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Reading Sean Wilentz's review of "American Carnage," in which he sees the roots of Trumpism in GWB's presidency, brought to mind the way Bush stoked the fires of homophobic bigotry to boost his electoral fortunes in 2004. nytimes.com/2004/02/24/pol…
Bush announced his support for a *Constitutional Amendment* to ban same-sex marriage the very week that he kicked off his re-election campaign.
His target audience had no trouble picking up what Bush was laying down. The "gay agenda" had to be stopped in order save "civilization."
In typical, "compassionate conservative" fashion, Bush made it clear that this was not about bigotry or hatreds at all. Just, you know, saving civilization from the barbarians, but lovable barbarians, but scary ones...oh jeez, just vote for me and don't actually hurt anybody, ok?
The GOP intentionally weaponized culture war bigotry across the country to inspire their base to turn out to help their flailing POTUS candidate. The MSM helped them launder it as "values voters." cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITI…
I suspect that in 2004, most GOP pols knew that gay marriage would soon be a losing issue for them. There was only so long they could stand athwart history and yell STOP! But for now, in 2004, it would work, so they would use it, even though they knew the battle was lost.
In 2004, many folks probably thought it was the GOP pols who were driving the bus. They would activate the bigotries of their base (Islamophobia, homophobia, racism) to win elections, but their national figures like Bush would say all the right, tolerant things so it was ok.
Bush would say "we're at war with terrorism, not Islam," and GOP pols would think he'd demonstrated his decency. Meanwhile, much of the GOP base, the proto-Trumpian part, was merely tolerating such statements by Bush.
When we lionize the "decency" of people like W or McCain, we absolve them of responsibility for the culture war, wedge political policies they used to gin up votes. It was a cynical failure of leadership with real consequences for their fellow citizens.
Republican pols for years have been saying "look, this is where the voters are on this issue, so I'd be a fool not to capitalize upon their fears of gay people, immigrants, Muslims, black people, etc. etc."
They tell themselves they didn't create the bigotry, they're just being savvy politicians. But words and ideas have consequences, esp. when they are part of an intentionally coordinated political campaign.
How should we remember the Willie Horton ad from 1988? GOP pols would say "politics is nasty, get over it." I'd say, you didn't just respond to existing racism, you helped perpetuate and strengthen it.
Likewise, as some wax nostalgic for the "decency" of Mitt Romney, we should remember that in 2012 primary he decided to run to the right of every other candidate on immigration, stoking the fires of anti-immigrant bigotry for his electoral advantage.
Trump's politics are a concentrated boullion cube of cultural resentment. That culture of fear and resentment has been fed and harvested by generations of GOP politicians who thought they could control it, who thought it wouldn't harm their gay, black, Jewish, or Muslim friends.
Trump's rapid and phenomenally easy takeover of the GOP reveals just how mistaken those GOP pols were.
Returning to this thread to add one more thought. You'd think that a libertarian-inflected GOP would have no problem tolerating same-sex marriage. After all, no one's making anybody marry anyone they don't want to, it's just about freedom of choice, right?
IOW, it would have been super-easy for the GOP to just either avoid the issue of same-sex marriage or incorporate it into their existing brand. But no, there were votes to be had by stoking bigotry...and so they did it with vigor.
This is why whenever I hear a long-time GOPer say "I'm shocked, shocked that there's so much bigotry in my party" it makes me wonder where they were in 2004 when bashing gay people was a key message of that year's campaign.
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