When Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone was first published in 2000, it revealed an alarming trend: Americans were becoming less connected to family, friends, and community. (And this was before the smart phone.)
The groundbreaking book chronicles our decline in social connectedness, or social capital. The title refers to a key example: in the US, bowling leagues have disappeared, replaced by individuals who now bowl alone.
Putnam offers no definitive explanation for the dive in civic engagement. But he notes several contributing factors:
- pressures of time and money, hence the need for two-career families
- suburbanization, commuting, and sprawl
- media and electronic entertainment
- a generational shift
Revisiting the book now with a modern perspective provides fresh insight:
“The last third of the 20th century was a time of growing inequality and eroding social capital. By the end of the 20th century, the gap between the rich and poor had been increasing for three decades, the longest sustained increase in inequality in at least a century, coupled with the first sustained decline in social capital in at least that long. The timing of the two trends is striking. Sometime around 1965-70, America reversed course and started becoming both less just economically and less well connected socially and politically.”
The key line is: “Sometime around 1965-70, America reversed course and started becoming both less just economically and less well connected socially and politically.”
Why did Americans begin abandoning the Knights of Columbus, the Lions Clubs, the Rotary, Kiwanis, the Women League of Voters, the PTA, the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, and veterans’ organizations?
What happened during those years that altered US policy, direction, and character?
More importantly, after decades of 20th century progress, why did we change course?
The Great Compression describes the period of the 1940s to the 1970s when differences in incomes and living standards were compressed. Americans from all social classes were more equal, creating our most democratically shared prosperity in history. This ended in 1979.
The Great Regression began in 1980, leading to rising inequality, stagnating wages, falling pensions, finance crashes, job-killing mergers and acquisitions, and massive deregulation.
Explains Hedrick Smith in Who Stole the American Dream?:
“As a country, we have declined from an era of middle-class prosperity and middle-class power…to an era of vast fortunes and mass economic insecurity...We have fallen from being the envy of the world, with the most widely shared economic prosperity and the most affluent middle class of any place on earth, to losing our title as the land of opportunity. It is now easier, in fact, to climb the economic and social ladder in several Western European countries than it is in the United States. Americans work longer hours, often for lower pay and benefits, and make up the difference with the highest ratio of two-income households of any advanced economy in the world.”
America’s upward mobility ended In 1980, at which point all economic gains were redirected to the top 1%.
The roots of this reversal can be traced back to 1965 - directly to the Civil Rights Movement.
In the first half of the 1900s, nearly 80% of white Southerners had been Democrats, compared to 40% in other states.
During the 1960s, white Southerners unhappy with the repeal of Jim Crow migrated away from the Democratic party.
“Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP nominee, refused to support the Civil Rights Act that year, and influential conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley were decidedly unfriendly toward black equality. This made the Republican Party more and more appealing to Southern white racists.”
This mass exodus began when JFK introduced sweeping Civil Rights legislation in a televised speech on June 11, 1963.
“Among Southern whites, approval of JFK plummets right at that moment (top chart). And in the Gallup polls, racially conservative Southern whites leave the party in droves (bottom chart).”
The night Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he remarked to his press aide Bill Moyers, “I think we’ve just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”
Today, nearly all Southern whites vote Republican, and they have carried white majorities in every presidential election since.
Segregation had been so institutionalized in America, the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure mortgages in black neighborhoods, while subsidizing subdivisions for whites. Blacks were prohibited from buying homes in those suburbs until the 1968 Fair Housing Act, but by then most couldn’t afford to live there.
When federal courts desegregated public pools, white swimmers just stopped going, while their municipalities stopped maintaining them and eventually closed them down. (Not unlike Southern school districts.)
As the Civil Rights Movement attempted to correct these inequalities, the white power structure was having none of it. They knew 85% of whites felt ‘the pace of civil rights progress was too fast.’ Standing in opposition and in the minority, they retaliated with a decisive political realignment:
“As the conservative journalist Robert Novak reported after attending a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Denver during the summer of 1963: “A good many, perhaps a majority of the party’s leadership, envision substantial political gold to be mined in the racial crisis by becoming in fact, though not in name, the White Man’s Party. The rise of a racially-identified GOP is not a tale of latent bigotry in that party. It is instead a story centered on the strategic decision to use racism to become “the White Man’s Party.”
