Just about any black person who uses social media can tell you of the moment when, in a discussion involving race, someone patronizingly points out that Democrats were Klansmen/fomented Jim Crow/persecuted African-Americans. It's said as if no one of color was paying attention at all when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, launching a complete political realignment.
Yes, minorities in America know that in some cases, the Democratic Party may not necessarily have their interests first and foremost in mind. But the record shows, at least since 1980, that when the Democrats hold the White House, minorities measurably do better than they do under Republicans. From symbol to substance, Republicans give little more than lip service to people of color — unless they can use them to attract a certain kind of white vote.
Ronald Reagan notably began his campaign for president down the road from Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964, and he pointedly made reference to "states' rights" — a clear dog-whistle to Southern white voters and throwback to Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy." Republican strategist Lee Atwater laid it out in an interview in 1981: "You start in 1954 by saying ['n-word, n-word, n-word']. By 1968 you can't say ['n-word']. That hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like '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."
In 1988, as George H.W. Bush's campaign manager, Atwater notoriously featured the menacing mug shot of a black man named Willie Horton in attack ads against Michael Dukakis to play upon irrational white fear of blacks. Atwater was a mentor to Karl Rove, who later became George W. Bush's political Svengali. (Still, though Bush the younger spoke at Bob Jones University, a religious bastion of the Old South, his Republican administration did less than most to antagonize race relations.)
And now the GOP gives us Donald Trump, whose father was sued by the U.S. Justice Department for discrimination in housing in 1973, and then father and son were sued together in 1978.
Donald Trump has nominated Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as his attorney general, a man who has spent much of his entire political life standing in the way of equal rights. Mr. Sessions was probably the first Republican to use claims of "voter fraud" as a cudgel, prosecuting (and failing to convict) black community organizers trying to register voters in predominantly African-American parts of Alabama in 1985.
The Trump administration has also nominated John Gore, a lawyer who fought to pack minority voters into a single district in Virginia in 2011, diluting Democratic efforts in Republican-held districts around it, and who signed onto a court brief arguing for a disingenuous voter ID plan in that state in 2016. Considering that without the aggressive redistricting, gerrymandering and voter ID programs in the states of North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Donald Trump would not be in the White House today, it is obvious that to maintain its grip on power in four years, the Republicans will lean heavily on this strategy.
Even after his election, Mr. Trump is maintaining claims that 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton, despite no evidence to back this up, and his own lawyers having conceded that no such thing occurred. It isn't that much of a stretch to then realize that a Trump Justice Department will prioritize driving down registration and turnout of voters of color by allowing the gerrymandering of minority voters into lone districts to reduce their political power, and promoting and defending dubious voter ID laws across the country without there still being any tangible evidence of voter fraud.
In recent history, it has been standard practice to meet and dismiss claims of discrimination by people of color as an attempt to play the so-called "race card," but the record clearly shows that when it comes to Republicans and race, to hold onto power from 2016 onward, they are clearly counting on the "Trump card."
Brian Morton (email@example.com) is a former Baltimore City Paper political columnist and the author of "Political Animal: I'd Rather Have A Better Country." His quarterly guest column will appear every other Sunday through January.