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Republicans Will Learn Nothing from a Trump Defeat

Historians in the News
tags: Republican Party, conservatism, Donald Trump, 2020 Election



Romantic illusions die hard in America. So many fell on Election Night 2020 that it will be months, maybe years, before we compile a full inventory. We can start by acknowledging a paramount reality that contradicts the idealistic Obama-Biden catechism: There is a Blue America and there is a Red America, but there is no United States of America.

A Biden victory cannot mask the fact that this country is divided, 55-45 in raw numbers but 50-50 for all practical intents and purposes, regardless of the Democratic margin in the presidential popular vote. The fundamental schisms pitting American tribes against each other would remain intact even in the fantastical event that the Electoral College were by some political miracle abolished in the interest of democratizing what we are overly fond of calling the world’s greatest democracy.

Much of our immutable disunity is about race, of course. A lot of it is about the long-running class and cultural wars in which the coastal elites square off against the aggrieved who resent and despise them. Next to these intractable conflicts, the traditional ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats over governance and foreign policy seem secondary. Indeed, our disunity has proved immutable even as party identifications (and ideologies) have shifted on both sides of the chasm over the decades.

For all the durability of this discord, liberals have long had a habit of telling ourselves that peace is at hand. After the election of 1964, in what the historian Rick Perlstein has called “one of the most dramatic failures of collective discernment in the history of American journalism,” the reigning pundits at the Times and The New Yorker, not to mention the esteemed historians Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and James MacGregor Burns, declared the conservative movement and the GOP dead. Hadn’t the Lyndon Johnson juggernaut humiliated Barry Goldwater and the states of the old Confederacy that were his only visible electoral base? The legislative triumphs of the civil-rights movement that LBJ brought to fruition were celebrated as further proof that America had overcome the original sin that had prompted the Civil War. But as surely as the truce of Appomattox would give way to Reconstruction and Jim Crow, so the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was followed by a hail of assassins’ bullets and ensuing waves of racial unrest that would help propel the rise of George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.

So in the increasingly likely event of a Joe Biden victory, please let us not tell each other now that we are on our way to “healing.” Or that what Biden framed as a battle for the soul of America has been won, or even placed on hold. Yes, there was record voter turnout. But even as we congratulate ourselves on our enduring faith in the franchise, we must recognize that one of the two political parties is routinely engaged in sabotaging free elections with voter-suppression efforts aimed at the minority voters it cannot win over at the ballot box. These anti-democratic power grabs became a GOP staple decades before Donald Trump, culminating in the actions of a George W. Bush–anointed chief justice, John Roberts, whose Supreme Court shredded the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As Roberts famously put it in his 2007 opinion for the plurality, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Since then, discrimination on the basis of race has only expanded in states like Georgia and Florida, where Black voting rights have been cavalierly undermined and trashed.

Read entire article at New York Magazine

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