Alabama’s segregationist Governor George Wallace fueled this charge. He promoted the fear that black rights would come at the expense of whites, claiming, “A n****r is trying to get your job, move into your neighborhood,” and the only way to stop this was through “states rights,” coded language for discrimination since before the Civil War. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater echoed this racist sentiment.
Meanwhile, the ultimate symbol of white power, the confederate flag, returned to a prominent place in Southern society. It had all but disappeared, but now it was trotted back out to intimidate blacks.
“The confederate flag had been raised above the South Carolina state house in 1962, in direct defiance of racial integration and the civil rights movement, and has been used as an emblem of white hate and violence against black people ever since.”
White resentment was widespread - and Richard Nixon’s Republican party harnessed it for his Southern Strategy.
The Southern Strategy was the strategic exploitation of racial animosity in order to secure white votes.
Political strategist and Chairman of the RNC Lee Atwater explains how this works:
“As to the whole Southern Strategy...put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South… you start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states rights, and all that stuff,..Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things... are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites… if it is getting that... coded... we are doing away with the racial problem…because obviously sitting around saying ‘We want to cut taxes and we want to cut this,’ is...a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’ So anyway you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.”
In other words, racism with plausible deniability.
THE SOUTHERN STRATEGY
In 1964 LBJ’s “War on Poverty” campaign captured the ethos of mid-century America: We have a moral obligation to end poverty in our lifetime.
This ad appeals to our nobler virtues - our sense of community, civic responsibility, and compassion. It explains that poverty is not related to character, but happenstance, and we, the American people, can do something about it.
In 1968 Nixon’s “Law and Order” campaign marked a decisive turn in tone and policy: The Civil Rights Movement has made America unsafe.
This ad appeals to our fear - equating civil rights with violence, while appropriating the term to mean white safety from blacks. The ad focuses on the movement’s conflict, implying violence comes from blacks, and it must be met with force.
(In reality, civil rights violence usually comes from those with power: straight white men who do not want equality and a military that upholds the unequal status quo.)
With Nixon, America’s focus shifted from eliminating poverty through unity to inciting fear through division.
“History tells us that poverty leads to crime. Where there is poverty, there will be crime, and when poverty is also reflective of racial discrimination, crime will be racially disproportionate. And policing will normally reflect these racial divisions and realities. So if we want to change crime, we obviously have to change society.”
Threat of punishment, no matter how severe, does little to prevent crime, or there’d be no need for prisons, or the death penalty. The only way to reduce crime is by reducing poverty, which LBJ was trying to do.
However, Nixon wasn’t concerned with crime. “Crime prevention” was merely his way of dealing with the “damn negroes.”
Nixon used race as a weapon.
“[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
Thus, Nixon’s Southern Strategy would demand subtlety.
To achieve this, Republicans devised a way to trigger deep-seated racial hostility without being overtly racist. They used coded racial language to appeal to white resentment through negative, nonwhite associations. This is known as Dog Whistling.
Such coded language, or Dog Whistles, include Welfare Reform, Tough on Crime, War on Drugs, State’s Rights, Neighborhood Schools, Illegal Immigrants, a Border Wall, or anything else that negatively implies “minorities.”
They operate much like a Pavlovian response.
Explains Ian Haney Lopez in Dog Whistle Politics:
“They may steadfastly oppose racism, but their racial discourse keeps subliminally appealing to color-coded solidarity, with use of terms like welfare queen, sharia law, and gangbanger... Superficially, these provocations have nothing to do with race, yet they nevertheless powerfully communicate messages about threatening nonwhites.”
Instead of educating, training, or preparing black men for the American workforce, Nixon’s platform was to lock them up. He race baited with the term “Law and Order.”
According to Watergate co-conspirator and Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser John Ehrlichman:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
This policy continued under the Reagan Administration, to even greater effect. They race baited with the term “Tough on Crime.”
In the 80s, law enforcement focused on “nuisance crimes” such as panhandling, loitering, vagrancy, open containers, and selling or consuming small quantities of drugs.
As Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil explains in Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases our Inequality and Threatens our Democracy:
“These nuisance crimes are endemic to many impoverished neighborhoods... Once the nuisance data flows into a predictive model, more police are drawn into those neighborhoods, where they are more likely to arrest more people. After all, even if their objective is to stop burglaries, murder, or rape, they’re bound to have slow periods. It’s the nature of patrolling. And if a patrolling cop sees a couple of kids who look no older than 16 guzzling from a bottle in a brown bag, he stops them. These types of low-level crimes populate their models with more and more dots. And the models send the cops back to the same neighborhoods. This creates a pernicious feedback loop. The policing itself spawns new data, which justifies more policing. And our prisons fill up with hundreds of thousands of people found guilty of victimless crimes. Most of them come from impoverished neighborhoods, and most are black or Hispanic.”
Policing was only half of Reagan’s plan. The other was declaring a War on Drugs.
Forget that crime was declining, and that there was no drug crisis. Or that marijuana, heroin, hallucinogens, and first-time cocaine use were all down.
The White House PR machine convinced the country otherwise, as Reagan’s political opponents were the real target. Their illicit drugs symbolized everything wrong with America:
a) liberal counterculture (hippies and students, who Reagan loathed from free speech days)
c) minorities (i.e. the ghetto)
In White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson explains how Reagan’s Iran Contra affair brought the crack epidemic into urban America, compliments of the NSC and CIA.
As it decimated black communities, the administration focused only on the criminal aspect of drug use: Reagan increased funds for the FBI and DEA while cutting funds for the National Institute on Drug Abuse from $274 million to $57 million, as well as cutting the Department of Education’s anti-drug funds from $14 million to $3 million.
“In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which stipulated mandatory sentencing, emphasized punishment over treatment, and created the 100-to-1 disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine based on the myth that the cheap narcotic rock was more addictive than its powder form.”
This was another way of dividing social class by race and criminalizing minorities (crack) while wealthy whites were overlooked (coke).
Instead of focusing on rehabilitation, education, prevention, and reintegration, like many other countries do, we preferred to punish.
This punitive approach is almost exclusive to the US, betraying both our lack of Christian compassion and our deep-seated racial fear. In the process, we created an American prison factory contingent on untreated mental illness and racial profiling.
Our inmates eventually return to society with no education, no counseling, and no job training, yet they do have plenty of anger and psychological wounds from prison, as well as possible gang affiliations.
Still, we are taught to blame them for their misfortune rather than offer assistance. This callous disregard is yet another component of the Southern Strategy, and it helped Reagan win the White House.
Ronald Reagan did not begin his presidential campaign in Hollywood, nor in Orange County, nor in his hometown of Dixon, Illinois. Instead, his campaign strategists chose Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Philadelphia is famous for the KKK bombing of a church, and for the lynching of three civil rights volunteers, (as portrayed in the film Mississippi Burning).
The area was so racist, whites killed whites for merely supporting black rights. This was the Southern Strategy’s target demographic, which Reagan addressed at the all-white Neshoba County Fair.
A local RNC official proposed Philadelphia because of its “George Wallace inclined voters.” (i.e., racists) After all, one journalist described Reagan as “part Wallace and part Nixon and a more effective Southern Strategist than both put together.” (i.e., racist with charisma)
Reagan was no moderate, nor was he a proponent of civil rights.
“As president, [Reagan] actually tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He opposed a national holiday for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to get rid of the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination. And in 1988, he vetoed a bill to expand the reach of federal civil rights legislation.”
Reagan employed Dog Whistles on the campaign trail, referring to “states rights” and “welfare abuse” by some “strapping young buck,” which was slang for a powerful black man who defies white authority. (This was quickly replaced with “young fellow” because it was too on the nose.)
Other racist language continued, as Reagan’s entire platform was built on it.
One of the most widespread myths was that of a “welfare queen” - a black woman abusing the system. This stump speech was almost entirely fictional. The real story is one of kidnapping, murder, and psychopathy.
Reagan’s welfare story, like many others, was manufactured to convince whites to think of government help in terms of race, thereby rejecting liberalism and the New Deal.
He painted the poor as criminals and the white Middle Class as hardworking victims.
This “strategic racism” deliberately uses racial animosity to gain political power.
“Whites...were the workers, the tax payers, the persons playing by the rules and struggling to make ends meet, while brazen minorities partied with their hard-earned tax dollars.”
Demonizing the poor allowed the Reagan administration to justify cutting social welfare programs.
