A return of the Ku Klux Kaucus: At stake in American politics is the future of multiracial democracy
Trump recently dumped his blog because he has nothing to say that anyone wants to hear beyond one single message.
He’s not thinking deep thoughts about the economy, or the state of the nation’s infrastructure, or offering insights into the Middle East. There’s literally no philosophy Trump holds — other than one single idea — that truly matters to the vast majority of the Republicans who support him.
He’s not Richard Nixon, who could be actually thoughtful on foreign policy. He’s not Ronald Reagan, who completely bought into the idea of supply side economics. He’s not George W. Bush, who had a story to tell us about why it was so important to attack the second-most oil-rich country in the world and hand their natural resources over to Dick Cheney’s company.
The only thing Trump has to offer his followers is open and blatant racism, and that is the core and foundational base of his support. This is not unique in our history, and it’s not even unique in recent, 20th century American history.
When Republicans took the White House in 1921 and held it for 12 years, their rise in power was paralleled by a rise in the visibility and influence of the Ku Klux Klan. By 1926, 150,000 cheering white people lined miles of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC to watch 30,000 Klan members dressed in full, white-hooded Klan regalia.
As a reporter for the New York Herald wrote: “30,000 men and women, clad in the white robes and conical hoods of the Ku Klux Klan paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue today from the capitol to the treasury. It took nearly three and a half hours for the colorful procession to pass.”
The official membership of the Klan at that time was around 3 million; their support among white Americans however, was much vaster and deeper. Starting in the 1960s, however, the Klan fell out of public fashion and white people drifted away from its membership, joining the Republican Party instead.
This was one goal of Richard Nixon’s 1968 “Southern Strategy,” implemented by his consultants Lee Atwater, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort as an outreach campaign to the “silent majority” of America’s white racists. Thus, the Klan never really went away; they merely changed their brand. And the Grand Dragon of today’s Republican Klan? Donald Trump.
It’s appropriate they’re digging up the remains of Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest now, because Donald Trump has replaced him as their leader.
A few weeks ago, an Axios-Ipsos poll found that about half (48%) of all Republicans disagree with the assertion that “America is a racist country” with an ongoing racism problem, compared to only 4% of white Democrats who say the same thing. “No problem here,” say members of the GOP.
While 87% of white Democrats believe America needs to continue working to give Black Americans equal rights, only 19% of white Republicans agree. Fully 60% of white Democrats think the protests over the police murder of George Floyd raised an important issue in America and had an overall positive impact, but only 8% of white Republicans agree.
When the #2 Republican in the US House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, ran for election in Louisiana saying that he was “David Duke without the baggage,” white people in Louisiana knew exactly what he was saying. He was the perfect guy for GOP leadership.
There’s a simple reason why Republicans have now introduced legislation into 47 states to make it harder for non-white people to vote: the Republican Party is today’s version of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s.
Today’s GOP’s white male foot soldiers don’t care about foreign policy or the federal budget deficit or what tax rate corporations pay. They don’t give a rat’s ass about Keynesian versus Trickle Down economics, or whether the US government is doing well in the Space Race to Mars.
They just want to make sure that Black people and other racial and gender minorities — along with “their” white women — are kept under their thumbs.
In the years following the Civil War, the Klan was at the forefront of efforts to intimidate Black voters; soon Klan members in state legislatures were passing state laws presenting legal barriers to minority voting. The GOP is leading a similar charge today, recruiting 10,000 “poll watchers” to intimidate voters in communities of color and passing voter suppression laws that are as thinly-veiled as was the old “Recite the Constitution” trick.
History is quite literally repeating itself.
What’s at stake right now in American politics is the future of multiracial democracy. The Republican Party, almost entirely white, wants to “take America back” to the “glory days” of the 1920s when white people proudly displayed racist emblems and paraphernalia and Black people and other minorities “knew their place.”
The virtually all-white MAGA mob that attacked the capitol on January 6th drew disproportionately from counties in America where white populations are slipping, relative to minorities. They came from places where “white replacement anxiety” is the greatest, as documented by the New York Times.
The GOP’s multiple and competing armed-white-militia groups are simply today’s version of the old Klan “Night Riders” who wore hoods and waved crosses while chasing and shooting at Black people from horseback.
The Democratic Party is in denial. They’ve had all the evidence of this in front of them since 1968, and they continue to refer to the Republican Party as if it were the kind of legitimate political party seen in other advanced democracies. It is not; Richard Nixon reinvented it, and the Party never looked back.
Democrats and the media need to start dealing with Republicans the way they would deal with the Klan. The GOP truly has become the Ku Klux Kaucus.
U.S. National Archives
© Thom Hartmann, used with permission. Originally published on The Hartmann Report as Grand Dragon of Today’s Ku Klux Kaucus? Donald Trump.
Subscribe to The Hartmann Report directly and read the latest views about U.S politics and other fascinating subjects seven days a week.