As the Republican Party has descended into the party of stupid, where ignorance, racism, religious extremism and a fear of modernity are now the defining elements of the GOP base, there have been many post mortems on how a party that once honored knowledge, learning, and intelligence has become the party of uneducated, angry white males, white supremacists, and religious fanatics. A piece in Salon does a good job in outlining this descent into stupidity. Here are excerpts:
The top leadership of the Republican Party expresses horror at the popularity of Donald Trump as though his positions and values are somehow alien from their own. This is disingenuous. As other commentators have observed, the presidential candidacy of the bigoted, misogynist, ignorant Trump is a creature of the party’s own making.This Frankentrump was not fashioned in a mere eight years, however. . . . . Instead, the transformation of the Republican base from the conscience-driven party of Lincoln to the anger-driven party of Trump has been a half-century in the making.
[T]he founding Republican philosophy was liberal. . . . . To be liberal in the nineteenth century meant to be devoted to freedom of thought above all. Above tradition, the American liberals who helped found the Republican Party valued the freedom to choose what is right and the freedom to develop socially, intellectually, and morally toward the highest possible potential. This is why liberals favored public schools for all children, which started in Massachusetts in the 1830s and only got established in the South thanks to Reconstruction.
The liberal principle of “moral agency,” as they called this divine right and duty to choose, also lay behind Republican opposition to slavery. . . . . The liberal moral ethic centered on independent, open-ended thinking, constructive dialogue across differences, and a belief in the divine potential of every human being. Even slaves. . . . . This got the Republican Party boycotted in the (white) South, not only during the years of the Confederate rebellion but long after.
The Democrats ran the party of white supremacy. . . . . The Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the leader who submitted civil-rights legislation to Congress to combat Jim Crow in 1957. It was Democrats in Congress who watered the bill down.
The partisan poles of the United States changed after the dramatic activism of the 1950s and early ‘60s prompted the Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sending white Southern and white working-class Democrats into Republican arms.
The Republican wooing of these voters took time and delicacy. Never did its strategists aim to become the party of blatant racism. Instead, they created concepts like the “moral majority,” “religious right,” “family values” and even color-blindness in order to attract white voters concerned about African-American socio-economic and political gains. And in so doing, they betrayed their moral roots in three ways.
First, Republicans allowed bigotry safe haven under the guise of morality, in the very name of morality, by broadcasting scary tales of black urban life as though it were proof of the irredeemable inferiority of African Americans. From the Southern Strategy of Nixon to the cynical electioneering of Lee Atwater, the campaign manager for George H. W. Bush, the line was straight. In 1981, Atwater explained that by 1968, the N-word repelled voters rather than attracting them, so he trained Republicans to “say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” Reagan acted his part in disdaining welfare queens and “young bucks,” a phrase straight out of the antebellum South.
Second, the Republican Party adopted fixed positions on issues. The nineteenth-century liberal commitment to open-mindedness had meant that any position was only provisional, awaiting the testimony of further evidence or wider viewpoints for modification. For many decades now, the Republicans have insisted that lowering taxes, beefing up the military, and cutting social programs are what America needs. They oppose abortion because they need white evangelical voters, so Republican politicians claim that the resemblance of a fetus to a baby is more important than the resemblance of a criminal to a human being . . . .
Finally, the Republican Party has increasingly refused to engage in meaningful dialogue with its opponents. It has betrayed its origins in the culture of learning by attacking higher education in the United States — the colleges and universities all too liable to teach young people how to think critically — and by trying to privatize public education in the names of meritocracy and religious freedom. At the very least, Republican strategists have undermined public schoolteachers and pathologized urban schoolchildren. By deploying the language of culture wars, left versus right and liberal versus conservative, Republican strategists have fed a polarization allegedly too extreme to tolerate constructive dialogue toward consensus.
To echo the words of Malcolm X in 1963, the Trump candidacy is as clear a case of chickens coming home to roost as ever history did see.