David Duke brought about the novel resurgence of subtle mainstream racism. He marketed himself in what he viewed to be the future of the Ku Klux Klan. Well-groomed and professional in appearance. Duke repeatedly insisted that the KKK was not “anti-Black” and instead was “pro-white” and “pro-Christian”. Duke paved the way for racist political influencers such as Lee Atwater who worked in the Reagan White House and was the campaign manager for George H.W. Bush. Atwater was known for his extensive use of the n-word among other racial epithets.
People like Duke and Atwater, along with their mentors, kicked the doors open to bring modern racism to American politics. Among them were Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Strom Thurmond, Barry Goldwater, and several others for whom Atwater would carry the torch. While Atwater would die in 1991 at the age of 40, the blueprint for the future success of white supremacist policymaking was already in motion. What we are living through now is the future they planned for and they’re not done. Now, it’s time for them to execute the new white power strategy.
Enter the America First Caucus.
Initial details based on social media accounts were fragmented. Several think pieces and many hours were dedicated to the topic. From Marjorie Taylor Greene supporting it, then backtracking, then supporting it again with her buddy, Matt Gaetz, to Republicans who are reportedly weighing whether to support the conclave or not. The idea of a white first caucus would not have entered the minds of many white Americans during the Bush or Obama years when much of this began with the Tea Party. Yet, here we are.
For Republicans, supporting the clearly racist America First Caucus (AFC) could mean access to the core of 75 million voters who voted for Trump. It could also spell doom for their political futures on the local level depending on the demographics of their constituents. While largely supportive of white nationalist talking points, for Republicans, reading their voters beyond the surface could prove problematic. Some conservative voters have turned away from the politics of fear and hate and are looking for some semblance of the more subtly bigoted Republican Party of yesteryear.
Conservatism is growing using the preexisting momentum of hateful extremism and many in the party appear to believe bolstering those repugnant beliefs is their only chance at survival. The plan is to take the racist and xenophobic strategy they’ve been using and amping it up through the use of even more fanatical fear-mongering rhetoric. It’s designed to maintain the popularity of the 2020 election when record numbers turned out for Republicans and Democrats alike.
The idea of broadening white nationalist ideology by appealing to the economic anxieties of xenophobic white people is as old as the first colonies. Now, instead of the ‘Germanization’ of the new world, they complain about ‘Mexicans’ taking jobs while simultaneously being lazy and being a burden on the system. Much of what they say never makes much sense, but bigotry is like a narcotic, and conservatives have politicized its unending use through fear.
In the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin argued, “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”
Even Franklin’s immigrant buddy Alexander Hamilton spoke out on immigration writing, “The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities.”
What does the America First Caucus say? Well, they echo the bigoted sentiments of the founding fathers, of course. The platform documentation obtained by Punchbowl News in April 2021 states, “The America First Caucus recognizes that our country is more than a mass of consumers or a series of abstract ideas. America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”
Going back to the founders, Thomas Jefferson also chimed in on the immigration debate saying, “As to other foreigners it is thought better to discourage their settling together in large masses wherein, as in our German settlements, they preserve for a long time their own languages, habits, and principles of government.”
To be clear, none of them were against immigration. They were against immigrants from certain areas that they didn’t consider white enough. Much like today, White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism is what drives white supremacy in the United States. For instance, what we see happening at the Southern border doesn’t just affect migrants from Central America. It impacts immigrants seeking asylum from everywhere in Latin America, the Caribbean, and even Africa. But for most white Europeans, access to the United States comes by way of expedited entry via any airport and an extended stay beyond their visa’s expiration date.
Franklin’s pre-Revolutionary War comments still hold true today. White supremacy lives by the words “…the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.”
Using the Americas to grow the “white” population using the same purposely bigoted ideas declaring white people superior to all others is no secret. In Franklin’s own words, “I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People?” The truth is, it wasn’t just slavers like Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton. It was all of them. These views were perpetuated in the 1700s just as they are today; centuries later.
Let’s be real. Donald Trump’s politics are inconsequential because he’s always been driven by the same hate that perpetuates the views of the founders. The line between Trump and hate groups like Duke’s KKK is nonexistent. That’s why extremists love him. He harbored these views even when he supported Democrats such as the Clintons. The fact is, American society overlooked his disdain for non-white groups due to his supposed billionaire status. A point racist white America likes to make relentlessly. They mention how “the left” decided he was racist only after his third attempt at running for president. Which isn’t true.
He was ignored.
Which brings us to where we are. Complacency towards hate in the United States is largely ignored because most white people think that if you don’t pay racists any mind, they’ll just go away. A point many of us have argued against. We also shouldn’t pretend that bigots in public office are anything new. They’ve been there since day one and generation after generation, the policy ideas by the right have always had the same goal: Oppress non-white groups while giving themselves all the advantages to succeed.
While Trump’s politics are irrelevant, the politics of Trump (and all those before him) are as prevalent as ever. From denying actual history with the same motivation behind rejecting what happened on January 6, 2021, as an attack on the country to passing legislation limiting how teachers can teach about America’s sordid past. The ideas behind this are as clear as the moon is bright. The AFC seeks to maintain the white power structure that built this country with the blood and sweat of the enslaved and maintained on the backs of the poor and migrant workers.
Trump’s foot soldiers are soldiers for white supremacy. They voted against HR 3325 honoring the police who protected the Capitol with Congressional Gold Medals because the word “insurrection” was used. If Republicans had gotten their way, the events of that fateful day would not be recorded in history for what it was. Those same foot soldiers voted against making Juneteenth a federal holiday with Chip Roy (R-TX) arguing the holiday, “needlessly divides our nation on a matter that should instead bring us together by creating a separate Independence Day based on the color of one’s skin.”
Despite some elected Republicans denounced the message of the America First Caucus, many right-wing politicians have embraced it — as noted by the many rallies across the country. Even Donald Trump is planning a tour with Bill O’Reilly, a well-known bigot himself, to promote the America First agenda to the broader base. This is a strategic tactic to help soften voters to the message of hate using coded language. Republicans backing off is simply a broadcast to whoever wrote that bigoted agenda to use less obvious rhetoric. A strategy Lee Atwater brought to the Republican platform.
In 1981, while working in Ronald Reagan’s White House, Atwater said, “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Ni**er, ni**er, ni**er.” By 1968 you can’t say “ni**er” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Ni**er, ni**er.”
The original colonists aspired for newly anointed “Americans” to make these views generational and they succeeded. The America First Caucus along with the 75 million Trump supporters who backed his bigotry have shown how generational it is. Since Trump’s election loss, we’ve seen the pervasiveness of how open that hate has become. Those who once lurked in the shadows are now shamelessly out in the open.
Their political leadership is taking measures to protect them and no one else. Police protect hate groups and extremists in the same vein. They are all motivated by what Atwater refers to as coded language and what many of us refer to as dog-whistles. Regardless of the language that is used, the goals have always been the same: Maintain the white power structure.
The America First Caucus is simply the latest tool in their arsenal.