Race – always a subtext in American politics – has moved center stage in this year’s presidential campaign. Republican Donald Trump called Democrat Hillary Clinton a “bigot.” Clinton responded by using Trump’s words of racial offense against him.
History suggests both parties have fallen short on racial justice. Jefferson Davis Democrats were slave owners, Confederates, against Reconstruction, and members of the violent Citizens Councils and the KKK. They supported legal segregation, and Southern Dixiecrats opposed the Civil Rights Movement.
After the Civil Rights Act was signed July 2, 1964, Democratic Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina turned Republican in September and began the campaign to convert white Dixiecrats to Republicans. Many of today’s Republicans are old Jeff Davis Democrats. In 1968, Nixon adopted this Southern Strategy as a road to the White House.
Reagan of coursed launched his 1980 campaign with a racial message of “states’ rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were murdered for registering black voters. In 1988, George H.W. Bush introduced us to Willie Horton. After Barack Obama became president, Republicans introduced 395 new voter restrictions targeting blacks.
Trump continues this tradition not by using “dog whistles,” but a foghorn of racism, religious bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia.
Trump’s personal history of racial bigotry includes a federal housing discrimination lawsuit; an ad calling for the death penalty for innocent young black males in the Central Park Five rape case; an attempt to discredit Obama’s presidency with the “birther” issue; innuendo suggesting Obama became editor of Harvard’s Law Review because of his race; a campaign demanding Obama’s educational transcripts, implying his admission to colleges rested on something other than intellectual merit; complaints that a judge was unable to treat him fairly in court because of his Hispanic heritage; and promoting false and stereotypical information about the black community.
What do blacks have to lose by electing Trump? He will appoint Supreme Court justices who do not support black interests. He will support racially discriminatory voting laws like North Carolina’s. He will not fix the damage done by the Shelby court decision to the Voting Rights Act. And he will not support a $15 minimum wage.
Blaming black and Democratic officials, this is how Trump addressed their constituents: “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed.”
Who can deny there are many unmet needs and problems in urban areas? But that’s not primarily the result of black or Democratic will, ideas or leadership, but of Republican policies.
Democratic and black mayors find themselves governing “the hole” in the donut. The donut’s substance and sugar – the money for these cities – is controlled by congressional Republicans, governors, and state legislatures dominated by rural and suburban constituencies.
Failing cities are not the result of liberal and progressive policies. Democratic ideas and programs that were working have been gutted. They were purposefully discredited, defunded, and attacked ideologically by the very Republicans who now do the complaining. Conservative privatization and states’ rights ideologies undercut any ideas or programs that advanced the public good or made us a more perfect union.
There are more black elected officials, but their actual power has been weakened through redistricting schemes of stacking and packing. Policy and budget resources are controlled by Republicans, not Democratic and black mayors.
Blacks haven’t given “blind support” to either party; rather, they have supported both parties when they’ve earned it. Lincoln and the Radical Republicans earned black support. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, won the Civil War, and ended slavery. Radical Republicans supported the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and Reconstruction.
When Republicans wearied of advancing black interests, less-than-perfect Democrats began earning black support with better opportunities under FDR’s New Deal. Today’s Democrats are more like Lincoln’s Republicans.
Truman desegregated the military; LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, launched a War on Poverty, and passed Medicare and Medicaid.
Blacks aren’t giving Democrats “blind loyalty” and don’t have permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Blacks support those who support them, as all intelligent voters do. Blacks, in coalition, will demand that a Clinton administration more fully address the interests of those most in need as we work to make America greater.
Rev. Jesse Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He was a leader in the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was twice a candidate for President of the United States.
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. It is reprinted here with the permission of Rainbow PUSH.
Photo caption: Trump supporters raise a Confederate flag with the slogan “Trump 2016” at a Trump-Pence election rally in Kissimmee, Florida on August 11. | Evan Vucci / AP