On Demanding Dignity

In 1968, when Richard Nixon called for Law and Order, a term used by Goldwater in 1964 and Reagan in 1966, he was appealing to working-class voters who would normally be expected to vote Democratic but were becoming more and more uneasy about a perceived increase in crime and frequent stories of protests in the streets. In 1968, the real domestic issue was the economy, but that was far too complicated for American political discourse, and, besides, this group might have found Nixon’s and the Republican Party’s real thoughts on economic policy unsettling. While Johnson had waged a War on Poverty to end a very real poverty in America, Nixon would wage a War on Crime to stoke fear and paranoia. Though economics, poverty, and crime are inextricably linked; that wasn’t a connection he was going to be making publicly lest he affront one of his Party’s most sacred cows. Catchy phrases and slogans can win elections; the under the hood stuff like economic policy might turn off voters; is best left for think tanks, universities, and board rooms. Richard Nixon was not above appealing to baser instincts; both the Law and Order and War on Crime phrases intentionally connoted racial overtones. Besides, there was the specter of George Wallace. Wallace an overt racist, nominally a Democrat, was in reality a Dixiecrat, aka Southern Democrat; one of those Dixiecrats who did not switch over to being a Republican after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. Getting the vote of those yet and former Dixiecrats was all a part of Nixon’s and the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy. As a consequence of the success of these strategies, we would see more and more of this fine art of appealing to baser instincts being practiced by Republican candidates in the coming years. No more of that aspirational stuff for the once GOP, thank you. The once GOP was soon to become a Republican Party controlled by southern white Republicans, née Dixiecrats, who brought along with them their attitudes toward democracy. In the 1968 presidential contest, George Wallace carried Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Thanks mostly to his friendship with Billy Graham, Nixon got 69% of the national Evangelical Christian vote. — Evangelicals felt that Nixon would protect the nation against Catholicism. Became gatekeepers to nomination.

When Reagan gave his ‘Birth of a Nation’ speech in Philadelphia Mississippi in 1980; he was telling white segregationist Mississippians, some yet Southern Democrats/Dixiecrats and some recent converts to the Republican Party, that it was OK to think about race the way they thought about race. In doing so, he validated their racism, and abetted their mendacity; accorded dignity to their odious opinions. By pandering to their racism and bigotry, he had, to their minds, legitimized their racism and bigotry. Reagan stooped for, welcomed, their votes.

While, in 1968, Nixon had appealed to northern blue-collar workers with Goldwater and Reagan’s ‘Law and Order’; in 1980 Reagan added other socially conservative appeals. He would appeal to their unease with the changes in the economy, and the pace of social change. As noted in ‘Now’ – http://angrybearblog.com/2020/08/now.html – the nation was floundering in trying to figure out what was going on with the economy. Rather than try to figure it out and lead the nation forward, Reagan’s solution was to take the nation back to a better time some time in the past; to the 1950s. As far back as1964, Reagan, in his ‘A Time For Choosing’ speech, had denigrated the intellectual elite in efforts to ingratiate himself with ordinary working Americans. As candidate and as Governor, he had made his political chops waging war on the University of California at Berkeley, it’s President, and it’s Student Body. At a time of great change, rather than call on our great universities for research and advice, Reagan was implicitly telling blue-collar workers that their opinions on science and economics were every bit as valid as those of university professors and students, that the answers to the future lay in the past; he was pandering to ignorance. Reagan was bestowing an illegitimate blessing on, according undeserved dignity to ill-informed opinions; encouraging the working class to feel good about those opinions, in hopes of getting their votes. Whether due to these policy positions or to his on-camera skills, he did get a lot of their votes. While there is nothing wrong with ignorance per se, there is plenty wrong with politicians pandering to ignorance for votes. In 1980, the big issue for the Christian Right was the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision – abortion. When Reagan said that he opposed abortion, they believed that they had found a soul mate. The Moral Majority, a ‘Southern-oriented Christian Right’, founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1979; worked closely with the Republican Party and the Reagan Campaign to elect Ronald Reagan President in 1980.

Woe be the Nation when our politicians, instead of seeking to eradicate ignorance, sing its praises; leading us backward instead of onward and upward. Pandering to ignorance is not taking the high road up. Pandering to ignorance is taking the low road to the bottom. Going backward for 8 years, for 8 years, cost the nation at least 16 years, probably more. If Reagan had fully succeeded in taking the Nation back to the 1950s it would have cost us at least 38 years of progress.

