Submitted by David Turnoy
A letter to the editor by Phil Peterson appearing in the Aug. 12 Sounder was entitled “History – Revision by Omission”. In that article the author traced the history of the two major political parties, extolling the virtues of the Republicans as the party of Lincoln and the party that ended slavery. Meanwhile, the Democrats were the party of slavery and later segregation. This is all true, and thank goodness for the Republican Party electing Lincoln and giving black people a chance after the Civil War with legislation and aid during Reconstruction.
But Mr. Peterson ends his article in the 1960s, which is why his title is very curious, as he omits the last 55 years. In the mid-1960s Democratic President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, knowing it would cost the Democratic Party the support of white voters in the South. Yet he signed these bills because it was the right thing to do. And sure enough, Richard Nixon used the “Southern Strategy” to portray himself as the law and order candidate, consciously appealing to many white Southerners’ racial grievances in order to gain their support. Over the next couple of decades, what had been a solid Democratic South became a solid Republican South.
In the 1980s Ronald Reagan complained about black welfare queens, and his racially tinged rhetoric gained more support in the South. In 2005 the chair of the Republican National Committee even admitted and apologized for the role of his party in exploiting racial polarization to win elections and ignoring the black vote. In 2013 the majority Republican Supreme Court overturned part of the Voting Rights Act, leading to the kind of voter suppression used to deny Stacy Abrams victory in the Georgia governor’s race in 2018, where the incumbent secretary of state was able to direct the election while simultaneously running for governor. Today the Republicans have a full-fledged bigot in the White House trying to suppress the vote so he can be re-elected, as he knows that if we have a fair election where everyone gets to vote, he will be badly defeated.
So, I am really not sure what Mr. Peterson’s point is. The Democrats used to be the party of racism, but no longer. In fact, Democrats elected the first black president. The Republicans used to be the party that stood against racism, but over the past 55 years they have become the party that exploits it. Leaving out a major part of the story is a way to support a certain point, but it isn’t honest communication.