There was a time when a future Republican President, George Herbert Walker Bush, was a proponent of civil rights. As a U.S. representative from Texas 7, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Notably, it was unpopular in his district, as it was in most of Texas. Previously, Democrats controlled Texas, to the extent that the Harris County Republican Party was seen as little more than a coffee shop. In fact Bush was not alone and it was nary a generation ago where a good portion of the Republican party was explicitly pro-Civil Rights.
Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic whip who managed the bill on the Senate floor, enlisted the aid of Republican Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois. Dirksen, although a longtime supporter of civil rights, had opposed the bill because he objected to certain provisions. Humphrey therefore worked with him to redraft the controversial language and make the bill more acceptable to Republicans. Once the changes were made, Dirksen gained key votes for cloture from his party colleagues with a powerful speech calling racial integration “an idea whose time has come.”
On June 10, a coalition of 27 Republicans and 44 Democrats ended the filibuster when the Senate voted 71 to 29 for cloture, thereby limiting further debate. This marked the first time in its history that the Senate voted to end debate on a civil rights bill. Nine days later, the Senate passed the most sweeping civil rights legislation in the nation’s history. The House followed by accepting the Senate version on July 2. When President Johnson signed the bill into law that same day in a nationally televised broadcast, he was joined by civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been instrumental in leading the public mobilization efforts in favor of civil rights legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 remains one of the most significant legislative achievements in American history.
27 Republicans. Now, if the President issued a resolution that said the sky was blue, you couldn’t find more than a few in both houses combined to sign onto it. We all know about Nixon with his noxious “Southern Strategy.” But in recent years what is going on has gone far beyond that.
Neo-Nazis see Russia as the heart of white nationalism, with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke describing it as “the key to white survival.” Richard Spencer, a prominent white supremacist figurehead, and spouse of pro-Russia blogger Nina Kouprianova, described the nation as “the most powerful white power in the world,” while many others in these circles now see Putin as the de facto “leader of the free world….”
Let’s go all the way back to 1980, when then candidate Ronald Reagan decided very deliberately to launch his campaign in the city that was the scene of a horriffic triple homicide of three civil rights workers.
The murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, also known as the Freedom Summer murders, the Mississippi civil rights workers’ murders or the Mississippi Burning murders, refers to three activists who were abducted and murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in June 1964 during the Civil Rights Movement. The victims were James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York City.
The three men had traveled from Meridian to the community of Longdale to talk with congregation members at a black church that had been burned; the church had been a center of community organization. The trio was arrested following a traffic stop for speeding outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, escorted to the local jail, and held for a number of hours. As the three left town in their car, they were followed by law enforcement and others. Before leaving Neshoba County, their car was pulled over. The three were abducted, driven to another location, and shot to death at close range. The three men’s bodies were taken to an earthen dam where they were buried.
Only one person, the aptly named Edgar Ray Killen, was ever prosecuted for it, and received 60 years for three counts of manslaughter. He died in prison in January of 2018.
So Reagan took the Nixon plan and ran with it, although the Republican party would still use dog whistles for much of the next 30 years. In 1988, the whistles became more audible with the infamous Wille Horton ad, that according to observers at the time, ended any chance Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis had of winning the White House.
Now we can not point to one moment in time where the once stridently “anti-commie” GOP officially became a propaganda tool for the Kremlin, but there is one key event that stands out, involving former California Congressperson Dana Rohrabacher:
It is a lonely pursuit these days, defending Russia in Congress as outrage over Kremlin aggression grows louder. But Representative Dana Rohrabacher speaks up for Moscow with pride.
He is, he says, a bit frosted with the Russian government in one respect.“I kind of wish I would get some sort of word back,” Mr. Rohrabacher, a California Republican, said Thursday shortly before the House voted 399 to 19 to offer aid to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia. “But I haven’t even gotten so much as a thank you.”
