I have thought for some time that the Republican Party has a racism problem. But what I’m starting to realize is the Republican Party has a stupidity problem, which sometimes manifests itself in racism.
Let me say from the outset, to be clear, that I am a member of the Republican Party, and have worked for the last decade helping elect Republicans to office.
But my party has become a gathering place for buffoonery.
Our governor, Paul LePage, has uttered some of the most offensive, racist things ever said in American politics. He’s claimed that black people come to Maine to kill us, sell drugs, and impregnate white girls. He’s identified blacks and Hispanics as “the enemy,” and in the same phrase claimed we should “shoot the enemy.” He’s falsely claimed African immigrants are bringing diseases to Maine, and directed Mainers to “load up” and shoot the drug dealers he’s falsely identified as 90 percent black.
These claims are false, horrible, racist, and stupid.
Scores of elected Maine Republicans have used their public platforms to promote similarly idiotic, racially charged concepts. Former GOP state Sen. Michael Willette was relieved of his committee chairmanship in 2015 because he polluted his Facebook page with false claims that President Barack Obama is a Muslim and associated with Sudanese terrorist groups, among other foolish things. Willette even promoted a quote from Vladimir Putin, under the banner “America could learn from this speech,” that ended, “the Russian customs and traditions are not compatible with the lack of culture or the primitive ways of most minorities.”
GOP Rep. Larry Lockman has been one of the most nauseating examples of the Republican stupidity problem. Lockman has an obsessive homophobia that borders on pathological, and his anti-immigrant race-baiting is almost too prolific to cite. He regularly attacks “new Mainers” — African immigrants to Maine — inciting fear of terrorism and violence. Here’s a recent Twitter post from Lockman that just about sums it up: “Many ‘new Mainers’ hate America, think white men are most dangerous demographic, subscribe to primitive totalitarian ideology: Sharia.”
The recent white supremacist conflagration in Charlottesville, Virginia, brought a new wave of stupidity from Maine Republicans. Gov. LePage ignited a national firestorm when he compared removing Confederate statues to the hypothetical removal of 9/11 memorials in New York City. LePage adopted the shocking talking point that “both sides were wrong,” giving moral equivalence to Nazi white supremacists and the anti-fascist protesters who oppose them.
Events in Charlottesville spurred GOP Rep. Karl Ward to take things to an even stupider low by reposting on Facebook a video explaining Confederates were not bad folks at all, but were actually victims of an oppressive, invading President Abraham Lincoln. Not only is the entire concept of the video delusional, but it seems to have been created by someone with extremely limited English language skills. One passage claims, “Facing such a Tyranic goverment the South did the legal act of Seceding from the Union in order to gain a goverment in wich they would be represented in.”
There’s no doubt that the Republican Party has become America’s political home for these horrible ideas. But I firmly oppose the notion that there’s something endemic to a belief in individual freedom and free market economics that attracts people who believe in white nationalism, or some of the other more loathsome ideas that have found their way into the national dialog since Donald Trump became president. I don’t think it has anything to do with the ideology of the Republican Party at its core.
The new Populist Right, embodied by Trump and LePage, is driven by an anti-intellectual sentiment that has ripped the heart out of Republicanism and conservatism. This is the problem.
Charlatans like LePage and Trump have leveraged fear and anger, not ideas or solutions, to gain power. They’ve pushed aside our Republican intellectual heritage to such a degree that many of our most luminous conservative academics — from Rich Lowry at National Review to Bill Kristol and The Weekly Standard, from George Will to Charles Krauthammer — utterly reject the Trump presidency and the ideas it represents.
The intellectual backbone of the Republican Party is broken, and this has caused our party to languish in a fetid swamp of stupidity so grotesque that our president and our governor cannot establish a moral difference between the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Lives Matter movement.
And this is no longer a passive act: Republicans have given safe harbor to the practitioners of this opportunist, hateful stupidity and are helping them to attain power.
This has to stop.
Either Republicans need to purge these people from our ranks and rebuild the party of Lincoln into something respectable people can be part of, or we need to abandon it to the ash heap of history along with the ideas of white nationalism and racism that our party is increasingly and tragically tolerant of.