Race and the Republican Party
By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
The era of white-male-dominated politics has ended in these United States, and for us white males, this is somewhat disconcerting because we have always enjoyed this unearned privilege. But, it can’t help but be better for our country since our elected leaders are now more reflective of the demographics in the country. I have been seeing it coming for quite a while. Hence, for almost a year, you might recall that I called for Rubio to be on the Republican national ticket. But, no, Romney and his advisors chose Paul Ryan, a very Midwestern white man who could not even carry his home state of Wisconsin. Who can really doubt that Rubio would not have helped the GOP to carry the State of Florida?
Yes, we all know that race, ethnicity, and gender should have nothing to do with politics. But, they do, and they always have. When someone asks me to help them win a political race, the very first thing that I want to know (assuming that I have seen this person in person and know the race/ethnicity) is what the demographics of the district are. This is all-important. You ignore this to your own peril. I remember one time when a very influential black Republican (who now holds an important position with the UGA Administration) came to my office and asked me to help him run against an incumbent white Democratic state representative. Knowing the demographics of the district, I told him that he didn’t have a chance of winning and that I preferred not wasting my time. He ran anyway. He was creamed. I didn’t waste my time nor did I lose an ounce of sleep.
I remember in this same area of the same county about the same time that a white Republican lady who had just won the Republican Primary was vying against a white Democratic lady to fill the seat of a person who chose to run for the State House. I knew that with just a little help from certain black leaders that this Republican lady could win this seat. She was a nice lady and had the backing of some very influential and wealthy supporters. She just needed a nudge. She just needed about 15% to 20% of the black vote in the district. I felt confident that I could help her in this respect because of my rather close association with the black community and black leaders in this county. I was willing to help try to “sell” her to the right people. She came to my office and nicely informed me that she was afraid of soiling her “good name” by being directly or indirectly associated with me. What chutzpah! Ha! I suppose that I was too “radical” for her. My “radicalism” was essentially attributed to my association with minorities in the county, not to any criminal or avant-garde or crazy activities. She was worried about what her church people would think – and she was very active in the Big First National Baptist Church of the county. I also was polite. I politely told her that her fellow church members could kiss my ass (if they took a number and stood in line). True story. I was a little more acerbic in the old days. I didn’t help her, and her ass didn’t win either. Ha!
Race and politics. Yes, they go together. This is why we have a primary run-off system in the South. Most other states don’t have this. Race is the major reason that so many Southerners switched their allegiances to the GOP from the Democratic Party during the mid-1960s. Remember Texas’s President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his push for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act? White Southerners began to view LBJ as a non-Southerner and a traitor. What was once called the “Solid South” of Democratic voting in Presidential races became the “Southern Strategy” of Richard Nixon and subsequent Republican nominees for President. The “race card” is always played, ever how subtly from both sides now, both by the Democrats and Republicans. Remember how the race card was played on Bill Clinton by the Obama Campaign in 2008 as the former President was campaigning for his wife in South Carolina? That move really stung Clinton. He was obviously hurt badly by this. But, he too had apparently made comments of racial overtones to the late Senator Ted Kennedy about the young Obama when Clinton was soliciting Kennedy’s support for Hillary. The race card is a powerful tool in American politics.
So, those of you are trying to say that race has nothing to do with American politics, you are just fooling yourselves. It has almost everything to do with American politics. Look at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Race was the most controversial and dominating issue at this convention. How do we deal with slavery and the African Slave Trade? The former would continue but the latter would end in 20 years. How do we deal with the Census and a state’s representation in the U. S. Congress? Slaves would count as three-fifths of a person. Remember the great compromises of the U. S. Congress? The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Great Compromise of 1850 make arguing over this “fiscal cliff” stuff look like disputes over whether to use Dixie Cups or Kroger Cups at the next PTA meeting. Does anyone recall the U. S. Civil War…the war that costs more American lives than all other wars and conflicts combined? So, this war was just a war about sectionalism and tariffs, heh?