In the period from 1965 to 1980, the nation went from a nation having legislators who knew how to govern to one being dominated by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, Dick Army, Phil Gramm, Bob Barr, Bob Livingston, .  .  . , who couldn’t; most of whom didn’t even believe in government. In 1980, Reagan carried all those states that George Wallace had carried in 1968 excepting Georgia.

By the 2000 election, ‘Law and Order’, paeanage to the Christian Right and anti-abortion judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade, were now permanent planks in the Republican Party Platform. Marching as to war; more than ever, denigration of the opponent and character assassination, spécialité de la famille Bush, were the weapons of choice. The now Charter Member Christian Right would be on the Platform Committee. George W. Bush’s style of pandering to the working class was brought forth from, then extended beyond, those tactics employed by Nixon and Reagan. Borrowing from Huey Long, Bush would pretend to be one of them. The purchase for purpose ranch in Crawford, set for this farce, itself was a page from stories told in ye olde Universities over the centuries about aristocracy and scholars conning ignorant peasants. Would anyone be interested in a slightly used chainsaw? It worked like a charm. George W. Bush, born to wealth, reborn a common man, was selected and reelected by pandering to the working class by pretending to be one of them. He had walked among them. Shame on him. Shame on them. The Party’s aristocracy, now, acceptably socially inbred southern, knew that blue blood only comes from good breeding. The Nation regressed, paid dearly. In 2000, George W. Bush handily carried Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.  States George Wallace had carried in 1968; the Southern Strategy at maturation. Majorities from the Christian Right/White Evangelicals carried Bush to victory both times.

To be clear; none more deserving of dignity than the working people of America; they keep the nation running; they are America’s better angels; and, they deserve to be better paid. They also deserve better than to be pandered to with phony validation of their ‘dignity’ from a validated phony. Things like ignorance, racism and bigotry, simply cannot be dignified. Some working-class, some upper class, .   .   .   Americans are bigots and racists; this is but a call to the Nation of the need to better educate, to better ourselves. But pandering to such racism and bigotry slows progress, brings the nation down; should be a crime. Surely, sleaze bag politicians pandering out dignity to bigotry and racism is criminal. There is no dignity in letting ourselves be used.

When Donald Trump promised to bring back king coal in West Virginia, he was speaking not to coal miners but to the grandsons and granddaughters of coal miners nostalgic for halcyon (Matewan, Harlan County) days that never were while thinking about the price of coal, preservation of wealth, and campaign donations from the mine owners. Truth be, he wanted their vote; didn’t care about the environment; was far too lazy to think it through; couldn’t have cared less about the miners ‘long lost’ jobs. Long lost, indeed. In 2016, coal mines employed 50K miners, about the same as in 1970 – 50 years earlier. During that period, production was up almost 300%. The 50K employed was down from an all-time peak of 863K in 1923. In the period from 1923 to 1970, production was up about 25%. Automation happened. The jobs were gone and they ain’t coming back (Thanks, Hazel Dickens). Today, coal mining in West Virginia provides less than 5% of the State’s jobs. In 2016, Trump carried the State by a 40% margin. By the bye, Trump who purloined ‘Make America Great Again’ from Reagan, and ‘Law and Order’ from Nixon; won all the Ex-Confederate States except Virginia and, no doubt, all the votes of any surviving George Wallace supporters. Trump out Wallaced Wallace. Brought it all forward, he did, and added Reality TV and Professional Wrestling for the Con of it. Sought and received help from Russia for good measure. A platform to build a dream on. An estimated 83% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. 51 years after the Civil Rights Legislation was passed, the Republican Party had found its bottom. Trump!

According credence to such bogus science as Intelligent Design was another way of appealing to the under-educated and ill-informed; saying to them that their opinions were just as good as those of our best scientists, that belief equated reason, facts and science. Pretending that Intelligent Design was legitimate was not a way forward. It was a way of pandering for votes from Evangelical Christians. It was not the way to lift the nation. It would have adverse long term consequences.

.  .  .   In the 1950s, in Paris, a night when Albert, Simone, and Jean Paul talked philosophy the night long  .  .  .  Left them at dawn, began extending from where Camus had left off as I walked home: The Korean War went on until it became apparent to all that it was absurd. The War in Vietnam started out absurd and was fought to apparency (Apparentism – um, the philosophy of  .  .   .  ?). The Cold War was bitterly fought right up to the very last absurd day. Home and back to the future; just yesterday Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton was a rising star in the Republican party until he got caught out in the bright sunlight of his very own NYT op-ed. Poof, like a Flashbulb in the dark, the light made his absurdity visible to all. Up until then, it was all the honest truth as taught at grandmothers’ knees, and in Arkansas public schools’ history books for 150 years. How in the hell did he get by with that for 4 years in the US Army? Seventh generation farmer, Wiki says. Antebellum, might say.