At a time where Congress was almost universally aligned against Russian aggression Rohrbacher and his 18 comrades stand out, notably mostly from the Tea Party wing, the fascistic cancer borne of outrage over the election of a black man that would eventually engulf the entire party and leave it in ruins. Rohrabacher had plenty to say in defense of Putin-
“There have been dramatic reforms in Russia that are not being recognized by my colleagues,” he said. “The churches are full. There are opposition papers being distributed on every newsstand in Russia. You’ve got people demonstrating in the parks. You’ve got a much different Russia than it was under Communism, but you’ve got a lot of people who still can’t get over that Communism has fallen.”
Allow me to nod condescendingly. But a certain ex KGB agent turned aggressor had long since targeted the young Republican, and party in general, for grooming.
Early in Rohrabacher’s congressional career in 1990 or 1991, KGB agent and deputy mayor of Saint Petersburg Vladimir Putin and two other Russians entered Rohrabacher’s congressional office in Washington D.C. who subsequently became close friends according to Rohrabacher during a 2013 interview with KPCC.
On September 8, 2008, at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Rohrabacher argued that the Georgians had initiated a recent military confrontation in the ongoing Russia–Georgia war.
Claiming to have lost an drunken arm wrestling match to then Mayor Putin, Rohrabacher goes on to gleefully recount the meeting.
“About 1990 or 1991, communism had just fallen. The Soviet Union back now was Russia, and a group of young political leaders came into my office. They wanted to meet me because I’d been Reagan’s speechwriter,” said Rohrabacher. “I asked them, ‘By the way I’m spending the weekend here, if you want to play some American football with me and my buddies?”
“I didn’t know who he was then. He was the Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg. That’s all we knew, but he did have a huge bodyguard, so that did sort of give one a little hint that maybe he’s more important than just St. Petersburg. So we went out and we played touch football and Scooter Libby was one of the players. A bunch of my right wing friends were there.
“We all ended up going to this Irish Times Pub afterwards. And we were having a little bit too much to drink, I guess. Anyway, we started arguing about who won the Cold War, etc. And so we decided to settle it like men do when they’ve had too much to drink in the pub. So we got to these arm wrestling matches, and I ended up being paired off with Putin. He’s a little guy, but boy, I’ll tell yea. He put me down in a millisecond! He is tough. His muscles are just unbelievable.
Ya. I have heard that. At any rate Rohrabacher, made a curious decision at a Ukraine Congressional hearing in July of 2014.
Courtesy of Rohrabacher, at least one of Putin’s Reaganite fans has appeared before Congress to voice the Russian perspective or, perhaps, to silence or confuse opposition to it. For a hearing on the Ukraine crisis before his subcommittee on July 29, 2014, Rohrabacher picked as a witness Anthony Salvia, the executive director of the American Institute in Ukraine, a little-known nonprofit. Salvia served in the Reagan administration as a midlevel official in the State Department. Before the committee, he gave a presentation that papered over Russian aggression in Ukraine. He also neglected to mention that he is a director of a public affairs firm called the Global Strategic Communications Group. In 2005, the firm registered to lobby for the leadership of Rodina, a right-wing Russian political party. The Rodina chairman at the time was Dmitry Rogozin, the combative deputy prime minister who feasted with Rohrabacher in Moscow.
From that point on, in my opinion, the puppeteering of Trump was all systems go. Less than a year later he would announce his candidacy for the Presidency, and well, we know what happened after that. But that is only part of this story.
..Back then, the Putin fan club was limited to seemingly fringe figures like Pat Buchanan (“Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative?” he asked, answering in the affirmative), a bunch of cranks organized around the Ron Paul Institute and some anti-gay marriage bitter-enders so resentful at their domestic political loss they would ally themselves with an authoritarian regime that not so long ago they would have condemned for exporting “godless communism.”
But despite all of my research, the Yuri Milner ties to AirBnb, Facebook, and AliBaba, it appears to me that the single biggest reason that Putin has been so successful in not just co-opting, be redefining the American right wing is due to, wait for it..
Russia has been targeting the American right since at least 2013, the year Putin enacted a law targeting pro-gay rights organizing and delivered a state-of-the-nation address extolling Russia’s “traditional values” and assailing the West’s “genderless and infertile” liberalism. That same year, a Kremlin-connected think tank released a report entitled, “Putin: World Conservativism’s New Leader.”
