Weekend Update 3/4/2016 – When a dog whistle becomes a bullhorn
Look back to the 1964 Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. As a Senator, Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while claiming that he didn’t oppose civil rights for racial minorities. He just wanted civil rights to be handled at a state’s level (sound familiar?). A lot of his campaign rhetoric was about state’s rights and law and order. These were dog whistles for those white voters who felt their personal safety and economic security were threatened by non-whites.
Nixon carried on the tradition. Nixon is often credited with formally crafting the Republican’s Southern Strategy, which was to convince white working class “Dixiecrats” to abandon the Democrats and support Republicans by appealing to their racial anxieties. Nixon’s talk during the 1968 campaign of state’s rights, local control, and law and order in regards to civil rights questions and so forth seemed almost tame because George Wallace was mounting an openly segregationist campaign as the American Independent Party nominee. In private conversations with his campaign manager and supporters, Nixon worried that Wallace would capture too much of the anti-desegregation and anti-civil rights vote for the Republicans to win.
Reagan capitalized on the racial dog whistles even more, giving his strongest pro-state’s rights speech on the 1980 campaign trail in the very county in Mississippi where three civil rights activist had been murdered in 1964 for protesting the state right to segregate the races. By dog-whistle I mean political messaging using coded language which appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different and more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*gger, n*gger, n*gger.” By 1968, you can’t say “n*gger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. …I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*gger, n*gger.”
— Lee Atwater, Republican Party strategist in an anonymous interview in 1981
I could go on and on about how the Republicans have played a wink and nod game of saying things that didn’t sound racist in a way that clearly communicated to the racists that they were welcome in the party. Which brings us to this: Polite Hypocrite Angry that Rude Hypocrite Might Become His Party’s Nominee .
Mitt Romney lecturing Trump for being racist! Mitt Romney, who used the phrase “self-deportation” to politely say that he thought all those darn Mexican workers who are here doing jobs American citizens actually won’t take (at least that the pay that the American employers want to pay) that they aren’t welcome. Mitt Romney, who said that Obama only beat him by promising poor and black voters “free stuff.”
Here’s the thing: at no point in the campaign before the recent kerfuffles did any of the other Republican nominees differ with Trump on the notion of opposing any pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Heck, earlier in the campaign they were all fighting to show which of them was willing to be tougher about things like “anchor babies” and securing the border. At no point did any of the nominees differ with Trump on the notion that the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality was wrong. At no point did any of the nominees differ with Trump on the notion of using enhanced interrogation techniques.
They’re been upset that he’s been blatant about it.
But every one of them is just as racist, just as misogynist, just as homophobic, just as eager to bomb entire countries out of existence, just as eager to torture people, and so on.
They aren’t upset about his beliefs. They’re upset that he isn’t talking in their polite code phrases. They’re upset that instead of using dog whistles, he’s using a bullhorn.