The Republican Party is a white identity organization. This week, the polling firm Gallup has released new data that confirms how the Republican Party--a shambling corpse of Whiteness--lurches onward in the Age of Obama:
The increasing racial polarization in party preferences is evident when comparing the data by presidential administration. Nonwhites' average party preferences have been quite stable across the last three administrations, consistently showing a roughly 47-point Democratic advantage under Clinton, Bush, and Obama. On average, 69% of nonwhites have identified as Democrats or said they were independents who leaned Democratic, and 21% have identified as Republicans or leaned Republican.Political pundits have generated a narrative which concludes that changing racial demographics will continue to make the Republican Party noncompetitive on a national level. The election of Barack Obama was viewed by mainstream political analysts as a coronation for "the browning of America", and the Republican Party's near, if not, inevitable obsolescence as a competitive political party.
Meanwhile, whites have become increasingly Republican, moving from an average 4.1-point Republican advantage under Clinton to an average 9.5-point advantage under Obama.
This polarization could ease by the time Obama's term finishes, in three years. However, given the already large racial gap in party preferences in his first five years, unless there is a dramatic shift among whites toward the Democratic Party or among nonwhites toward the GOP in the next three years, party preferences will end up more racially polarized in Obama's presidency than in his two predecessors' administrations.
I have thought for some time that such a claim is premature because politics is a "push and pull" story.
The Republicans have aggressively reacted to the election of Barack Obama, the country's first black president, with a strategy designed to use racial anxiety and overt racism to win the support of new white voters while simultaneously mobilizing its existing base.
The Republican Party's strategy of voter harassment, efforts to restrict access to voting for people of color, the young, and the poor, and using the courts to subvert democratic rule and consensus, is an effort to shrink the electorate so that a dying and older cohort of white voters can continue to exercise an out-sized amount of influence on American politics.
The Republican Party may be a shambling corpse of Whiteness, but it still refuses to die.
Gallup's finding that the Republican Party has increased its support among white voters 5 points during Obama's tenure is in many ways a function of the White Right's concerted strategy of coordinated racial appeals that range from the bizarre and histrionic (Birtherism); to outright lies (Obama is the "food stamp" president and want to give things to "lazy" black people); an intentional obstruction of governance (a record number of filibusters and holding the American federal government hostage during the debt ceiling debate by Republicans); and an assault on the symbolic power and legitimacy of Barack Obama because his personhood as a black man is incompatible with '"real (white) America".
The phrase "white identity organization" conjures up visions of the KKK or Neo Nazis. In reality, White identity organizations are any group which is dedicated to maintaining a superior relative group position for white people, and the various economic, material, political, and psychological privileges that come with the arbitrary distinction of what it means to be "white" in America.
Of course, all white people, and most certainly all white Republicans and conservatives, do not benefit from Whiteness and white skin privilege in the same way--this is of course true for poor white people (who are over-represented in Red State America).
Nevertheless, Republican elites, corporatists, and supporters of the robber baron class can use white identity politics as a means of mobilizing their base into supporting policies that in fact hurt poor, working, and middle class Americans across the colorline. The "psychic wages of whiteness" are most deeply felt when used to create an arbitrary distinction between "them" and "us"...even if it is the "us" who are hurt the most in the process.
Research suggests that the naked embrace of the Republican Party as the natural political party for "white people" is already occurring among members of the Tea Party faction. Moreover, recent work by Theda Skocpol details how the Tea Party--what is the contemporary descendant of the John Birch and White Citizens Councils--has served as a racializing experience for its white members in which they are learning to openly embrace their racial identity as central to their political decision making.
In response to this claim, there will be an obligatory protest or comment about African-Americans and their overwhelming support for the Democratic Party, such as "why can't white people organize for their own political interests too?"
Individuals and groups organize, advance, and fight for their own political goals. However imperfect in process, this is the core of interest group politics in the United States.
Of course, Black and brown folks have political interests: those political interests have been "racialized" by how centuries of personal and institutional White Supremacy have forced African-Americans and other people of color to think in terms of group uplift, survival, and advocacy. But, the Black Freedom Struggle has been radically inclusive and democratic. It created opportunities for all Americans to be more free.
There are two important distinctions to be made here.
White identity politics is based on exclusion.
The open racialization of white people's political interests is not new.
In many ways, white identity politics and White Supremacy have been the Constitutional and legal norm in the United States from the founding to the near present. Whiteness--be it mobilized and manifested by Jim and Jane, housing segregation, slavery, or "colorblind" institutional racism in the Age of Obama--is dependent upon a sense of group superiority and power over other those understood by "common sense" to be "non-white".
Although White Supremacy has morphed and changed, the multicultural, colorblind present still operates from many of its long-standing principles: black and brown people can ascend as individuals while institutional white racism still exists; white people can enjoy black and brown culture, but the former simultaneously morphs and changes the latter to their liking and sensibilities, while very often denying the equal humanity of African-Americans and other people of color in the process.
Racism works for the Republican Party in the short-term. Ironically, the Republican Party's name brand as a white identity organization in post civil rights America, and efforts to further expand its white voting base, will enable the GOP to lose by winning.
American (and world history) is replete with examples of how Whiteness does not play well with others. Consequently, the racialization of white voters' political interests by the Republican Party and its media apparatus is a threat to American democracy.
As we are seeing with the Right's efforts to subvert the democratic process, and eviscerate the social safety through appeals to white identity politics and white racial resentment, the further whitening of the Republican Party does not bode well for the American people in mass.
The historian Noel Ignatiev famously suggested that treason to Whiteness is loyalty to humanity. It is also true that treason to the Republican Party's white identity politics is loyalty to the Common Good, the General Welfare, and American democracy.