GOP: From the party of Lincoln to the cult of Donald - opinion

Book banning, white supremacy and the gun culture are among the reasons Jews consistently vote Republican in small numbers, and that could shrink even more.

 VIRGINIA GOV. Glenn Youngkin speaks during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, in November (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)
VIRGINIA GOV. Glenn Youngkin speaks during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, in November
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

The Republican Party is going through a dramatic metamorphosis. The Party of Lincoln is mutating to the Cult of Donald as it is taken over by forces loyal to a disgraced former president who trades in overt racism and appeals to authoritarian rule.

The party will no longer have a platform, as in 2020. Instead it will be guided by an endless and fluctuating collection of one man’s grievances and his thirst for revenge. Presidential candidate debates are out, especially if Donald Trump runs again, because the Republican National Committee knows its guy is truth-averse and can’t stand up to the questions and the fact-checkers.

Other recent developments illustrate the party’s transformation. The RNC has agreed to pay all of Trump’s legal bills as a result of his failed campaign to overthrow the 2020 election even though he claims to be a billionaire and has a $122 million war chest contributed by his followers to use as he wishes.

The most credible explanation for the RNC picking up the tab is his reputation as a deadbeat known for stiffing lawyers and other contractors, and the party wants to get him halfway decent representation.

The most egregious change has been the party’s declaration that what the world witnessed as a violent attempt to overthrow the government, bashing police officers in the head, trashing the Capitol and calling for the lynching of the vice president and speaker of the House was simply an exercise in “legitimate political discourse.”

 Former US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, in Conroe, Texas, US, January 29, 2022. (credit: GO NAKAMURA/REUTERS) Former US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, in Conroe, Texas, US, January 29, 2022. (credit: GO NAKAMURA/REUTERS)

Not everyone on the RNC agreed with that conclusion. Financier Eric Levine said January 6 was “not a legitimate form of protest, it was criminal behavior warranting prosecution.” He is a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition and will continue fundraising for the party anyway.

The most chutzpadik were the attacks on President Joe Biden’s plan to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court.

Trump is burnishing his image as the poster boy for white grievance. As Cleve Wootson Jr. pointed out in The Washington Post this week, Trump is “a wealthy white man” who considers himself “a victim of racism.” He calls white supremacists “fine people” and “my people.” The disgraced former president and his allies are trying to redefine racism by casting white men as victims.

Trump may claim he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, but his tongue betrays him.

It was on display in the birther movement he championed, his defense of Confederate statues, insults of black cities and black public officials. Most recently he attacked “radical vicious, racist prosecutors” in Georgia, New York and Washington, DC. All are black women prosecutors investigating Trump and his role in the January 6 insurrection and other possible crimes. He told a rally in Texas they “want to put me in jail” and are “racist” and if they “do anything illegal” (like charging him and his with any crimes), he wants his followers to stage “the biggest protest we have ever had.” Another insurrection?

Biden’s intention to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court has produced a new wave of right-wing racism. Maybe it’s dementia but they seem to forget that the last Democratic president nominated a white man, just like them, and they wouldn’t even give him a hearing.

White Republicans have suddenly decided Biden should be color blind when what they really mean is monochromatic like them. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) says “skin pigment” should be irrelevant. They’re calling it racist and affirmative action.

Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said Biden’s nominee should have “humility.” That sounds like code for: “know your place and don’t be one of them uppity blacks.” I found no record of him saying that about any Republican nominee.

Racism is a defining Republican issue. It’s about demographics. The GOP is worried that in another generation this nation likely will no longer be majority white and they could be left out.

That fear is behind the wave of voter suppression state laws that largely target blacks and other minorities. It is seen in redistricting by Republican-led states and in the near unanimous opposition in Congress to any election reform legislation. It was also a primary river of this week’s Supreme Court decision on Alabama redistricting and in Republican Glenn Youngkin’s successful race for governor in Virginia.

Youngkin vowed he would ban teaching critical race theory in all schools in a state known for its “massive resistance” to school integration. Youngkin knew CRT wasn’t being taught in his state but that didn’t stop his demagoguery. Now he’s adding his own Stasi, calling on citizens to snitch on educators teaching what he considers “divisive concepts.”

The new Republican approach is not only to deny the nation’s history of racism but to attack those who would dare raise the issue, particularly in classrooms and libraries, as racist. All in the name of protecting our children.

One threat apparently is books like Maus. One Tennessee school board voted unanimously to ban Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust because it had bad words and nudity. The nudity was naked mice in Nazi concentration camps. The state that gave us the Scopes Monkey Trial failed to see the irony. One good thing to emerge was it propelled interest in the book, sending it to the bestseller lists.

In Texas, Republican State Rep. Matt Krause compiled a list of 850 books (so far) he wants banned. He also wants to ban teaching anything “an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” One school district in the state told teachers to present “opposing views” when teaching about the Holocaust. The only opposing views are denial.

These are folks who think naked mice could traumatize children, but armed teachers and active shooter drills are fine.

Every time there’s another school shooting, Republicans are quick to offer their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and renew vows of loyalty to the gun lobby.

Days after the school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, two Republican lawmakers posted Christmas cards on social media showing them and their entire families, including minor children, proudly brandishing their assault rifles and big guns. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Lauren Boebert of Colorado – who also have a history of antisemitic comments – like many of their colleagues are more intent on protecting the gun industry than their constituents.

Fifteen national Jewish organizations in 2019 following several school shootings called for strong gun safety laws, including limiting access to assault weapons and large capacity magazines.

Jews historically have been called the People of the Book, a term actually first used in the Koran in reference to the written Torah, psalms and texts. And images of Nazi mobs burning books to destroy Jewish and other “foreign influences” are seared in our collective memory.

Book banning, white supremacy and the gun culture are among the reasons Jews consistently vote Republican in small numbers, and that could shrink even more for a party led by those who think violent insurrection is mere “legitimate political discourse.”