Is the Republican Party the party of white nationalism and white pride in the age of Donald Trump? Recent events give a strong indication that the so-called party of Lincoln — once in favor of slavery abolition, Reconstruction and civil rights — has traded in its “big tent” for a white sheet, if not a white hood.
Case in point is this week’s Republican National Convention, in which there were only 18 Black delegates out of 2,472, or 0.7 percent, according to Slate. One Trump delegate, a white woman named Lori Gayne, was sent back home after posting a racist Facebook photo. Gayne, from the Fifth Congressional District of Illinois, posted a photo in which law enforcement agents were standing on the roof of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. The former Internet talk show host used artistic license by providing her own caption: “Our brave snipers just waiting for some N—- to try something. Love them,” Gayne posted, as the Chicago Sun Times reported.
“The statements do not reflect my character or feelings toward minorities,” said Gayne, who goes by the name “whitepride” on social media, in an apology. “As a Jewish woman, I know that racism of any kind is unjustifiable and hurtful, even when it’s not intended. I also know that violence is never the answer to political disagreements,” she added, claiming the Facebook post sounded more racist than she intended.
In May, Gayne told the Chicago Tribune that she likes the Trump slogan “Make America Great Again” and the GOP candidate is “taking America back to where we were in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”
“With all the racism going on today, I’m very proud to be white,” Gayne said, offering that “just like black people are proud to be black and now, as white people, whenever we say something critical we’re punished as if we’re racists. I’m tired of it. I’m very proud.”
“I’m so angry I don’t even feel like I live in America,” Gayne added. “You can call me a racist. Black Lives Matter? Those people are out of control.”
Meanwhile, white supremacist Matt Forney, a Trump supporter, was allowed to attend the Republican National Convention through a party contact and reported from the convention floor, as Think Progress reported. Forney has said that “Blacks do nothing but murder cops, rob and rape people, and bring death and destruction wherever they go,” and that women want to be raped and beaten. And William Johnson, a prominent white nationalist and head of the American Freedom Party, was selected as a California delegate by the Trump campaign, as Mother Jones reported.
In addition, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported on its Hatewatch blog, Matthew Heimbach — a white nationalist who was seen shoving and shouting at a Black woman protester at a Trump campaign rally in Louisville last March — has been charged. Heimbach, along with 75-year-old Alvin Bamberger of Ohio and Joseph Pryor of Indiana, were charged with harassment with physical contact. In a video, the men were seen verbally and physically assaulting University of Louisville student Shiya Nwanguma. Nwanguama filed a lawsuit against the men and the Republican candidate alleging that Heimbach and Bamberger shoved and hit her after Trump told the crowd to “get ’em out of here.”
Trump has received support from Klansman David Duke and other avowed white supremacists. However, there is something larger going on here. As Jonathan Chait suggests in New York magazine, Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday night was among the most noteworthy because of its message of “nation-state populism” or “ethno-nationalism,” and an attempt to shift the ideological direction of the GOP. Defining the so-called culture war in racial terms with an “us versus them” mentality as Chait noted, Trump blamed President Obama’s presumed racial rhetoric for a rise in violent crime. The nominee spoke of attacks on police while not mentioning the police killings of Black men, and served up the issues of immigration and terrorism in harsh, highly racialized terms.
Given the context, with raw appeals to the racism of uneducated whites, the Republican Party has found itself with the unofficial moniker of “White People’s Party,” as The Huffington Post concluded. As a result, recent polls have found Trump with 20 percent Latino support and Clinton with 68 percent support, while the GOP nominee is yielding zero percent support among Black voters in the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. In its “Growth and Opportunity Project” report following Mitt Romney’s 2012 election loss and low support among Latinos, the Republican Party predicted its own death knell if it failed to expand beyond its base and toward people of color.
“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity,” wrote the authors of the report. “If Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”
Yet, in the age of Trump, it appears the GOP has decided to ride the wave of white nationalism.