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George Wallace, arch segregationist

Lots of stories lately suggest that the so called president has decided to go full George Wallace for his reelection campaign next year. This will be very ugly, but the silver lining, if there is one, is that it means he is highly unlikely to win.

Lately, Trump has taken to picking on Don Lemon, one of the moderators of the Democratic presidential candidate debate. It might make sense, a little, anyway, for Trump to attack one of the Democratic candidates who participated in the debate, since he will have to run against one of them next year, but it makes zero sense for him to attack one of the moderators.

Before he set upon Don Lemon, he repeatedly attacked Rep. Elijah Cummings and Cummings’ home city of Baltimore. To state what may be obvious. Lemon and Cummings have in common that both are black.

Trump’s attacks on prominent African Americans have reinforced the widespread perception that he is racist.

Trump almost certainly has no idea who George Wallace was. Wallace was the governor of Alabama, a state that has again distinguished itself for its zeal to discriminate against its large African American population.

Wallace was a particular low point in the ugly history of racism in Alabama and the United States more generally, proclaiming in 1963, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Of course, he lost that battle the next year when Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial segregation in the United States.

In 1968, Wallace ran for president as an independent. He had been a Democrat, one of the last, die hard Democratic segregationists whom Lyndon Johnson had to bypass with help from moderate Republicans (they used to exist, long before Susan Collins finally exterminated the breed) to get the Civil Rights Act passed.

Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968, using the “silent majority” schtick to appeal to more moderate Southerners and lots of other white people who were willing and able to ignore the dog whistle racism in the appeal.

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1968 presidential election

Nixon thus started the process that is now mostly complete of luring the “white supremacists” to the Republican Party from their historic home in the Democratic Party.

Wallace won five states, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

If Trump continues with his full Wallace approach, he might win a few more states. Humphrey likely won Texas because he had been Vice President under Texan Lyndon Johnson.

But the evidence overall strongly suggests that Nixon was right — white Americans will tolerate far more racism than they ought, but they prefer subtle racism.

In 2016, Trump’s racism was subtle in the operative sense because he directed it at Mexicans and Muslims. African Americans smelled that rat. Only 8% of them voted for Trump, the lowest percentage of any identifiable group. They well know that racism directed at Mexican and Muslims can and will easily get redirected to them as soon as Trump wants to do so.

Now the racism is no longer subtle. He’s not even trying. Or, he is trying to be as overtly racist as he can be.

Trump has shown repeatedly that he knows effectively nothing about the history of the United States. There is no good reason to think he knows anything about the 1968 presidential election or the strategies of the various candidates. He got lucky reading the mood of enough of the nation in 2016 to eek out a victory in the electoral college.

With his overt racism, he very likely misreads the mood of far too many Americans. Nixon specifically chose not to compete directly with Wallace in 1968 because he knew that Wallace’s overt racism would alienate more voters than it was worth.

Enduring overt racism from a presidential candidate will be perilous for black and brown people. It will be all the more important for white people to be explicit in their opposition to racism as Trump continues to attack African Americans between now and November 2020.

But we can beat Trump.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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