Christians) there are only a “handful of reasonable, moderate” ones.
Walker, of course, moved right along after saying this – never specifying, for example, what number of “reasonable” Muslims made up that handful; or whether that group does or does not include all of America’s Muslim citizens (who now make up less than 1 percent of the country’s population); or how he’d operate as a president who believes America is both surrounded and infiltrated by fellow-travelers of radical Islamic terrorists.
Walker’s words reminded me of words another governor of another state snarled a half-century ago in the midst of another crisis. That was the declaration of racial war in the defense of White supremacy George C. Wallace declared in his 1963 inaugural speech as governor of Alabama. That rancid speech’s most infamous line was his pledge to defend “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”
Wallace could make such an evil pledge because of a promise he’d made to himself four years earlier after losing the state’s 1958 gubernatorial contest.
Then, Wallace had campaigned as a – for the South – racial moderate against a rabid racist. After losing, he told his campaign’s finance director, “I was out-niggered and I will never be out-niggered again.” That pact with the devil produced the George Wallace that history knows and condemns.
The “George Wallace Principle” is now on full display in the Republican Party primary as this candidate and that candidate compete to appease that sizeable segment of the GOP electorate who wants to have its prejudices pandered to.
That’s why these people need an “Enemies List” to identify those individuals and groups against whom they want to declare war. That’s the purpose of Trump’s unprovoked insult last week of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly as a “bimbo.” That’s the purpose of the slur “anchor babies,” whether it’s used against Latino or Asian babies. These words and phrases are part of the lexicon of cruelty on which the White-supremacist GOP mob feeds.
In May of 1963, five months after George Wallace’s inauguration, James Baldwin, one of America’s moral guardians during the civil rights years, spoke words that applied to George Wallace’s followers then – and to his spiritual disciples in the Republican Party today: “What the white people have to do is try to find out in their hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I am a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.”
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com.