The rock-bottom lows of the Trump presidency have had the unavoidable if extremely distasteful effect of whitewashing the reputations of the Republican presidents before him.
Trump’s naked racism, stunning ignorance and an enormous appetite for cruelty makes everyone before him seem like a distinguished statesman. In particular, former Pres. Ronald Reagan has been held up and championed by the liberal opposition to Trump as a symbol of when Republicans were supposedly “decent” and “principled” and treated their office with the respect and the dignity it demands.
Which makes it very awkward for them now that the Daily Beast has unearthed tapes of Ronald Reagan making appallingly racist remarks to Richard Nixon, who laughs. In a phone call from 1971, Reagan described African diplomats as “monkeys” who are still “uncomfortable wearing shoes.”
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Ronald Reagan was a lifelong racist. pic.twitter.com/jZfnPOilti
— Shaun King (@shaunking) July 31, 2019
Honestly, this should come as no surprise to anyone. President Reagan created the virulently racist “welfare queen” trope to justify gutting the social safety net, embraced the white supremacist apartheid government in South Africa, signed the draconian and racially targeted anti-crime bills written by Joe Biden into law, and whose administration not only trained and armed far-right terrorist militas but also to cover up the horrifying massacres they committed in Latin America.
The Republican Party has always had racism, bigotry, and classism animating its dark and putrid soul. While it may be pleasant to imagine that your political opponents are respectable and principled men and women who have the nation’s best interests at heart and just disagree on the best way to go about it, the reality is that the conservative movement in America has always had entrenchment of white supremacy as one of its primary goals.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 unleashed the racist undercurrent that spent so many decades underneath the surface. Far too often that undercurrent was enabled and excused by the liberal opposition, especially by civility hawks like Joe Biden who still prides himself on the ease with which he broke bread and compromised with open racists. But now that the hoods are solidly off, it’s far past time we stopped fetishizing and praising prominent Republicans just because they said their slurs behind closed doors and not in public.