Goldwater and Reagan Were Wrong

barry goldwater
Barry Goldwater (Wikipedia)

The Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election are a good example of why a growing number of Americans believe the party is destined to be relegated to the dustbins of history because it’s been hijacked by right-wing radicals and loud-mouthed buffoons.  But modern Republicans, no matter how dysfunctional their politics might be, didn’t ruin the party. Much of the fault lies with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

The party began to lose its respectability 1964. That was the year that President Lyndon Johnson responded to the African-American Civil Rights Movement by signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had been passed by Congress with bipartisan support. Johnson eloquently described the importance of the law in a nationwide TV speech before he signed it at the White House on July 2, 1964. It was certainly one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history.

Later that month Republican presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller was booed during a speech at the Republican national convention in San Francisco when he warned against the growing influence of right-wing extremists within his party. The Republicans went on to nominate conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona as their presidential candidate in the 1964 election. Goldwater had opposed the Civil Rights Act in the Senate and his presidential campaign emphasized states’ rights, despite the fact that this was the rallying cry of Southern segregationists. He even argued that business owners had the right to decide whom to hire, whom to do business with, and whom to serve in their stores or restaurants. (Sound familiar?)

Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan Opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Goldwater was defeated by Johnson in a landslide, but he’s still considered the father of the modern conservative movement because the radical policies he espoused didn’t die with his defeat. They were carried forward by former Hollywood movie actor Ronald Reagan, who had given an eloquent speech in support of Goldwater during the election. Reagan’s speech didn’t change the election’s outcome, but it did make him a star among conservatives. He succeeded in getting elected Governor of California in 1966. In 1968 students at the state’s universities conducted non-violent strikes to demand equal access for minorities to public higher education, the hiring of more minority faculty members, and the addition of ethnic studies classes. Reagan encouraged local police to violently break up the strikes.

He was re-elected in 1970 and then ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nominations in 1968 and 1976, and finally succeeded in becoming the party’s nominee in 1980 and subsequently defeated Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan (Wikipedia)

Reagan launched his successful 1980 presidential campaign by giving a speech at the Neshoba County Fair, near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered in 1964 by the Ku Klux Klan. He said he opposed the Civil Rights Act and believed in states’ rights because he didn’t think the federal government should intrude into local local matters. He also refused an offer from the NAACP to speak at their 1980 annual convention.

Reagan and Goldwater should never be forgiven for their opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Their argument that it wasn’t about racial justice but about the abuse of federal power was wrong. It’s part of their political legacy, which is largely responsible for the ideological bankruptcy that’s destroying the modern Republican Party.

Donald Trump’s 2015 Phoenix Campaign Rally

donald trump's phoenix rally 2015
People waiting in 106 degree heat to hear Donald Trump speak, Phoenix Convention Center, July 11, 2015 (Jeff Burgess)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held a campaign rally during the afternoon of July 11 at the Phoenix Convention Center – and I was there.

I’m not a Trump supporter. I consider him a con artist and a jerk. But local Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s mounting legal troubles, the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage, and South Carolina’s decision to take down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds had given me hope that the U.S. had turned a cultural corner and the right-wing purveyors of ignorance and hate were finally on the run.

After all, it had only been a week since Trump had received widespread condemnation for claiming that most of the undocumented immigrants from Mexico were rapists. And Arpaio, who was scheduled to speak before Trump, had recently been forced to admit that his office had committed racial profiling against Latinos in response to a lawsuit file by the U.S. Department of Justice. Since Arizona’s population is about a third Latino, and most of them live in the Phoenix area, I figured there’d be a good turnout of protestors. I wanted to join them and help celebrate a bright new dawn for politics in Arizona. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement.

I drove downtown with a like-minded friend to the Phoenix Convention Center and discovered there was an enormous line of people waiting to get in. Afterwards, Trump claimed that more than 10,000 people attended the rally, although the local Arizona Republic newspaper claimed it was only about 4,200. But I think Trump’s number was closer to the truth. The convention center building takes up an entire city block and the line of people waiting to get in wrapped around the building twice. It was even more depressing to see that so many people were willing to wait outside without water in health-threatening 106 degree to hear him speak.

young latino protestor
Young protestor, Phoenix Convention Center, July 11, 2015 (Jeff Burgess)

Still, we didn’t give up and looked for some protestors. We didn’t see many as we approached the building, just a few scattered about with signs denouncing Trump and Arpaio. So we decided to walk around the entire place to look for more.

At one of the corners there was a lot of foot traffic from Trump supporters using the crosswalks to get to the event. There was a single protestor with a sign standing near the corner to greet them. We overheard one of Trump’s supporters complain to a Phoenix police officer that the protestor shouldn’t be allowed to obstruct pedestrians, and the officer should arrest him for breaking the law. The policeman told the man to keep moving and then rolled his eyes and said, “It takes all kinds.”

We finally found most of the protestors grouped in front of the event’s main entrance, on the building’s north side. There were only about 100 of them, but they were well organized and had plenty of signs and were using bullhorns to coordinate some clever chants. It was encouraging to see that all races were represented. Many of the Trump supporters, which were almost entirely white, seemed dumbfounded to encounter people that disagreed with them. (Maybe they were worried they were going to get raped.)

The protest leaders with the bullhorns would change the chants every few minutes. Their best one was probably, “No more hate!” But I also liked, “White silence is racism!” My friend’s wife had suggested, “Don’t let Trump, stump Arizona!” He asked one of the young latina protest leaders if she wanted to use it and she said yes and it was a success.

