2013 Republican Redux in 2021

Ivonne Rovira
Ivonne Rovira

You’ve read the obituaries on the Virginia gubernatorial race; some say Republican Glenn Youngkin ran away from Donald Trump (including Saturday Night Live); some say Youngkin ran a stealth campaign in which he winked-and-nodded his embrace of Donald Trump to the base, while not mentioning him in mixed company.

But I say what you’re seeing in Republican circles these days is a return to the strategies embodied in the 2013 Republican autopsy report. When President Barack Obama won re-election in 2012, the GOP wanted to see what went wrong and how to win once more. They were — and remain — a party that cannot give the middle and lower classes anything of real value, as that would cost their donors money. The same people who had no problem giving a massive tax cut to billionaires and corporations in 2017 — a tax cut that cost the country $1.3 trillion, more than the Biden infrastructure bill — can’t even bring themselves to deliver on bridges, roads, or infrastructure.

So here's the question: What can today's GOP deliver?

In a word: Fear. And redefining who is “White.”

And guess what – it’s not the first time that has been the GOP’s strategy.

Before World War II, a lot of people we think of as White weren’t so considered. Jews weren’t White. Southern Europeans — such as Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Italians — weren’t White. Slavs weren’t White. (Read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, and you’ll see that Czechs and Slovaks weren’t White, either.) Those drunken, Papist Irish were definitely not White. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, these groups were defined as races themselves. The so-called “Nordic races” (e.g., Scandinavians, Germans, and English immigrants) were the only people who were White. So how did that change?

That changed because it had to for Republicans to still have a chance at the ballot box.

From “How Did Jews Become White Folks?” by Karen Brodkin in the collection called Race, edited by Stephen Gregory and Roger Sanjek:

American anti-Semitism was part of a broader pattern of late-nineteenth-century racism against all southern and eastern European immigrants, as well as against Asian immigrants. These views justified all sorts of discriminatory treatment including closing the doors to immigration from Europe and Asia in the 1920s. This picture changed radically after World War II. Suddenly the same folks who promoted nativism and xenophobia were eager to believe that the Euro-origin people whom they had deported, reviled as members of inferior races, and prevented from immigrating only a few years earlier were now model middle-class white [sic] suburban citizens.

It was not an educational epiphany that made those in power change their hearts, their minds, and our race.

Instead, it was a crass calculation. If the White racial category weren’t expanded, they would be outnumbered. World War II had made African Americans, Asians, and Latinos more insistent of their own rights. If southern and eastern Europeans made common cause with other non-Whites, you could kiss a Republican majority in Congress and at the state level goodbye.

But the “whitening” of America, as Brodkin calls it, wasn’t enough. You also needed fear. Which is where rabid anti-communism and McCarthyism came in. Those dark people were stooges for the communists and a threat to the American way of suburban life, now available to men who had, only a few years earlier, been considered no better than the descendants of slaves. (H.L. Mencken once wrote that the Irish were lower than mulattos, whose White blood elevated them.)

The corporate media reported that Trump killed the autopsy report. But what he actually did was delay its execution. What you’re seeing today is the implementation of the 2013 autopsy report: East Asians and Latinos are now being welcomed into the White fold. Youngkin dropped immigration as a talking point in order not to alienate either group. The 2013 autopsy report stressed “inclusivity” — but they weren’t using the term as progressives would. They certainly weren’t feeling inclusive toward African Americans who wanted equality. “Inclusivity” was a euphemism for, once again, expanding the definition of Whiteness.

And now the Republican Party is reaching out to Latinos through radio, spreading all the same disinformation they have through talk radio but in translation, creating the same generational divides in Cuban and Venezuelan homes as in Anglo ones.

But the only way to keep the brown down in a multicultural America is to redefine who’s White — and pit them against those who didn’t make the grade this time around.

The only way to keep the brown down in a multicultural America is to redefine who’s White — and pit them against those who didn’t make the grade this time around.

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Ivonne Rovira

Ivonne is the research director for Save Our Schools Kentucky. She previously worked for The Miami Herald, the Miami News, and The Associated Press. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)