This “poverty of character” idea ran counter to LBJ’s New Deal compassion - and to reality.
“Indeed all too well, the poor are blamed for their poverty, their bad schools, and the crime that afflicts their neighborhoods. That’s why few politicians never bother with anti-poverty strategies. In the common view, the ills of poverty are more like a disease, and the effort, or at least the rhetoric is to quarantine it, and keep it from spreading to the Middle Class.”
Before 1965, most of the New Deal’s programs were available only to whites.
The Civil Rights Movement, as well as 60s anti-poverty programs, attempted to correct this. However, once federal benefits flowed to minority communities, conservatives seized the opportunity to defund these programs.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the majority of people who receive Nutrition Assistance benefits are Caucasian:
Native American: 1.2%
Republicans didn’t care these programs helped more whites than blacks. Like everyone else, red state beneficiaries were manipulated to vote against their own welfare.
This is the high price of Identity Politics - political machinations that divide the public by race, religion, gender, sexuality, and other social identifiers.
Reagan’s Identity Politics relied on the Southern Strategy to exploit racial tension through Dog Whistling.
But these were merely tools to achieve his real goal.
Reagan’s corporate backers propelled him to the presidency for one reason - to rig the system in order to reduce their financial burden and increase their economic gains.
“Taxes, not wages, became the economic issue of this politics of resentment..This ideology, espoused often by those who were already in power, figured ‘elites’ not as the ‘economic royalists’ that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had inveighed against in the days of the Great Depression, but as the liberals in government. Richard Nixon and his vice president Spiro Agnew painted liberals as effete snobs and rallied the ‘silent majority’ against those ‘who want to take their money, and give it to people who don’t work.’ This idea resonated because middle-class reform movements that concerned themselves with poverty often did so out of a distant sense of charity rather than a real engagement with the needs of poor people. Yet in targeting liberal politicians and professors, these populists missed the corporate titans who were quietly shipping jobs overseas and keeping wages low while managing to get their own tax rates slashed to a level that redistributed wealth upward far faster than it had been shifting downward.”
Racial resentment was used on the public in order to redistribute wealth to the 1%, absolving them of any responsibility to fund our government.
Thus, Reagan cut the top tax rate on millionaires and billionaires from 70% to 28.6% (the largest in history) and drastically reduced the taxes of corporations, but only gave regular folks a 1% tax break.
This blatant cash-grab by the 1% is more commonly known as Reaganomics, which led to less government funding, less oversight, and drastic cuts to social services, particularly those used by minorities:
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget was slashed by 57%.
- $1 billion was cut from Medicaid.
- The Women, Infants, and Children food Program was cut by 1/3.
- Child nutrition programs were cut by 42%.
- Funding for legal services for the poor was eliminated entirely.
- Unemployment insurance was cut from 39 to 26 weeks.
- Public funding for job training was cut from $13.2 billion to $5.6 billion.
- Rural development programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were cut by 69%.
- Higher education was slashed by 25%, with Pell grants cut by $338 million, and student assistance by $594 million, leading to today’s student loan crisis.
To make things worse, Congress changed the qualifications for student aid from need-based to achievement based, funneling free aid from minorities in poor school districts to Upper Class white kids. (This was at a time when almost five times as many black high school seniors came from families with incomes below $12,000.)
During the 1980s, those in poverty soared to 35 million. Meanwhile, the Reagan administration doubled military spending to nearly half a trillion, and our national debt soared with it.
