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The Reagan Republican Party’s Deep-Seated Supremacist Blindspot
It's a right-wing supremacy aimed at marginalized communities and classes, even if that was not the intention of good faith philosophical conservatives and political observers.
Dedicated to my grandfather, Paul J. Beckham Sr. He was an educator throughout his entire life whether it be in the classroom or while watching over his grandchildren.
Though this is in the UK, it was a protest spurred by the global call for racial equality after the killing of George Floyd. To this day, the Republican Party (America’s conservative party) and its messaging outlets have denigrated the Black Lives Matters movement while lying about the historical and contemporary reality of racialized police brutality. Courtesy of Shutterstock.
Throughout my life, I didn’t think much in terms of Republicans or Democrats until the last year of Barack Obama’s historic presidency.
I grew up around a mix of political sensibilities and much of the civic discussions in my house distinguished between Lincoln Republicans and Reagan Republicans (we are mostly a center-left clan).
But when Republican Senator Mitch McConnell snubbed President Obama’s 2016 pick for the Supreme Court of the United States, I began developing a deep antipathy for the modern GOP.
Playing sports like lacrosse, attending private schools, and growing up in numerous situations where I was the token minority made me feel as though I understood the deep-seated elitism and bad faith gamesmanship being directed towards our first president of color. I saw parallels regarding the way Republicans would claim to not harbor social animus or racial elitism while simultaneously using reactionary forces to accumulate political capital.
It was the Reagan Republican Party’s blind spot.
Many Republicans either sheepishly or overtly felt that undermining this president in such a deeply malevolent and unprecedented manner did not also communicate the willed perpetration of supremacist structures, whether it be an antisemitic, anti-Black, or anti-social improvement message.
Tim Miller of The Bulwark spent time as an operative within this version of the Republican Party.
However, the poison that is Trumpism has caused him to push for change within these right-wing structures. This is an admirable goal and effort on the part of Tim and others at the Bulwark. I come from a politically active family that trended from the Republican Party to either Independent status or pure Democratic Party allegiances. This is not uncommon because the Reagan Republican Party, with all of its supposedly good intentions and understandable reactions to large modern bureaucracies, did alienate a historically loyal voting base by co-opting the platforms and sensibilities of supremacist reactionaries.
There are healthy conservative arguments and there are healthy liberal arguments. There are classical liberals and there are New Deal or Keynesian liberals. However, in this postmodern universe, our conversations are pushed to the extremes and political philosophy suffers because of that.
Just read this New York Times Magazine long-form piece on the philosophies that have permeated the right-wing Claremont Institute, once a bastion for conservative intellectuals. The evolution, in my opinion, is depicting immature and demagogic identity politics on the part of mostly White males who believe pushing for diversity is undermining merit-based initiatives. Thus, one is refusing to see how this thought pattern is a symptom of one’s own blind spot towards the way inequality works in a number of dimensions from exposure to worldly perspectives to financial power.
Or, worse, it’s an open acknowledgment of one’s own supreme sense of themselves.
This was a guiding philosophy of Trumpism and therefore animated its hostile takeover of what was once the party of Lincoln.
If people have to tell the Reagan Republican Party over and over again that they were dangerously flirting with supremacist ideologies, then it must be true on some level.
Tracking my family’s political trajectory from Republican to Democrat (or Independent) is watching Reaganism’s original sin in action.
One of my great grandfathers was a substantial Republican landowner in 1930s Indiana (in some cases owning more wealth than his White counterparts) and another was an accomplished lawyer in Baltimore who became interested in the way urban populations were beginning to trend towards Democrats during the early years of the 20th century. My grandfather (the son of the Indianan) explicitly rejected Black supremacist tendencies that were growing during the fragmentation of the National Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century. He was a friend and cohort of many national civil rights leaders of all groups. He also desegregated the faculty of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. My grandfather and I love world history as a discipline and hobby. Some within that generation of Black Baltimorians also voted for the Republican, Spiro Agnew, for Maryland governor and soon regretted it. They were Eisenhower and Lincoln Republicans. Especially, as my grandfather proudly served in the Second World War as his father, Harry Beckham Sr., had done in the Great War.
J. Steward Davis, also my namesake, is the father of his wife, Blanche:
Still, my father is a Democrat because he understandably felt alienated from the rhetoric and campaign tactics of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush (no matter how much one could admire the First Bush’s impeccable resume).
My mother always was vocal about her distrust of state’s rights despite her very conservative sensibilities and rural Delaware upbringing. She was always clear that we couldn’t trust the states to respect the rights of their marginalized populations. Especially since most marginalized communities are not as evenly disbursed within America as the majoritarian ones. History has proven her right and so has the aggressive regression of reproductive rights for women.
Everyone in my family is a devout Christian and many are long-term members of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church which has hosted generations of my dad’s family. The same for my mother’s home church in Delaware.
Yet, the down-home and Pollyannish rhetoric of the modern GOP didn’t appeal to them and many other African Americans because it was steeped in white supremacy. This occurred after a momentous push forward in racial relations and general civil rights within America’s union of states.
I can speak for the community I am a part of, but the party has progressively alienated other marginalized groups, notably proud members of the LGBTQI+ community.
This is the original sin of a reactionary Republican Party that was restructured under Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and yes, Ronald Wilson Reagan. It is a danger to America’s liberal principles and it ended up fostering the last Republican president’s demagoguery and coup d'état. A Republican president openly questioned the birth certificate of the first president of color and told trailblazing women of color in Congress to go back to their native countries - which is America.
This iteration of Republicanism is making some gains among minority voters.
However, it has not presented serious plans for creating long-term wealth and opportunities for battered communities of color. Instead, it relies on Trumpian anti-intellectualism that is masked as a faux populism in the face of undeniable financial and educational inequality. It is an insult to many of my predecessors who fought long and hard to vocalize the needs of people that were historically pushed to the corners of American life and fed the leftovers of the preferred class or group. Thus, bigotry stems from a lack of exposure and the loss of vibrant intellectual life.
This deficiency is in every community as it is a human flaw.
It is just shameful that elected and propagandized Republicans rather cultivate the ongoing degradation of our civic life rather than engage in the substantive issues plaguing so many diverse American communities.
But for the most malicious, hateful, and racist of the group - that is the point. The Republican Party has a voter problem. Too many have been led down a path of hating the other rather than loving their differences.
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