I’ve noticed on Facebook that some people are taking an ingenious approach to defending Trump and the Republicans: pointing out that it was the Republican party that presided over the abolition of slavery, and was generally more supportive of women’s right to vote. This is a nice slight of hand that appears to work mainly because people don’t know much history. “What happened to the Republican Party?” one commenter asked. Well, here is a very brief summary:
The Democrats were the dominant party in the South, both before the Civil War and after. And especially after the Civil War most southerns especially despised the Republican Party because of the Reconstruction. But in 1964 President Lyndon Johnson (a Democrat) signed the Civil Rights Act over the objections of the Southern wing of his party. Nixon (his successor, a Republican) activated his “Southern Strategy” to win over racists, and over the next 30 years it succeeded. The South went from overwhelmingly Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican by the 1990s. Meanwhile the Republican Party has been running an intentionally racist (if more of the “dog whistle” variety up until recently) platform for 50 years. “Dog whistle” racism is coded for deniability while signaling and reinforcing racist views, for example decrying the non-existent “welfare queens” or referring to “inner city” problems.
So that is why the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and the Reconstruction, has ceased to represent progressive causes, and why it is downright misleading to pretend that if Republicans were progressive 150 years ago, they have the main claim to being progressive today.