From the moment Putin targeted pro-LGBT groups, he found a sympathetic ear in right wing circles. By 2013, any semblance of thoughtful conservatism had long since been exiting the Republican party. In its place was the remnants of Reagan Democrats, largely bitter and unprepared for a changing world, reactionary fascists, dominionists, and yes, white supremacists.
Charlottesville laid bare the truth for all to see.
It seems to me that Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and any other social media you can think of was an opportunity. And I note, this would have required no ill-intent on the part of the creators, just a skillful approach to freely available services. And I mention skillful, because much of the efforts to utilize social media and the like were done concurrently with the ever present efforts to woo the American right. How you ask? Pages.
It worked. But it was not overtly political at first. Smartly, the Russians created Facebook page after page designed to target disaffected whites, particularly in the rust belt, who had once been loyal Democrats, many in fact, pro-union, using cultural memes. It started with phantom radio station pages, usually country, posting something “cute.”
But then, it would evolve into something more bitter, but still, nostalgic.
You see nostalgia is the biggest key. Conservatism as a rule, as a concept, is antithetical to change. Nostalgia is by definition a wistful wishing for a time long passed. Liberalism is an ideology that embraces change. Therefore, you could be pro-union or pro healthcare and have these memes start to drill into your psyche. If life now is not as good as it once was, and you know that the right wing sells the “Poodle-Skirt” Kool-Aid, (actually Flav-R-Aid but that is for a different story) then who will you inevitably grow to resent?
What does this picture mean to you?
To some it rekindles memories. To others it means nothing. To me it is a persistent, and pernicious attempt to romanticize a certain era. Yes they define it as Ike and Bill Haley. Everything was convertibles and Pomade. But what were the 1950’s, really? It was the last era of unfettered white patriarchy.
It was before the push for civil and women’s rights in the 1960s, and when certain neighborhoods were, you know, “certain neighborhoods.”
“But as a Gen-Xer, how does any of that apply to me?”
Today on Facebook, even from Democrats, I see this sort of meme:
Sometimes it is not so subtle.
Yes that is a baby drinking what appears to be beer. That should never have been ok.
The point is, we never really had a chance. We never saw it coming. They absolutely played us, from the psychological warfare, to the racial divisions, to the nostalgia driven resentments. Today, the United States very title is oxymoronic, and I do not believe it is a coincidence that it is this moment in time where we see Putin launch his act of aggression.
The question is, if we somehow find ourselves faced with the prospect becoming more involved in this calamity, will the country do what it did in 1941 and 2001 and largely reunite? That, I don’t know.
Sadly, I doubt it. Putin has right wing mouthpieces apologizing for him, propagandizing us at a pace we can barely catalogue, much less answer. But none of that really matters. Putin wanted Ukraine, and though he will likely pay a heavy price to get it, perhaps crippling Russian defenses and the economy for generations, he will get his prize.
To do so, he will have completely outed himself as an aggressor the likes we have not seen since 1939, and he will have isolated himself, and his country. Perhaps in time the effect of outright sedition and aid and comfort to the enemy will sink in with even enough Republicans to bring them to their senses.
So while I do not think we will unify wholly I do believe a near-term effect will be to hand the Democrats both houses of congress in convincing numbers. As they have now been cornered by Trump’s large mouth, and exposed for what they are, I do not envision any issue, even inflation, taking precedence in this election over the invasion of Ukraine, especially as Trump’s involvement is made apparent.
I believe within two months the President’s approval will hover near 60 percent, as he slowly and methodically grinds the Russian Federation into economic dust, and that we as a party, will win no less than 25 seats in the house, and all swing Senate seats.
It is one thing to be a conservative, quite another to be disloyal to one’s own country.
But as much as I love my country, and party, even that prospect does little to quell the nausea in my stomach when I think about the people of Ukraine, one of which, is a close friend.
But yes, my political calculation is that it appears that 2022 will be remembered as the year the GOP finally blew their dog whistles too loud..
And blew out their own political eardrums.
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