I was listening to a guy talk about the unsavory history of American Democrats. An academic in the audience, also a Democrat, spoke up during the Q&A and castigated the speaker for suggesting modern Democrats are responsible for their party’s past. Elsewhere, on a forum unrelated to politics I saw a post asking (while actually suggesting) if Republicans were the party of racism.
On many occasions I’ve heard people argue in no uncertain terms that today’s Democrat party is not the same as it used to be. Democrats are a very different group of people today, the argument goes, so the modern party cannot honestly be held accountable for the evils of their predecessors.
And yet Republicans today are frequently blamed for slavery, Jim Crow, and the KKK – all of which were either defended or (in the case of Jim Crow and the KKK) invented by Democrats. If Democrats cannot be honestly held accountable for the sins of the past because the modern party is composed of different people, how can modern Republicans honestly be held accountable for the Democrats’ sins of the past?
The myth that the parties “switched sides” is constantly losing credibility, as it should. Certain arguments keep cropping up which rightly challenge that myth. As one example, consider the fact the “not a person” argument was one of the chief defenses of slavery Democrats used in the past, and it is one of the chief defenses Democrats use today to defend abortion. Democrats never stopped playing semantic games with other people’s personhood. That game switched to a different target, but the victimizing continues. Deciding who is and who is not a person, and therefore who does and who does not have rights, is one of the fundamental tools of oppression Democrats have always used.
Contrast this with the conservative position on who does and who does not have rights. If you move to the United States legally and follow our rules, and join in the social compact we all have amongst ourselves as citizens, you can enjoy the rights and benefits of citizenship. If you move to our country and choose to break our laws and intentionally avoid becoming a citizen you don’t get to enjoy the rights and benefits of citizenship. Voting is not a human right, it is a citizen right. No one is denying an immigrant their status as a person by arguing they have no right to vote (despite Democrat protestations).
Another important detail is the fact Democrats are not responsible for the vast majority of civil rights legislation passed by the U.S. government. From the war between the states through the 1950s civil rights legislation was soundly the result of Republican efforts. Remember that incident in the early 20th century when the American military was racially segregated? Yeah, that was Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, working against civil rights that had already been achieved up to that point in American history. And even for those pieces of legislation which Democrats do claim credit, we are justified in asking why should they? After all it was not Republicans who filibustered the 1964 civil rights act; that was Democrats. So why should Democrats get credit for it today?
Besides, if Democrats of today ought not be held accountable for the sins of Democrats of the past, even if you wanted to argue Democrats deserve credit for the 1964 civil rights act, why should today’s Democrats get credit for it? On the other hand, if today’s Democrats do deserve credit for the virtues of Democrats half a century ago, they likewise deserve blame for those past sins.
Another reason Democrats can still be blamed for their past sins is the myth that those slavery-defending Democrats were conservative. This is why liberals/progressives have no choice but to define conservatism as wanting to maintain the status quo and opposing change. All power seeks to preserve itself. Communists, socialists, fascists, Democrats, Republicans, and all political groups who have power want to keep it. To admit this plain fact would endanger the modern narrative. Liberals/progressives have no problem blaming modern Republicans for the sins of the past but they lose their minds if someone suggests Democrats should be held responsible for the sins of their own political party.
“Change” has always been a battle cry of tyrants, so conservatives are naturally skeptical of politicians promising change, or making promises of any kind. The liberal/progressive description of conservatism sees the political right as a group of people who want to maintain the status quo, to keep power structures as they are. But the conservative description of conservatism is quite different. In the American experiment, conservatism has always been leery of the abuse of power. That’s why, in order to “preserve” liberty, conservatives prefer to “conserve” power, to limit its concentration and avoid its over use. Conservatives are glad to test new ideas, but not to blindly jump on board just because enthusiastic (or even violent and hateful) protesters demand change. Environmental activists work in a similar fashion: seeking to preserve the environment by conserving energy, avoiding its overuse or waste (but resorting to liberal/progressive tactics in seeking to control other people in the process).
It was not conservatives of the past who defended slavery. The abolitionists were the conservatives of the day. They viewed the abuse of power in legally robbing one group of people of their humanity as a threat to everyone, naturally put us all in danger of the same abuse. Looking at the long term effects of the situation, conservatives realized if our government can dehumanize one group, it can dehumanize another. They viewed this type of power, in a free society claiming to be founded on the notion of liberty, as abuse. And the abolitionists were right. Today, prenatal people are denied all rights because they are explicitly robbed of their very humanity. (And don’t forget that other incident when progressive Germans decided to play semantic games with personhood.)
In our modern era all manner of common ideas are construed as discrimination and oppression to help reinforce the idea of blaming Republicans for the past sins of slavery. It is said foreigners who are not citizens are denied their humanity because they are not allowed to vote (which could become their right if only they would become citizens). It is said gays are denied their humanity because they are not allowed to live together, to love who they want to love, or to have a ceremony. Actually, even before government usurped the religious institution of marriage (a violation of the separation between church and state, by the way) gays were already doing all these things in the United States. No one was stopping them. There are some people who want to deny the right of gays to do any of those things, or even to live, but if I told you who they were I’d probably be accused of Islamophobia.
When conservatives want reasonable justification for redefining the right to vote or the institution of marriage we are accused of all sorts of evil things, and a lot of people believe those accusations because somehow conservatives are supposed to be responsible for slavery, so why wouldn’t Republicans do these other evil things, too? When conservatives ask why, after telling us liberals wanted government out of the bedroom, do they now demand government enter the bedroom we are supposed to simply cower and remain silent at the allegation of bigotry.
So there is political gain to be had in blaming Republicans for the past sins of Democrats. Democrats have a long track record, continuing even today, of dehumanizing others. But is only Republicans who bear the blame for dehumanization. Misconstruing today’s issues as hate is the new norm. Anything progressives disagree with is labeled “fascism”. Then progressive act like fascists to “protest”. Silencing others, resorting to violence to do so, dehumanizing detractors, and bullying anyone fails to tote the line is fascism. It is also the history and contemporary practice of Democrats.
Yes, both political parties are quite different today as compared to what they were 150, 100, or even 50 years ago. No, the parties didn’t “switch sides”. Since Democrats continue to play the same political games they have played all along, they deserve the blame for their own sins, especially since they fraudulently claim credit for any virtues of the past.
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