Republicans like to harp on the role Democrats played down through history in defending slavery, imposing Jim Crow, battling the Civil Rights movement, and lionizing the Confederacy. It’s a complicated parlor trick, a miracle of political gaslighting, since the many of the same people who played those roles in the Democratic Party became Republicans to continue the Lost Cause. From Jesse Helms to David Duke, all the way up to Roy Moore, the old Democratic segregationists became brand new Republican “culture warriors.”
Today, which party best represents the values of the Confederates? Forget for a moment about a generation of party-switching, and the wave of former Democrats who have remade the Republican Party. Instead, look at each party’s day-to-day actions. History can be distorted into a muddle by scam artists like Dinesh D’Souza, but Republicans are making decisions every day that communicate their loyalties clear as a church bell. One of those truth-telling moments is playing out right now in the Texas Legislature.
In the Texas Senate this week, the former Party of Lincoln rammed through SB 1663, which would effectively bar local governments from removing Confederate monuments. Like most efforts to defend Jim Crow and the Confederacy, SB 1663 conceals its intention behind deceptive language about the protection of “heritage” and “monuments.” This gaslighting always accompanies efforts to protect The Lost Cause, because the cause is utterly indefensible in the open. As Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out, “There are no racists in America,” the white nationalist agenda leans on deceit and evasion to escape the revulsion it deserves.
Why are Republicans lining up against Democrats in Texas to protect the legacy of the Confederacy? Because the parties changed sides in the period between the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the late 1990’s. Though it took time for the party-switching to extend down the local level, no Democratic Presidential nominee has won a majority of white voters since 1964. In Southern states, which just a few years ago were still dominated by Democrats, support for the GOP among white men is now practically universal. If there are any white male Democrats in office across the South, you’ll have to search diligently to find them. A party that barely existed in any form in the South until the 1990’s is today, thanks to a flood of segregationist refugees, America’s Party of White Men.
Republicans will still occasionally mention Lincoln in ads or speeches, but when it’s time to pass laws they side with the Confederacy. Conroe Republican, Brandon Creighton, sponsored the bill to preserve Texas’ defense of the Confederacy. In a patronizing defense of his abhorrent bill, Creighton deployed the “lots of black friends” feint, explaining that there’s no one he respects more than his black colleagues whose passionate opposition he ignored.
Travel across Germany today and you’ll struggle to find Nazi symbols anywhere outside a museum. Germans have placed the horrors of their past in an appropriate setting, part of a determined effort to learn from terrible errors. Good luck finding a statue of Stalin in Poland or the Czech Republic. The monuments we keep reflect the values we cherish. Meanwhile, our Nazis remain on granite pedestals in major Texas cities. Their shadow is a potent, living harassment to non-whites who might try to assert their humanity.
Creighton offered this justification for preserving Confederate monuments in Texas:
I fear that we’ll look back and regret that this was a period where deleting history was more important than learning from it.
Here’s the question – what history lesson does he want the public to learn? Those statues teach a lesson every day to young black or brown Texans. That lesson is that violence will defeat any effort to gain their basic human rights in Texas, just as it has in the past. Thanks to that lesson, Texas consistently ranks at the bottom in voter participation. Thanks to that lesson, young people of color grow up in Texas with the knowledge that their nominally democratic government will neither respect or represent them.
What lessons is Creighton voting to teach? He’ll teach black children that the whites who slaughtered and enslaved their ancestors paid no price then, and will pay no price now. Those who murdered their ancestors were in fact raised up as models for future generations of whites. There was no Nuremberg after the Civil War. There was no reckoning for white supremacists after the Civil Rights Acts. The Lost Cause rides on.
Creighton, who by no accident is a Southern Baptist, wants to enjoy the comfort and privileges of white supremacy while washing his hands of its bloody price. It’s the polite bargain of the genteel racist, the upstanding member of the White Citizens’ Council who distances himself from the hooded riders who perform his labor. That blood won’t wash clean.
Those who want to keep Confederate monuments in their places have only one objective, white-washing our history. They are fighting to retain the hallowed status of slaveholders and traitors. What do you figure that makes them?
Republicans can talk all they want about the civil rights legacy they inherited from the party they captured. Their actions speak the truth while their mouths lie. Republicans will defend traitors at the price of your freedom, because they’ve abandoned their attachment to the Republic we share. They’ve made their choice and they must be made to own the consequences.