The Republican establishment is about to be confined in a prison of its own making. Yet they still can’t understand how this happened. How, they ask, have they gone from Republican presidents and presidential candidates such as the Bushes, Reagan, Dole, Romney and even Eisenhower (“Man of the Hour”) to Donald Trump? Their nostalgia and amazement is disingenuous. There never was a post- WW II political golden age. Their cry of, “all was well in Howdy Doody land” was a myth for huge swaths of Americans. The real reality was that until the revolts that began in the 1950s, America had been built on the bargain struck in the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676): “white” people, no matter how poor, would never be at the bottom of the socioeconomic well as long as African Americans remained there.
Then came the great post-WWII expansion of the white middle class. It was built on exclusion, the world-wide rubble left by WWII, and American corporations’ incentive to expand the domestic consumer market. This, along with the GI Bill, which turned the “Greatest Generation” into the most subsidized generation (think: housing, education, assistance to small business startups- all on the taxpayer’s dime), built the largest and strongest white middle class ever seen. At long last, those at the top were willing to provide their less privileged compadres a space on a truly comfortable rung on the economic ladder.
But not for everyone. Clamoring at the gate were those left behind or conveniently forgotten. First and foremost, the descendants of the Bacon’s Rebellion bargain – African Americans along with all not fully admitted into the American definition of “whiteness.” Yet, like it or not, change began. Led by African Americans and fueled by the ideology and political needs of a Cold War America which did not want to appear racist, the 1676 bargain began to unravel. Unfortunately, by the time the dispossessed finally had a seat at to the American Dream’s table, the economic structure that created the great white middle class had begun to crumble. Cracks in its foundation was, along with race baiting, a factor in Nixon’s southern strategy success, followed up by Ronald Reagan’s assault on liberal society. Those so-called Reagan Democrats heeded the “your privilege is being jeopardized by change” siren. What began as covert (Republican) whisperings have, today, become loud catcalls of overt racism, sexism, and anti- fill- in- the- blanks.
The rise of Trumpism and its takeover of the Republican Party should not surprise anyone, least of all the Republican establishment. The foundation of the Republican Party’s demise was set long ago.They financed, designed and built it. Whether Trump wins or loses that prison door is shutting on the the Republican Party establishment.