In The Man Who Sold the World, William Kleinknecht explains Reagan’s legacy:
“[Reagan’s] constant attacks on the inefficiency of government, a rallying cry taken up by legions of conservative politicians across the country, became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more money that was taken way from government programs, the more ineffective they became, and the more ineffective they became, the more ridiculous government bureaucrats came to be seen in the public eye. Gradually, government, and the broader realm of public service, has come to seem disreputable, disdained by the best and brightest…and the image of government has been dragged down even further by the behavior of politicians, who, imbued with the same exaltation of self-interest that is the essence of Reaganism, increasingly treat public office as a vehicle for their own enrichment... He laid the foundation for a new global economic order... He enacted policies that helped wipe out the high-paying jobs for the working class that were the real backbone of this country... Reagan propelled the transition to hyper-capitalism...in which the forces of self-interest and profit seek to make a final rout of traditional human values. His legacy – mergers, deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization, globalization – helped weaken the family and eradicate small-town life and the sense of community… Because of deregulation, trucking concerns, bus companies, and airlines have eliminated much of their service to small rural communities, leaving them isolated and economically depressed in a society ever more dominated by the great population centers on either coast. Because of corporate consolidation, businesses are no longer owned locally and Main Street is gone. Companies made over many times by mergers and forced to tailor every decision to stock market prices have little loyalty to communities or people...Plants are closed and companies are downsized, families uprooted, communities left without anchors… Without his tax, regulatory, and antitrust policies, there would have been no savings-and-loan bailout, no frenzy of mergers in the 1980s and 1990s, no unseemly scramble for overnight fortunes by arbitrageurs and raiders, no destructive obsession with quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term investment, no wholesale abandonment of ethics on the part of corporate executives.”
During the Great Progression, FDR furthered the belief that the economy existed to serve the public.
In 1980, Reagan ushered in the era of capitalism at the expense of democracy. This created a staggering rise in inequality, and laid the groundwork for America’s new corporatocracy.
“[Reagan] disenfranchised the average citizen by inventing the soft-money machine that made large corporations the real power in Washington. He weakened the enforcement of labor laws and inspired union busters across the country by firing the more than 11,000 striking air-traffic controllers and breaking their union in 1981. He empowered corporate executives to abandon the concept of loyalty to employees, shareholders, and communities and weakened the bargaining power of labor…Instead of public policy’s influencing the corporation to fit the needs of society, society is shaped to fit the needs of the corporation.”
“From the 1960s to the 1970s, the black unemployment rate had declined... By the time Reagan’s policies had taken effect, however, not only had the black unemployment rate increased, but also the unemployment gap between blacks and whites had widened to unprecedented levels... During the early 1980s, the overall black unemployment rate stood at 15.5% - ‘an all time high’ since the Great Depression – while unemployment among African American youth was a staggering 45.7%. At this point Reagan chose to slash the training, employment, and labor services budget by 70% - a cut of $3.805 billion... Reagan further destabilized the economic foundation for African Americans by ordering massive layoffs in federal jobs... Blacks are disproportionately employed by the government, not least because the public sector suffers demonstrably less discrimination in hiring and compensation than private industry. More than 50% of the growth in employment for black workers in the US between 1960 to 1976, in fact, was in the public sector…federal government’s layoffs were concentrated in the social service agencies, where many African Americans worked."
Roughly 45% of African Americans born into middle class families had lower incomes than their parents by 2007.
Since the Reagan years, America has been in decline. But this wouldn’t have been possible without the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the corrupt conservative establishment that exploited our racial divide.
THE LEGACY OF THE SOUTHERN STRATEGY
Even though the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, we now have 25% of the world’s prisoners, and it’s extremely tied to race.
- White men behind bars: 1 in 106
- Hispanic men behind bars: 1 in 36
- Black men behind bars: 1 in 15
Our mass incarceration has become known as The New Jim Crow. There are more African American men in prison now than were enslaved in 1850 before the Civil War.
Despite the reality that poor whites typically report committing more crimes than minorities, blacks are disproportionately poor and young, and thereby more likely to be swept into our criminal justice system.
When prisons are privatized, like in the US, there is a profit motive to keep them full. The number of people in U.S. prisons increased from around 600,000 in 1980 to over 2 million in 2002.
“This represents a 500% increase in total number of prisoners over the last 40 years. Nearly 7 million people were under some form of correctional supervision (prison, jail, parole, or probation) in 2013. This increase is not due to rising crime rates, but rather was caused mainly by changes in sentencing law and policy.”
More than 60% of the people in prison today are people of color…For black men in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.
Stop and Frisk: Even though Black and Latino males between 14 and 24 make up only 4.7% of a city’s population, they count for 40.6% of the Stop and Frisk checks by police. More than 90% of those stopped were innocent.
Drug Enforcement: Black men are nearly 12 times more likely to go to jail for a drug offense, despite blacks and whites using drugs at similar rates. Blacks are 12% of the population, 14% of drug users, but make up 34% of those arrested for drug offenses and 45% of those serving time for it.
