Wolf by the Ears: Why the GOP Can’t Stop being Racist


This week you quite rightly pointed out the Republican Party’s anti-immigration policies are aimed at reducing the number of Democratic voters. Republicans have owned up to it, just as they’ve admitted that efforts to suppress black votes are efforts to suppress Democratic ones. And this is the history of white people since the founding: to insure that the votes of people of color will never overcome their own votes, that non-whites will not be able to pull the levers of power.


Above, anti-immigrant protestors hold a sign saying “Send them back with birth control.” They don’t just want no immigrants in the US–they want fewer brown-skinned people in the world. 

To the argument you lay out, I will this:

Republicans fear non-white votes because Republicans (who are overwhelmingly white and less reflective of the national population than Democrats) have used elected office and government policy to hurt minorities and bolster structures that maintain their power.  They fear nonwhite power because they themselves has used power to hurt nonwhites. They fear retaliation because they know they deserve it. We can see it in the words of Thomas Jefferson, whose own relationship with slavery was–what is the polite way to say this?–conflicted, though not enough for him to act right. Despite the polymath’s genius in imagining a new form of government and his statesmanship in bringing it to life, he couldn’t see how powerful whites could do anything except maintain power over enslaved Africans and African Americans. Writing in 1820, he said:

But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.

Today’s Republicans see a similar issue: to maintain power, they must be racist.  And they have embraced racism as a political strategy with a kind of glee that suggests it might not be strategy alone that drives them.

This isn’t just the hard kick of a dying mule. It’s an immensely cynical strategy and one that is self-defeating. There are good reasons why many immigrants are more politically progressive than the average Republican. Unlike nearly anyone in Congress, they have often seen the effects of US warmongering up close, and the sound of American military jets flying overhead don’t inspire patriotism but fear. They have lost family members killed by American soldiers or with American-made guns and bombs. Too, they have lived in colonies and former colonies in places whose economies and landscapes have been decimated by the forces of capitalism. Today, the largest numbers of refugees settling in the US are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Burma, and Iraq–not all places where we’ve messed up, though, historically, we had to take in large numbers of refugee after bungling wars in Viet Nam and other parts of Southeast Asia–but places where our policies have not necessarily helped the local situation. Our undocumented immigrants come mostly from Mexico and points south--places where our economic and foreign policy has long contributed to instability.  They may be fleeing civil wars, genocidal dictators, drug wars, and grinding poverty, but that doesn’t mean that they love Ayn Rand or Paul Ryan.

But, while Trump advisor Michael Anton worries that such immigrants have “no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty,”  they, like African Americans, should not be presumed to be default Democrats. Very often, immigrants and refugees from the “Third World” that Anton despises so much as well as native-born people of color embrace gender and sexuality norms that align more with Republican’s so-called “traditional family values” than with the Democratic Party’s stances on abortion, divorce, parental authority over children, women’s rights, or gay rights. The Hispanic and African American students at my own university aren’t majoring in Queer Studies or Radical Leftist Rioting, after all, but in business and criminology. (In fact, criminology is the most popular major for black and Hispanic students at my university.)  International students are pursuing degrees in STEM and economics, not The Overthrow of Capitalism.

So why can’t Republicans imagine appealing to the foreign born and people of color? Is it because, like Jefferson, they cannot imagine the victims of their own racism doing anything except murdering them? Is it because they know that a coalition of social conservatives and robber barons doesn’t really make sense and that, eventually, social conservatives will realize it, too? Or is it because their racism isn’t merely strategic but also heart-felt?

It’s not just the Republican Party losing here. (Remember that the GOP has not been able to place a truly new candidate in the White House by popular vote since 1980. I was in diapers. Every Republican president who won the popular vote since then was either an incumbent president or VP.)  Our democracy would be richer if people of color could contribute to the national political conversation without having to go through the Democratic Party. There is no reason why the huge diversity of black voters so overwhelmingly chooses to vote Democrat–except that the Republican Party (and individual Republican voters) are so racist.  If anyone should be angry about the racism of the GOP, it should be conservatives of color.


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