A government in which racial minorities have a say is illegitimate”

No, this is not the title of this essay by Prof. Heather Cox Richardson who also writes “Letters from an American,” a substack drawing hundreds of commenters daily. Some Republicans are attempting to make this argument a reality. The insistence that of their opponents being socialists goes hand in hand with their effort to suppress Black and brown voting.

In this Atlantic article we find Prof. Heather discussing how the treatment of equal rights, opportunity etc. is being looked upon as socialist. And those supporting it as being socialists. This of course includes voting by minorities, as Angry Bear discussed in an earlier article.

An excellent story or recital of the events leading up to today’s events in places like Alabama.

The Origins of the Socialist Slur, The Atlantic, Prof. Heather Cox Richardson

The Freedmen’s Bureau was established in 1865 to assist formerly enslaved people in the South. (Universal History Archive / Getty)

Reconstruction-era opponents of racial equality popularized the charge that protecting civil rights would amount to the end of capitalism.

For years after World War II, the “liberal consensus” was the New Deal idea that the federal government had a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure and was a true consensus. It was so widely popular that in 1950, the critic Lionel Trilling wrote of the United States that “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.”

But the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional tied the federal government to ensuring not just economic equality, but also civil rights. Opponents of the liberal consensus argued that the newly active federal government was misusing tax dollars taken from hardworking white men to promote civil rights for “undeserving” Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. The government’s defense of civil rights redistributed wealth, they said, and so was virtually socialism.

This intersection of race and economics was not new to the second half of the 20th century. It reached back into the past to resurrect an argument made by former Confederates during the Reconstruction years to overturn federal protection of Black rights after the Civil War.

Some of today’s Republicans are in the process of making that argument reality. Their insistence that all their opponents are socialists goes hand in hand with their effort to suppress Black and brown voting. When former President Donald Trump insists that the country has fallen to communism and “Marxists,” what he’s really saying is a government in which racial minorities have a say is illegitimate.

The accusation of “socialism” had sharp teeth in the 1950s, as Americans recoiled from the growing influence of the Soviet Union and the rise of Communist China. But Republicans’ use of the word typically had little to do with actual, Bolshevik-style socialism. The theory that the people would rise up and take control of the means of production has never been popular in the United States. The best a Socialist Party candidate has ever done in an American presidential election was when Eugene V. Debs won about 6 percent of the popular vote in 1912.

Rather, in the United States, the political charge of socialism tended to carry a peculiar meaning, one forged in the white-supremacist backlash to Black civil rights in the 1870s.

During the Civil War, the Republicans in charge of the government both created national taxation and abolished legal slavery (except as punishment for crime). For the first time in U.S. history, voting in federal elections had a direct impact on people’s pocketbooks. Then, in 1867, Congress passed the Military Reconstruction Act, extending the vote to Black men in the South. White southerners who hated the idea of Black people using the vote to protect themselves started to terrorize their Black neighbors. Pretending to be the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers, they dressed in white robes with hoods to cover their faces and warned formerly enslaved people not to show up at the polls.

But in 1870, Congress created the Department of Justice to enable the federal government to protect the right of Black men to vote. Attorney General Amos Akerman oversaw the prosecution of more than 3,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan, winning more than 1,000 convictions. Meanwhile, Congress passed laws to protect Black voting.

Suddenly, it was harder for white southerners to object to Black rights on racial grounds. So they turned to a new argument, one based in economics.

They did not want Black men voting, they said, because formerly enslaved people were poor, and they would vote for leaders who promised to build things such as roads and hospitals. Those public investments could be paid for only with tax levies, and most of the people in the South with property after the war were white. Thus, although the infrastructure in which the southern legislatures were investing would help everyone, reactionaries claimed that Black voting amounted to a redistribution of wealth from white men to Black people, who wanted something for nothing.

Black voting was, one magazine insisted, “socialism in South Carolina.”

