The GOP presidential debate went forth with celebration and fanfare, set in the historic Ronald Reagan Library with the Air Force One jet flown in by the late president providing a dramatic backdrop.
The GOP tends to lift up "family values" and morality, which includes adhering to "law and order" as among its identifying markers. And yet, in this debate, not one of the aspiring presidents mentioned Black Lives Matter and how it has affected this nation.
It was a slap in the face. The candidates talked about everything but the current unrest going on in this nation. It was telling and at once disturbing. America cannot get away from its tendency to avoid race, though race is in every part of its fiber
It was fitting that this blatant ignoring of America's racial torment would happen in the Reagan Library. In his book, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, author Ian Haney Lopez noted how Ronald Reagan, when he campaigned for president, "liked to tell stories of Cadillac-driving "welfare queens" and "strapping young bucks" buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. (p.3) Lopez continued by saying that "Reagan always denied any racism and emphasized he never mentioned race." Lopez said he didn't have to, because he was blowing a dog whistle.
Dog whistle politics simply means speaking "code" to targeted audiences. Donald Trump is doing it as he speaks about gangs. The word "gang" makes people think of black kids, primarily. Trump is adding insult to injury, saying that the gangs in Baltimore, Ferguson and other places are filled with "illegal immigrants." He is thus veiling his racism in code words that whites inherently react to in a negative way. When he says he will get rid of these illegal immigrants in the gangs, he is saying that he will target both Mexican immigrants and black people, and purge this land of as many of them as he can.
None of the candidates, now and before, would ever own up to being "racist." Lopez writes that "the new racial politics presents itself as steadfastly opposed to racism and ever ready to condemn those who publicly use racial profanity. (italics mine) With dog-whistling, there is no need to be blatant; the words used are carefully chosen and selected to hit the places in white people who view black and brown people as a bane to this nation, which many feel was meant to be a "white man's country."
Lee Atwater, who was an American political consultant and who worked with both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and who also served at one time as chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in 1981 that "Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves. It was the so-called "Southern Strategy," and he said, in that interview, "You start out in 1954, by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger." That hurts you. So you say stuff like ...forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff...Now, you're talking about cutting taxes and all these things...and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites..."We want to cut this" is much more abstract..."
The silence about "Black Lives Matter" is a part of and a continuation of this abstract way of dealing with race. The GOP does not want black votes; it says it wants Hispanic votes, but the overall silence of many of the candidates suggests otherwise. The GOP is a "white man's party."
How, though, in the name of a God whom the GOP professes to love, can this be all right? What God, what Bible, what scriptures do they adhere to, which would allow them to ignore racism and in fact to support racist institutions, policies and practices?
Martin Luther King Jr said that Christians are mandated to practice "agape love," which is "disinterested" love. By that, he meant that this kind of love is one in which "the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor." ("An Experiment in Love.") The GOP, in spite of its professed love of the Christ, is not at all attached or committed to the precept of agape love; its silence about black people being unjustly treated in so many ways speaks to that.
It is troubling, to say the least. The GOP continues the Southern Strategy in this, the 21st Century, and the principles of Christian love continue to be ignored. It is a sad reality, and it speaks to the depth of America's illness as concerns race.