Police Searches: Black drivers are 31% more likely to be pulled over than whites; they are more than twice as likely to be subject to police searches as white drivers; and they are nearly twice as likely to not be given any reason for the traffic stop.
Arrests: African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested than whites…African Americans comprise 14% of regular drug users but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.
Sentencing: Black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes. African Americans are 21% more likely to receive a mandatory minimum sentence. African American drug defendants are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison.
Convictions: Those who murder white people are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murder blacks. Black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty, and those who end up on death row are more likely to be executed.
Poverty-stricken communities, especially those of color, never recover from their economic breakdown and cycle of incarceration.
Rather than meet these needs with an influx of social workers, trauma counselors, rehabilitation specialists, drug treatment centers, and free higher education to level the playing field, we rely on law enforcement to control the chaos, militarizing to do so, while shunning our social responsibility.
We send black fathers to jail for possession of drugs that white college kids use without worry, yet we publicly claim we are for Family Values.
We deny our white privilege, oblivious to the opportunities we have enjoyed, yet ignore the struggles faced by minorities.
We throw our homeless in jail for sleeping on park benches instead of finding them shelter, yet we claim to be a Christian nation.
As US inequality hits Depression-era levels, we continue to blame the poor for their poverty and the homeless for their mental illness, and refuse to address the institutionalized ignorance that led to both.
RACISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY
In 2005, Ken Mehlman, former Chairman of the RNC and Manager of President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, admitted to the NAACP that the GOP had exploited racial divisions for the last 40 years.
That same year, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. It was our country’s greatest natural disaster, exacerbated by the failure of, and lack of funding for, the Army Corp of Engineers’ levee system, as well as the utter incompetence at the highest levels of government.
“Katrina...opened the eyes of many to the harshest reality of racial and economic inequality. The people who were displaced and homeless, the thousands who were trapped without food or water in the Superdome, or waiting for help on the roves of houses were mostly black and mostly poor. Many who evacuated still have not returned to their city...It was where the public schools were shuddered and replaced with privately run charters, and where 7,000 teachers, the majority of them black women, were fired. Housing projects that were structurally sound were bulldozed to make way for new development of mixed income housing, their former residents pushed out of the center of a city where many don’t own cars, the reason it was so deadly in the first place. Elections were held just three months after Katrina, with 80% of the city’s residents still displaced.”
In 2010 RNC chairman Michael Steele owned up to his party’s dubious race baiting:
“For the last 40-plus years we had a ‘Southern Strategy’ that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South.”
Despite such confessions, Republicans have made no effort to retire the Dog Whistling, nor have they proposed any solutions or reparations.
Instead, they’ve done quite the opposite.
Conservatives falsely claim Voter Fraud to limit voting rights of minorities, despite only 10 cases in 15 years, or 1 out of every 15,000,000 prospective voters. In other words, less often than people are struck and killed by lightning.
This is why they gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and why Republican legislatures in 20 states enacted voter restrictions, making it harder for citizens to register, cutting back on early voting, limiting hours, and discriminating against people with past criminal convictions.
In Texas, gun permits are acceptable to vote, but not college IDs, as the young are more likely to vote Democrat.
Republicans continue to gerrymander districts to their advantage, manipulating maps so that black votes have little impact. In 2012, these gerrymandered districts won Republicans control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin, yet the Democrats received 1.4 million more votes.
Voter fraud myths persist, and gerrymandering gets ignored, because conservatives dismantled the Fairness Doctrine, which allowed them to create partisan media.
Through the propaganda network Fox News, they reinforce their talking points without debate, indoctrinating audiences coast to coast.
Roger Ailes was hired to spearhead the operation, as he had taught Nixon how to manipulate public opinion by disguising paid political events as news.
“Ailes...ushered in the era of post-truth politics. The facts no longer matter; only what is politically expedient, sensationalistic, and designed to confirm the preexisting opinions of a large audience.”
With a 24-hour format, and an ongoing narrative of faux-persecution, the only thing missing was an antagonist.
Enter Barack Obama, and the Southern Strategy returned with a vengeance.
The Tea Party:
Fox News promoted racial demagoguery through the manufactured Tea Party movement, with a little help from the Koch Brother’s dark money.
