In October, about a week before Election Day, a Republican candidate running for a city council seat rang my doorbell in Buffalo, New York, with the hope of securing my vote. Despite a very well-funded campaign coordinated by a seasoned Republican strategist, the candidate, Peter Rouff, was still a long shot. The last time a registered Republican was elected to the Buffalo City Council was over a generation earlier, in 1981.
Rouff seemed like an affable guy. He was a dinosaur, cut from a mold that his party threw away decades earlier, who suddenly found himself transported into the future. He was a liberal New York Republican, a species no one younger than a baby boomer could recognize or fathom, the ghost of John Lindsey or Jacob Javits.
But this is 2015. So, after shaking hands and hearing him out on his concerns for our community, I asked him, “How’d you get associated with a hate group?” The local Republican Party, despite having no power in local government, still maintained an official Facebook page, where they posted Donald-Trump-grade drivel, joking about putting a coal facsimile of President Obama’s head on Mount Rushmore, promoted notions of an epidemic of Black-on-white “hate crimes,” and so on. Rouff countered that I was using harsh language. It only took a few days for his Republican handlers to prove the accuracy of my language, sending out two racially coded mailers.
After writing a local piece about the Rouff mailers, including the line about association with a hate group, I started getting mail along the lines of, “I think I’m going to use that line the next time a Republican asks for my vote.” But this got me thinking. Why not use this line anytime I find myself in the presence of a Republican? Why ignore what has, especially recently, become the obvious? On what grounds can I justify ignoring a racist movement? Because calling out someone’s association with a hate group is impolite? Or are we just taking our lead from the mainstream media, which has a long history of being toxically polite in their tolerance for mainstream racists and misogynists?
As much as I’d like to ignore Donald Trump and not give any “ink” to a reality TV buffoon, he has held pretty steady as the front-runner in the Republican presidential primary race, only temporarily trading that position with fellow hatemonger Ben Carson. Trump might be a public imbecile by profession, but he is also the favorite of the Republican electorate, and hence, a standard-bearer for the contemporary Republican Party.
The most recent act of public racism in the GOP presidential primary campaign occurred recently at an almost all-white Donald Trump rally in predominantly Black Birmingham, Alabama. A local activist, Mercutio Southall, accompanied by two other protesters, shouted three words, “Black Lives Matter,” after which he was attacked by the crowd, knocked to the ground, and apparently kicked and punched by a mob of angry white men, as Trump called for them to “Get him the hell out of here.” If there was any ambiguity about exactly what happened, Trump went on Fox News to clear things up the next day, explaining, “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” Non-white protesters have been spit on, attacked and called racial slurs at other Trump events, creating a haunting pattern reminiscent of the early stages of some of history’s most hideous hate movements.
On the same day, Trump retweeted a table of bogus crime stats that inflated Black-on-white murder by 547 percent, while understating white-on-Black murder by 380 percent. New York magazine investigated the genesis of the tweet, with the earliest incarnation they could find stemming from a Nazi troll.
Trump also has publicly insisted that “thousand and thousands” of people, representing “a heavy Arab population,” in Jersey City, New Jersey, came out into the streets to cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001. Despite the lack of any other witness to the supposed event, at the time of this writing, Trump is still holding firm on his baseless allegation, and Republican voters are still holding firm on their support for the delusional racist demagogue.
Trump’s alternate in the Republican front-runner position, Ben Carson, recently compared Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS to “rabid dogs.” Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who media wonks often tout as the most moderate of the pack, suggested a religious litmus test for Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, only accepting those purporting to be Christians.
Beyond the presidential contest, almost every Republican governor in the United States has come out in support of barring Syrian refugees from their states, despite the fact that they have no authority to do so, and that the federal government will have spent at least 18 months investigating and vetting each asylum applicant before admitting them to the country. Most of the rhetoric from these Republican governors was laced with xenophobia.
Nationally, Republican-controlled state legislatures have spent much of the past few years passing laws designed to undermine Black and Latino voting rights, using racially targeted barriers to suppress the Black and Latino vote. Republican governors and legislators have been defunding programs designed to increase access to education, health care and housing for groups who traditionally faced racial barriers in these areas.
With all of the leading Republican candidates spewing various degrees of religious or racial intolerance, and with Republican legislators in the US Congress and in statehouses across the country working to roll back civil rights for disenfranchised racial groups, people who maintain ties to the Republican Party, either through party registration or voting history, can no longer deny that they are part of a hate group. Those of us who, in the interest of being polite, or for fear of reprisal, choose to ignore the racism that is now endemic in the Republican Party, are facilitating the public acceptance of both this hate group, and worse, racist rhetoric in mainstream politics.