Far from philosophy; mendacious means given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth. From mendacious, mendacity means that they just made that stuff up; a fairy tale. Denial is the refusal to admit to the truth or reality. One could be mendacious and in denial at the same time. Some are. Mendacity is what Tom Cotton, Mitch McConnell, and Lindsey Graham have in quantity, in common; is their birthright. Trump doesn’t know from denial.

The once quite tolerable GOP has, in the span of a mere 52 years, become the bigoted, racist, venal, morally bankrupt Republican Party presently headed by Vainglorious Bastard Donald Trump. Donald Trump as President is the culmination of the party’s Southern Strategy. Trump is the sound of the Republican Party hitting bottom. Yet, there were other consequences of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy?

All things being possible, it is possible that Nixon and Reagan had hopes of changing the minds of white southerners by bringing them into the tent; converting them. Possible, but, as Goldwater said, they went looking for ducks. In doing so, they made a pact with the devil. Rather the Grand Old Party Republican Party changing the white Southern Newly Republicans, the white Southern Newly Republicans changed the Republican Party. Instead of the Nation bringing them up, they brought the Nation down. From 1968 on, the Republican Party became more and more like the old Southern Democrat/Dixie party. Politics was war, Democrats were the enemy, and elections were no holds barred battlegrounds. Badmouthing, aka denigrating your opponent, character assassination, .  .  .  became de rigueur; compromise, strengt verboten. Votes in congress were meant to exact a pound of flesh; secure bags of lucre. Liberal, once a term applied with respect to members of both parties was now a term spatted at anyone who didn’t agree with right-wing politics. Clinton’s impeachment, the Benghazi hearings showed what was to be done to interlopers. Gingrich, Barr, DeLay, Hutchinson, Lott, Gowdy, Collins, both Pauls, Gohmert with a Louie,… no bottom of the barrel here; were modern-day versions of those 1877 ex-Confederate Officers deciding who could and who could not hold office. Any government largesse had to go through their hands, as it had, and still does, in the ex-Confederate States. If you own the land they live on, control their livelihood, they will soon learn to kowtow and know better than to vote against you. That was how to control the populace. All so 17th Century. Now that they have recreated the federal government in the image of ex-Confederate State governments; they and only they were entitled to run the country.

The whole Nation was held back. No more campaigning on policy. Rather than working on solving our problems, the national discourse was limited to beliefs and opinions, simple arsed answers, and conspiracy theories. Discourse only when beliefs and opinions were given more weight than facts; than scientific expertise. In consequence of politicians bestowing their blessing on those beliefs and opinions in exchange for the holders’ votes; we are, to date, incapable of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Though in great part due to a lack of leadership, itself a consequence of the Southern Strategy, this is in great part also to do with large portions of the citizenry who do not believe in science, in the facts. Control of the COVID-19 pandemic is not possible as long as individual states refuse to follow the advice of scientific experts. How in the hell could any Governor of a State in the United States of America in the 21st Century go against the best scientific advice? What did they expect would happen? This is a consequence of Republican politicians making all those pilgrimages to Liberty University, Bob Jones University, Oral Roberts University, …; giving credence to anti-scientific, anti-intellectual beliefs; pandering to, according power to, right-wing Evangelical Christian sects in order to win their votes. We should have become more enlightened in these 50+ years that have passed by since Republicans initiated their Southern Strategy. Instead, we have been held back by southern Republican Politicians and Christian Right/Evangelical Christians. In tandem with the Republican Party, they have taken the Nation backward. I think that was William and Clarence that I just saw walking toward that old courthouse.

Today, we are in grave danger of losing our democracy forever. Nixon did kind of believe in Democracy, even if you had to bus it in. Reagan, didn’t. If he didn’t agree with a government policy that was the law of the land, he, operating through his cabinet members and/or his candy store operator, Ed Meese, simply wouldn’t provide sufficient funds (Anne Gorsuch, Neil’s Mom, nearly went to prison for carrying this out). Mitch McConnell wouldn’t cooperate in efforts to thwart Russian interference in the 2016 election; in 2020 election. Over and over, McConnell has used his powerful position as Senate Majority Leader to thwart the will of the people in favor of a very powerful few. White southern Republicans, née Dixiecrats, didn’t believe in Democracy before 1965, still don’t. They have brought the nation to its knees, and they aren’t finished with us yet.