Let’s talk about a time in this country when groups of rural/southern white, ultra-religious voters vilified people of color; harbored a strong disdain for the federal government; hated immigrants; believed states’ rights gave them the ability to infringe on the Constitutional rights of others; felt their country was “being taken away from them”; used religion to justify a lot of their ignorance; and spoke openly about their belief that armed revolts against a government they felt was “tyrannical” were “patriotic.”
While that sounds an awful lot like I’m talking about the days of the Civil War, or even segregation, I’m actually talking about the modern day Republican party, Donald Trump, and most of the people who support them.
You see, we’re still fighting the Civil War.
Sure, while the military part of the war ended long ago, the “war” in this country between those who believe in a progressive, diverse society free of unconstitutional theocratical rule in our government where every American is given — not their God-given rights — but the rights given to them by our Constitution, is still very much being waged.
I was born, raised, and still live in the South — Texas, to be exact. While support for actual slavery is clearly not high (though there are still plenty of racists who wish it was legal), racism is still not remotely uncommon. Furthermore, the mindset at the heart of the ignorance that’s been the driving force behind the most shameful parts of American history is still there.
It’s a paranoid, distrusting mindset. A mindset of “me and my kin” are the only ones I trust — though that can also be taken as “me and people who look like me.” It’s the rural/country mindset that looks down upon people who live in “the big city.” It’s people who grow up in a bubble, heavily isolated from the rest of the world. Not that millions of these folks don’t get out and do things in other towns, cities, states, or even countries — they do — but a lot of them don’t.
I know people who view living in a town of 400 people as a symbol of pride. The thought of living in a city, or even a moderately-sized town, sounds like torture to them.
One of the last places I lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area before moving to Austin was a budding down of around 35,000 or so. The town itself was “booming,” becoming a popular place for people to move, with new businesses and restaurants springing up everywhere. A town that was once just a nothing place, 20 miles outside of the city limits of Dallas, was growing, evolving — progressing.
And the locals hated it. They couldn’t stand seeing more and more of the types of people who they felt didn’t belong there.
What people in more “liberal” areas, or who’ve never lived in smaller towns, need to realize is that new ideas aren’t readily introduced in more rural areas of the country. Sure, some people grow up and get the heck out of town, moving on to bigger and better things, but most don’t. In many of these towns the families living there today have been in and around that area for generations — many dating back to the days of the Civil War.
That’s what I mean by “isolation.” You have a small sample size of people who’ve mostly “isolated” themselves for generations in places where “outsiders” often don’t come. It’s not like going to a larger city, or even moderately sized town, where you meet people from all different walks of life. In many of these towns you have a “side” on which certain races/ethnicities live and it’s rare to see someone from the wrong race/ethnicity move into the “wrong side.”
While it’s true that each generation gets slightly more progressive (yes, it is happening), in these areas of the country progress happens at a much slower pace than areas of the country that are much more diverse, populated, and culturally mixed. Of course there’s still racism in cities or more populated areas, but as someone who’s lived in both, trust me, there are differences in racism between rural areas and larger cities.
My point is, what we’re seeing now is just a continuation of the “non-military” part of a Civil War that truly never ended. When slavery was abolished, they turned to segregation. When Democrats (who were once the party of racism) shed their shameful roots, embraced equality, and President Lyndon B. Johnson ended segregation, these rural/southern whites flocked to a GOP that was in the midst of the “southern strategy,” pandering to white resentment that no longer had a home among Democrats. This was the time when staunch racists such as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms abandoned the Democratic Party and became Republicans.
These were the transformative years. After holding on to segregation — which was really just an extension of slavery — these rural/southern conservatives had been defeated. For the next few decades the GOP re-branded itself as a more subtle version of the racist era the Democratic Party left behind. They built a foundation on subtle racism, religious manipulation, but kept with the tried and true tactics of vilifying the government, fear-mongering against minorities, pushing states’ rights, and perpetuating the idea that “their country was being taken away.” That their “values were under attack.”
For decades we watched the GOP become more and more radical. From the days of Ronald Reagan passing an amnesty bill for illegal immigrants to a man who launched his campaign by calling most Mexican immigrants “rapists and criminals.” We’ve gone from a party that once used Russia as the ultimate boogyman, now supporting a “president” who defends its ex-KGB dictator, while putting the values of the United States on par with Russia. We’ve gone from a party that once backed bans on assault weapons, to one that sees even the slightest mention of common-sense gun regulations as tantamount to a full-on gun confiscation. We’ve seen a party go from viewing a giant concrete wall as a sign of tyranny and oppression, to millions of people chanting “Build that wall!” at political rallies.
We’re seeing this, because Donald Trump built a campaign based upon being the first candidate who pandered to the fears, delusions, hate, racism, bigotry, and paranoia Republicans had only subtly alluded to for years, but never truly and openly embraced. It doesn’t matter that nearly everything he tells them isn’t true, as long as he’s telling them what they want to hear, they’ll never turn on him.
Donald Trump is the modern day equivalent of a George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, or Jesse Helms. He’s the guy standing on a stage, feeding crowds of angry people who, because they don’t want to evolve from their outdated ways of thinking, have felt like their voices aren’t being heard. Because they continue to fight many of the same fundamental battles at the root of the Civil War, denying women the right to vote, segregation, bans on interracial marriage, and even gay rights, Trump standing up and feeding their ignorance gave them the rebirth for which they’ve spent decades waiting.
It’s not a coincidence that vile people like David Duke, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists felt more empowered, and became more publicly political active, during the 2016 election than we’ve seen in decades. There’s a reason why Trump always just happens to “play dumb” when it comes to denouncing the endorsement of David Duke, his omission of any mention of the Jewish people on Holocaust Remembrance Day, or the fact his daughter publicly commented about a growing rise in anti-Semitic hate crime before he did. There’s a reason why you’ve never seen Trump go on a Twitter tantrum against his white nationalist support like he has so many other issues that truly bother him. There’s a reason why the KKK and neo-Nazi groups celebrated his “election.”
Donald Trump ascended to this level of popularity among the most conservative of conservatives because he became the voice rural/southern white resentment has been craving for decades. He became the crude, hateful, fear-mongering voice who targeted the “enemies” they oppose:
- The government.
- People of color.
- Other religions.
- The establishment.
- The educated/elitists.
- The media.
- Anyone who tells a truth that debunks their lies.
He said and did what almost no other Republican had the “courage” to do, becoming the living-embodiment of exactly what conservatives have always been and what the GOP has represented for decades.
While the Civil War officially ended on May 9, 1865, make no mistake about it, we’re still fighting that war of ignorance and those who support it.
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