After the U. S. Civil War, former Confederate soldiers finally got back in control of Southern politics, establishing what is known as the Black Codes. But, even more heinous than these Black Codes was the diabolical convict lease system which was designed to take care of the “labor problem” in the South. People were appointed or helped to be elected to judgeships depending on their willingness to hand down harsh and lengthy sentences to former slaves for real petty crimes or trumped-up offenses. The conditions within these convict lease camps were unconscionable, with the mortality rates often climbing beyond 20%. Representative Robert A. Alston of DeKalb County was Chairman of Georgia’s Penal Committee and tried to outlaw this crime against humanity. Too many influential Georgians were making a killing off this atrocious system, using this very cheap convict labor to build railroads and buildings all over Georgia, to farm lands, and to work in the deplorable conditions of Governor Joseph E. Brown’s Dade County coal mines. Alston spoke out strongly against this system, issuing a scathing report on it that was carried in the major newspapers throughout the country. He eventually met his death in the State Capitol in March 11, 1979 with a bullet in his temple. He was only 46 years old. For several years, the black people of Georgia held an annual memorial service at his Decatur grave until the influential Bourbon Democrats put an end to this practice. He and fellow Georgian Martin Luther King, Jr., are the only two Georgians ever to be honored at the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. (President Woodrow Wilson who hailed from Virginia but resided for a few years in Atlanta, Georgia and married a Georgia woman was also honored there.) Each state had a flag dedicated in the name of one of its citizens when the National Cathedral opened in 1933. Georgia’s flag was dedicated in the honor of its fallen martyr, Col. Robert A. Alston, a true Reconstructed Rebel. His first child, Elizabeth Howard Alston Trotter is my great grandmother, and his first grandchild, Robert Alston Trotter, Sr., is my grandfather. I named my first son, Robert Augustus Alston Trotter, after his great, great, great grandfather. Race has always been woven into the very fabric of American politics, a fact that my family has known for years.
This country has changed…and is still changing. The demographics are changing precipitously, and if the Republican Party doesn’t also change, then it will go the way of the old Whig Party. While I am a businessman and am opposed to more and more taxes and regulations because I think that these measures suffocate an already-weak economy, the Republican Party can no longer sit by and allow itself to be portrayed as and be seen as the party for the Country Clubbers, a party which holds its Executive Committee Meetings at the Piedmont Driving Club rather than at Mary Mac’s Restaurant. I suggest that the Old Guard (including Mitt Romney) was simply not ready for a candidate like Marco Rubio. These same folks were not ready for Condoleezza Rice. Rubio and Rice were apparently beyond their comfort zone. For the Republican Party to survive (it’s already lost three of the last four national elections, and Bush 43 was elected in 2000 – without a plurality – and in 2004 – barely scratching over 50% against a weak Democratic candidate). The Asian-American vote turned out in a greater percentage for President Obama in 2012 than even the Latino vote. Of course, the National Democratic Party has the African-American vote on lockdown.
Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan was an awful choice…about as bad as John McCain’s choice of the screeching Sarah Palin. I remember distinctly when McCain announced his choice. I jumped out of my chair and exclaimed, “What?!” Crazy choices. If the Republican nominee is not a minority or does not choose a minority to be his or her running mate in 2016, then the Republican Party can kiss it goodbye. A woman like Nikki Haley or Condoleezza Rice sounds good. What about U. S. Senator Tim Scott? Gravitas and experienced? Remember Dan Quayle, anyone? What about Congressman J. C. Watts? Maybe he wants to get back into the mix. He’s grounded and very articulate and has a great “narrative” (as all are looking for these days). What about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal? The GOP Presidential Primary should no longer be a “Whites Only” game. Remember the days when NFL scouts actually and boldly stated that African American athletes couldn’t handle being NFL quarterbacks? When we watch the exploits of RGIII on Sunday afternoons, we shrink with embarrassment when thinking about those racist and ridiculous thoughts of African American athletes not being able to play quarterback in the National Football League. The NFL has come a long way. So must the GOP. I want my children, if they are inclined to participate actively in the political process, to have a fair shot in either party, Democrat or Republican. © JRAT, January 4, 2013, Niteroi-Sao Goncalo, Brazil.