At one point the Trump supporters waiting in line began chanting “USA!” But the protestors countered by chanting it even louder, drowning them out. That was a good moment.

Arizona’s National Reputation Gets Another Black Eye
“Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” – Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Every now and then one of the Trump supporters would break from the line and approach the fence the police had set up to separate the two groups to launch a personal verbal assault against the protestors. There was one old white woman with long, unkempt gray hair, dressed in cowboy jeans and boots with a Western style shirt of red, white, and blue that kept running over to scream at the protestors while pointing a hate-filled finger in their faces. The protestors would yell back at her and a policeman would come over to stand in front of her and tell her to calm down. She would nod her head and return to the line, but she came back to scream at the protestors again at least three times.

It was hot and we didn’t have any shade or water so we only stayed about a half hour. As we walked back around the building to go to the parking lot across the street we still couldn’t see any end to the line of people waiting to get in.

On the way home we talked about our experience and we both agreed that it made us ashamed to be Arizonans to see that there were so many people in our state that supported Trump. We also agreed that maybe we should consider moving to a more educated part of the country. The only encouraging thing about our experience was the realization that Trump was helping to make it clear to more Americans that the modern Republican Party bears no resemblance to the party of Lincoln.

Confederate Flag Day, March 4

confederate flag
(Wikipedia)

The political pressure to take down the Confederate battle flag flying at South Carolina’s state capitol has grown stronger in the wake of the execution-style murders of nine black people by white racist Dylann Roof during a Bible study session at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last week. For many Americans, the flag is a symbol of racial hatred. Many Southerners, however, claim that it’s just a symbol of Southern pride and heritage. But that’s not true.

First of all, the flag is a reminder that the Southern states violated the Constitution and rebelled from the U.S. and formed their Confederacy in 1861 in response to Abraham Lincoln’s election. Their primary concern was that Lincoln’s election threatened the Southern economic institution of slavery. Many Southerners to this day claim that the real issue was states’ rights, but the right that caused the problem was their right to maintain the legality of slavery.

last confederate flag
The Last Confederate Flag

Many Southerners also like to claim that most Confederate soldiers didn’t fight to preserve slavery, but were just defending their homelands from invaders from the North. But the North didn’t start the war. The Civil War began when Confederate forces, with the approval of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, began to bombard, without provocation, the U.S. forces stationed in Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor on April 12, 1861. Furthermore, the Confederate army invaded non-Confederate states several times during the war, including the states of Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. They also invaded the territory of New Mexico and declared a new territory named Arizona in the southern portion of that territory. Despite these facts, many Confederate sympathizers disingenuously call the conflict The War of Northern Aggression.

The conduct of the Confederates during the war shows otherwise too. The U.S. government began recruiting black soldiers into the Union Army after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Jefferson Davis responded with an order that any black Union soldiers that were captured by Confederate troops were to be executed or returned to slavery. Before the Battle of Olustee in Florida in February of 1864, for example, Confederate soldiers were told not to take “any negro prisoners.” Confederate troops led by Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest captured Fort Pillow in Tennessee in April of 1864. The fort’s Union garrison numbered about 600 soldiers – about evenly split between black and white. But only about 20% of the black soldiers were taken prisoner while about 60% of the white soldiers survived. The battle came to be called the Fort Pillow Massacre because Confederate soldiers were accused of killing black soldiers who were trying to surrender. Forrest became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the war ended.

Flying the Confederate Flag Isn’t A Tribute to the South’s Heritage
“That cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” – U.S. Grant

Furthermore, the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina state capitol wasn’t put there as tribute to the South’s heritage. It was raised in 1961 supposedly to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, but in actuality as a protest against court-ordered school integration in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision wherein it found separate public schools for black and white students were discriminatory and unconstitutional.

It’s legal to display and fly the Confederate flag because of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech in the U.S. Constitution. But that doesn’t mean that it should be officially displayed by local governments. Last week, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that it was legal for Texas to prohibit the issuance of vanity license plates that displayed the Confederate flag. But this practice is still allowed in South Carolina and eight other Southern states. And the Confederate flag is still a part of Mississippi’s state flag, even though it’s the state with the highest percentage of African-American citizens in the U.S.

“I don’t believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors,” – John McCain

In response to the growing criticism about flying Confederate flags on public property, local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) have begun promoting March 4 as Confederate Flag Day. That’s the day in 1861 when the first Confederate flag was hoisted over the initial Confederate capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. SCV members are encouraged to salute the flag by proclaiming, “I salute the Confederate flag with affection, reverence and undying devotion to the Cause for which it stands.”

Confederate flags, of course, should still be flown at military cemeteries, Civil War battlefield sites, and museums. But it’s time for local government’s to quit allowing the display of Confederate flags on other public property. Why would any nation sanction the public display of a flag used by a rebellion that killed and wounded over 640,000 loyal soldiers?

Update

On July 10, 2015, a crowd of thousands cheered when the Confederate flag flying on South Carolina’s statehouse grounds was permanently taken down after the state’s legislature voted to remove it.

On September 26, 2017, somebody left Confederate flags with cotton balls attached on billboards at American University, in Washington, D.C., after the school introduced a new Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center.

On April 17, 2018, white high school students in Auburn, Michigan, parked their trucks displaying Confederate flags across the street from a local high school.

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