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The White Vote and the Presidency

The story goes that when President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965, he turned to an aide and said he had a feeling that as a result, the Democratic Party had “lost the South” (meaning of course the white Southern vote) for a generation. In fact, if he said that, he was far underestimating the damage: the Democratic Party had lost the white vote nationwide, at least in presidential elections, permanently.

Since LBJ’s time, four Democrats have been elected president: Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Joe Biden in 2020. None of them received a majority of the white vote. Carter came closest, at 48%, probably because he drew votes from some white Southerners who had otherwise abandoned the party. Last November, Biden drew just 41% of the white vote to the dictator’s 58%, exactly identical to the proportion of the white vote with which George W. Bush won re-election in 2004. The dictator did not prevail this time, because whites made up only 67% of the electorate, down from 77% when the younger Bush squeaked through to re-election, and 89% when the man from Plains, Georgia won.

Given this fact, the logic of the Fascist Party (aka GOP) strategy becomes clear. Since Nixon developed his “Southern Strategy,” the party has leaned on white racial resentment to power it to victory, not just in presidential elections but at all levels of government. Pre-fascist takeover, this was achieved through so-called dog whistling, such as Reagan condemning “welfare queens,” by which everyone understood he meant black women, Bush the Elder’s notorious “Willie Horton” ad in 1988, by which he tied his Democratic opponent to a “scary-looking” black male criminal, and so on. With the dictator’s takeover of the party, the racial appeal has become much more blatant, although even he is careful to speak of “crime-infested Democrat-run cities,” which, again, is understood to refer to “black criminals.”

The former GOP faced a choice as the proportion of white voters in the electorate shrank: it could broaden its racial appeal, as an internal party report famously suggested after Obama’s 2012 re-election, or it could focus on white backlash to the exclusion of everything else. Of course, the dictator made the choice for the party, but his “reward” was a share of the white vote not noticeably different from what previous Republican presidents had received since the 1960s. Which was barely enough to prevail while losing the popular vote in 2016, thanks to 70% of the electorate that year still being white, and the electoral college “tilt” toward rural, Republican-dominated states. This formula, of course, did not work in 2020, as millions more non-whites turned out to depose the man who had done so much to insult, humiliate, and turn back the clock for them.

Nevertheless, the national GOP has decided to stick with its new, intensified white backlash focus, which now demands that they jettison democracy and endorse violent means to hold onto power. That is why Republicans in Congress could not convict the dictator for his bloody coup attempt, even though individual members were personally threatened by the mob that invaded the Capitol, and it is why the party is now properly described as fascist, and not just as rhetorical hyperbole.

The former Republican Party therefore poses an enormous threat to the continuance of American democracy. This is indisputably true at the national level, where figures like Senator Mitt Romney who remain willing to accept an adverse result in a democratic election stand isolated and condemned by other so-called Republicans. It is largely true at the state and local levels as well, where more obscure figures like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who are not willing to break the law to fix elections are similarly scorned, condemned, and subjected to death threats. The GOP can no longer be salvaged.

What shall we say about the tens of millions of white voters who continue to vote for it, despite its transformation into a radically undemocratic entity? At first blush, we are tempted to despair of the possibility they will change. If 56% of white voters chose Reagan in 1980 to send those welfare queens packing, when at least they had the excuse of Carter’s bad economy and the Iranian hostage crisis, but 58% huzzah’d the dictator in 2020 for his violent attacks on Black Lives Matter protestors, then nothing can or ever will pry them loose from the defense of white supremacy–not even the plague and economic collapse that the dictator brought them. All that’s left is for the white minority to join with the thumping majorities of all non-white groups who reject the dictator and his fascism, and defend our country against the violent, dangerous, incorrigibly racist white majority.

This may yet prove to be the only course open to us, but I cling to a slim reed of hope, remembering an incident that occurred soon after the 2016 election. A black student was shoved off the sidewalk at Baylor University in Texas by a white man who called her the n-word and said she wasn’t allowed to walk on the sidewalk. The next day hundreds of (mostly white) people accompanied her to class. Sixty years ago in the South, that wouldn’t have happened, and in fact her way would have been blocked by white mobs. And yet some of these same people must have voted for the dictator. Nor was that an isolated event. So we must conclude that an unknown number of those faceless “white voters” may yet be redeemed for humanity, and the American democratic republic.

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