“Inextricably combining conservatism and racism, the [modern day] Tea Party was almost wholly a creature of right-wing dog whistle politics...the movement reflected the confluence of four forces - First, the anger and fear of everyday white folks – persons whose political conservatism was directly molded by racially infected fears of a liberal government run by a black president. Second, opportunistic Republicans seeking a new label for a damaged brand.Third, right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers, with their well-funded propaganda machines. Finally, Fox News and the right-wing media machine which promoted the movement and also helped racially agitate and misinform its soldiers.”
Writes Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone:
“[Tea Partiers] are all furious at the implication that race is a factor in their political views, despite the fact they blame the financial crisis on poor black homeowners, spend months on end engrossed by reports about how the New Black Panthers want to kill ‘cracker babies,’ support politicians who think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach of government power, tried to enact South African-style immigration laws in Arizona and obsess over…Barack Obama’s birth certificate.”
Tea Partiers despised Obamacare, but when it was called Romneycare in Massachusetts, they had no problem.
They blamed Obama for the $80 billion automobile bailout, even though G. W. Bush started it before he left office. It was also Bush who signed a $700 billion bailout to the financial industry in 2008, but there was no uproar until 2009 when Obama took office.
Black Lives Don’t Matter:
Since 2008, the Ku Klux Klan has returned, emboldened by the current nationalist platform. Less than a century ago, the KKK retreated when their members’ identities were revealed. Now, they declare allegiance on social media and confront protestors in public with no shame.
In 2014 Republicans allowed Flint, Michigan’s drinking water to became contaminated with lead. This affected nearly 100,000 residents, with race and poverty playing a key role. The GOP closed the investigation before anyone could be held accountable.
In 2015, over 1,000 black men were killed by law enforcement, with 25% unarmed. Black people were killed at twice the rate of white, Hispanic and native Americans.
The year 2016 gave rise to Donald Trump, a demagogue who rode to office by demonizing minorities, inciting anger and leading his followers to acts of violence. Because of the election, hate crimes increased by 20%.
In 2017, hate crimes continue to rise, and anti-Semitic incidents are up 86% compared to the same time last year.
With Trump, the Southern Strategy’s racial subtext has been elevated to mainstream text, but few understand its manipulative context, and even fewer its toxic consequences.
In the 20th century, Republicans deliberately employed racism to wield power over the American electorate.
In the 21st century, the next generation of Republicans continue to use these divisive tactics, from Dog Whistling to Identity Politics, without recognizing their insidious origin.
“The [Civil Rights] movement’s gains were never just about rights but were more deeply a challenge to the ideology of white supremacy with a strong assertion of the moral equality of all Americans, no matter the color of their skin. It was about the humanity of black people, but white people’s own human souls and human rights were also at stake, and not just legal civil rights. White privilege is a more nuanced term than white supremacy, but it amounts to the same thing. It continues to be an unspoken and sometimes stated assumption in American life that whites do or even should enjoy, benefit from, and even depend upon privileges that blacks or other people of color don’t have or deserve. As the legal basis of those white privileges have historically diminished, the majority white culture has still tried to preserve its privileges culturally, economically, politically, and societally. All of this can be very subtle, but it is no less real, and no less brutally oppressive, and it can easily explode into violence.”
If you’ve ever voted for a candidate because of his stance on the drug war, because he was tough on crime, because you didn’t want your tax dollars wasted on welfare, you voted racistly without even knowing it.
“The scope of racism extends to every area of human society, economy, psychology, and culture. Prejudice may indeed be a universal human sin that all races can exhibit, but racism is more than an inevitable consequence of human nature or social accident. Rather, racism is a system of oppression for social and economic purposes. As many analysts have suggested, racism is prejudice plus power.
We allow politicians of power to manipulate us with prejudice, ensuring that racism lives.
We believe that the lowest white man is better than the best black man, yet ignore the plutocrats who pick our pockets.
We let the 1% divide us by race for economic gain, just like they did in the Civil War, and just like they’ve done since the 60s.
As long as we allow this to continue, inequality is the price we pay.
And as long as black progress, like Obama, is met with white backlash, like Trump, all civil rights are at risk.
The painful truth is...we’d rather bowl alone than in a bowling league with black people.
The Civil Rights Movement did not ruin America.
We, white people, did it ourselves, because we are racist, selfish, and self destructive.
And we refuse to acknowledge it.