The argument of poor Black workers being dangerous socialists offered justification for former Confederates to block their Black neighbors from the polls, to read them out of American society and ultimately to lynch them. It’s a peculiarly American version of “socialism.” It might have been a historical anomaly. A small group of business leaders and southern racists resurrected it in the 20th century as part of a deliberate effort to destroy the liberal consensus.

After World War II, most Republicans joined Democrats in believing that the federal government had to oversee business regulation, welfare programs, and infrastructure. They knew what businessmen would do to the economy unless they were checked; they had seen people homeless and hungry during the Depression.

And they scoffed at the notion that the New Deal system was a bad idea. They looked around at their homes, at their candy-colored cars that they drove on the new interstate highways built under what was then the biggest public-works project in U.S. history, and at their union-boosted paychecks in a nation with its highest gross domestic production ever, and they dismissed as a radical fringe the people trying to undermine this wildly successful system.

But the federal protection of civil rights added a new element to the liberal consensus that would threaten to tear it apart. Between 1967 and 1977, a North Carolina billboard urged people in “Klan Country” to “help fight Communism & Integration.”

The stagflation of the ’70s pushed middle-class Americans into higher tax brackets just when they needed their income most, and helped spread the sense that white tax dollars were being siphoned off to help racial minorities. As towns and governments tried to make up their declining funds with higher property taxes, angry property owners turned against the government. Republicans were courting white workers by painting the Democrats as a party of grievance and special interests wanting to pay off lazy Black supporters. Rather than their being interested in the good of America as a whole.

In 1976, former California Governor Ronald Reagan ran for president with the story of a “welfare queen” from the South Side of Chicago—code words for “Black”—who lived large on government benefits she stole.

“She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands,” Reagan claimed.

“And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.”

There was such a woman, but she was a dangerous criminal rather than a representative welfare recipient. Nonetheless, the story illustrated perfectly the idea that government involvement in the economy handed tax dollars to allegedly undeserving Black Americans.

Reagan suggested a solution to such corruption. In August 1980, he spoke to voters in Philadelphia, Mississippi, 16 years and just a few miles from where the civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had been found murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan as they registered Black voters during 1964’s Freedom Summer. There, Reagan echoed the former Confederates during Reconstruction: “I believe in states’ rights,” he said.

Reagan’s campaign invited voters to remember a time before Black and brown voices and women began to claim equal rights. His campaign passed out buttons and posters urging voters to “make America great again.”

Voters put Reagan in the White House, where his administration cut taxes and slashed spending on public welfare programs (while pouring money into defense spending, and tripling the national debt). In the name of preventing socialism, those programs began the process of hollowing out the middle class.

In the years since 1981, wealth has moved dramatically upward. And yet, the language that linked socialism and minority voting never ceased to escalate.

In the years since 1981, wealth has moved dramatically upward. And yet, the language that linked socialism and minority voting never ceased to escalate.

Talk hosts such as Rush Limbaugh insisted that socialism was creeping through America at the hands of Black Americans, “feminazis,” and liberals. After its founding in 1996, the Fox News Channel joined the chorus of those who insisted that their political opponents were socialists trying to wreck the country. Republicans insisted that Barack Obama was a full-fledged socialist, and in 2018, Trump’s White House Council of Economic Advisers used the word socialism 144 times in a 72-page report attacking Democratic politicians. Trump’s press release for the report read: “Congressional Democrats Want to Take Money From Hardworking Americans to Fund Failed Socialist Policies.”

There is a long-standing fight over whether support for the modern-day right is about taxes or race. The key is that it is about taxes and race at the same time: Since Reconstruction, white supremacists have argued that minority voting means socialism, and that true Americans stand against both. In recent history, that argument has led Republican-dominated state legislatures to make voting harder for people of color, and to rig the system through gerrymandering. Three years ago, it led Trump and his supporters to try to overturn the results of a presidential election to keep their opponents out of power. They believed, and insist they still believe, that they had to destroy the government in order to save it.

Court Again Rejects Alabama Scraping of Black-Majority Districts, Angry Bear