Opinion Columns & Blogs

Is this how the party of Lincoln wants to be remembered

Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox
Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox AP

Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted that there have been 1,000 “hate incidents,” some right here in Georgia. For bigots, the Trump win was seen as “a license to harass and intimidate minorities,” per the SPLC.

The white supremacist rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, should come as no surprise. During Trump’s presidential campaign he was actively promoted by alt-right racists and at least indirectly courted that support. During the campaign, Trump made insulting remarks about African-Americans, stating that they were living in crime ridden ghettos. He slammed Mexicans and others repeatedly.

Early in the primary season, Trump footsied around with the KKK when David Duke, a major Klan figure, endorsed him. True to his “alternate facts” philosophy, Trump first claimed not to know him when video evidence clearly showed he knew of Duke years earlier.

Even after the campaign, he never clearly repudiated the support of people like Duke who stated: “This is one of the most exciting nights of my life. Make no mistake…our people played a HUGE role in electing Trump.”

I come from a very different place on black-white relations than most of my Republican brethren, who tend to excuse Trump’s words as just rhetoric. And now, after the violence his words and policies have enabled, I hope that my party is finally coming to see that I was right.

I remember the 1966 governor’s race when I attended UGA. Neither the Democrat nor the Republican had a majority of the votes cast, although the Republican had the plurality.

I remember how the Democrats (Dixiecrats) in the Georgia General Assembly picked Lester Maddox, a very vocal and mean segregationist supported by the Klan, over Bo Callaway, a moderate, traditional, pro-business Republican. My wife (who came from a rare family of lifelong Middle Georgia Republicans) had campaigned for Bo when he was a congressman.

Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox rides a bicycle backward before the start of the 35th annual Southern Governors Conference in Williamsburg, Va., Sept. 15, 1969. Maddox, the restaurateur who became a symbol of segregationist defiance and then Georgia governor in a fluke election. AP

When I lived near Macon in 1969-1971, my wife and I were active Republicans. I worked for the Milledgeville poverty program and I dealt with local Democratic elected officials who were racists.

And, working for state government in the 1970s, I remember many bigoted Democratic legislators. The way they pressured honest public servants to do unethical things revolted me. I hoped the GOP would sweep the state someday and change things in the General Assembly.

Many years later, when Sonny Perdue was elected governor, the GOP did sweep the state — almost overnight. But, instead of GOP moderates, the same bigoted Dixecrats just became bigoted Republican legislators. Nixon’s Southern Strategy, blaming all sorts of problems on downtrodden African-Americans, was cynically deployed to win the hearts and minds of gullible white voters and it worked all too well.

When I was a Republican County Commissioner (2005-2012) in a rural county near Macon, I heard elected officials use the “N word” regularly. They would always stop when I called their hand, but I knew what was in their hearts.

Now, my party has someone in the White House who uses all the “code words” and symbols of our racist past. And, he has succeeded in provoking racist white extremist violence which he now fails to unequivocally condemn. Instead, he constantly tries to find some moral equivalence between fascist racists and those opposing them.

But, his views should come as no surprise to anyone who knows his history. Trump repeatedly questioned President Obama’s legitimacy, implying (with not a shred of evidence) that he was a Kenyan Muslim and saying “he is al-Qaeda.”

Back in 1992, Trump Casino in New Jersey lost a $200,000 judgement for discriminating against minority employees. And, way before that, in 1973, the Trump Management Corp., was sued by the Department of Justice for discriminating against minorities in housing; Trump quietly settled. The list goes on.

Some GOP leaders, like Sens. Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham, have come out strongly, stating very specifically that Trump has equated racism and anti-racism. But, not all of Georgia’s GOP leadership has.

Sen. David Perdue, for example, just issued a statement only condemning extremists, while not mentioning Trump’s failure to lead: “KKK, neo-Nazi, & white supremacist groups spew bigotry & racism. These groups & their ideals are the antithesis of American patriotism.”

Playing politics, Sen. Perdue shamelessly ignored Trump’s horrible attempt to draw a moral equivalency between white supremacists and those opposing them. This is an unacceptable moral failure on the part of Perdue.

Is this really the best the GOP can offer? If not, isn’t it about time that more Republican leaders in our state and across the nation forget destructive partisanship and condemn Trump by name, as well as the nativist, bigoted direction in which he is taking my party and nation? Is this how the party of Lincoln wants to be remembered in the history books?

Jack Bernard is a resident of Peachtree City.