That was an odd year – suddenly there were the Beatles, and the Ford Mustang, and that Civil Rights Act that changed everything. Elizabeth Taylor marred Richard Burton too. And Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. President Johnson declared his War on Poverty. That was 1964 – a presidential election year – but Lyndon Johnson had nothing to worry about. He was president because Jack Kennedy had been assassinated. He was doing JFK’s work – completing that work – doing what JFK would have wanted. That put Republicans in a bind. They’d have to run against the ghost of JFK – the martyr now a hero – who had been a handsome fellow too. An unfair and horrific death had made JFK posthumously perfect. That made LBJ close to perfect – the Vietnam mess would start the next year. And there was no attacking King now, as a troublemaker trying to start a race war. King had his Nobel Peace Prize now. He was untouchable too. Republicans had nothing to work with.
There was only one thing to do. Go the other way. Hate what JFK liked. Like what he hated. That was Barry Goldwater’s job. Goldwater thought that both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and upcoming Voting Rights Act were stupid – and King was no hero. And the government should do less – next to nothing, actually. The government should get out of the way. Let people be – except the United States should have the biggest and best military, ever, to take care of the commies, everywhere. We need more wars, to settle things.
Johnson won in a landslide. The only states Goldwater carried were those that had once been part of the Confederacy – he won the Deep South. But that was it. Most of the nation decided he was dangerous. Perhaps he was. There are some of us who are old enough to remember that, and E. J. Dionne remembers this:
In 1964, Nelson A. Rockefeller, the governor of New York, rose before the Republican National Convention to condemn “extremists” who had “no plan and no program to keep the peace and bring freedom to the world.”
Amid the boos and catcalls from right-wingers on the floor, Rockefeller denounced those who “spread distrust,” “engender suspicion” and “encourage disunity.”
“There is no place in this Republican Party,” declared this stalwart of GOP progressivism, “for such hawkers of hate, such purveyors of prejudice, such fabricators of fear.”
Yes, his speechwriter should have been shot for extreme overuse of “clever” alliteration, but this was a big deal at the time. Rockefeller stormed out of the convention. So did George Romney, the pleasant Republican governor up there in Michigan. He had marched with King – only once or twice, but that counts – and he was having none of this. He dragged his young son out of there too. That would be Mitt. He didn’t want his son to associate with these people, ever. And then Goldwater gave his famous “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” speech – aimed at Nelson Rockefeller and the others. The dust was settling. This was going to be an extremist party – by extremists and for extremists.
Dionne seems to think that Goldwater was right. That is what happened, but there may be a few of those sensible Republicans still around. They could speak up, like Nelson Rockefeller did:
The events of recent days ought to try the consciences of Republicans who know that extremism and hatred are wrong. Many in the party acknowledge – usually in private – that the president they have continued to back has rooted his political appeal in vicious attacks against his opponents and a free press. He has invented crises for the purpose of stoking dread and horror. And he has targeted minority groups (immigrants especially) to harvest political support.
And that goes together with this:
In the meantime, the party as a whole has abandoned the embrace of civil rights and voting rights that had been, from the Lincoln era to Rockefeller’s time, the GOP’s calling card. Mimicking the segregationist Democrats of the past, Republicans have of late used the unfounded specter of voter fraud to justify voter ID laws and other measures squarely aimed at impeding access to the ballot box by African Americans and the young…
Impeding voting rights needs to be called what it is: an act of extremism. It is radically anti-democratic to keep your opponents from voting. Where are the Republicans who will speak out loudly and clearly against what their party has done in so many states that they controlled?
And then there’s this:
An even more startling development was news that police in Maryland had arrested Christopher P. Hasson, a lieutenant in the Coast Guard and a self-identified white nationalist. The authorities said he stockpiled weapons and drew up a list of liberal politicians and commentators whom he hoped to kill. His catalogue of targets included the House and Senate Democratic leaders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (whom he called “Sen blumen jew”), and MSNBC commentators Joe Scarborough, Ari Melber and Chris Hayes.
Even if many Republicans have no problem these days labeling nearly all Democrats “socialists” based on the self-descriptions of a few in the party’s ranks, it’s obvious that no one should call out the entire GOP for the plotting of a fanatical would-be assassin.
One can, however, ask all responsible Republicans to deplore right-wing fanaticism and to take the threat of homegrown white-nationalist terrorism as seriously as they do terrorism from abroad. It is entirely fair to imagine that the GOP (and, especially, the president) would have a lot more to say if Hasson had been, say, a Muslim.
And it is important to examine the public statements of the president himself, his efforts to divide the country and his constant demonizing of all those who oppose him.
So it turns out that Nelson Rockefeller had been right about Donald Trump all along. What? That can’t be. How long has this been going on?
It doesn’t matter, because things are changing:
President Donald Trump is on the verge of a bipartisan rejection of his emergency declaration at the border in what would be an embarrassing rebuke by a Congress opposed to his immigration agenda.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Monday night said he would join Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, along with 47 Senate Democrats to block Trump’s attempts to secure billions for his border wall after lawmakers effectively stiffed him. Now just one more GOP senator’s support for a resolution to block Trump’s bid would send the measure to Trump’s desk and force a veto.
“Conservatives rightfully cried foul when President Barack Obama used executive action to completely bypass Congress,” Tillis said in a Washington Post op-ed on Monday night. “There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach – that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party.”
So it’s okay to say that Trump is wrong here? That’s the idea, but even that makes people around him a bit nervous:
Numerous Senate Republicans say that, like Tillis, they despise Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to get additional funding for his wall. But most aren’t ready to say they will vote to block him from doing so.
Interviews on Monday with more than a dozen GOP senators who have been publicly critical of Trump’s unilateral maneuver or warned him not to deploy it were cagey about their intentions for what would be a crucial vote in coming weeks on the Senate floor.
Many said they were undecided and still studying Trump’s move to circumvent Congress and score billions more for the border barrier.
They won’t take a stand until there is no risk at all involved in doing anything or taking any kind of stand anywhere, and the rest are confused:
“It’s unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the Constitution,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s emergency declaration. As to how he will vote, he said: “I’m going to wait to see what the resolution says.”
“I haven’t even read it but I’ve said, ‘I don’t like what’s happened and I certainly don’t like using military money for it,'” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said he is “getting closer” to making a decision but said he could not divulge which way he is leaning. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, a vulnerable incumbent in 2020 issued a statement stating that he is “reviewing” the declaration. He said on Monday: “I’ve said all that I’m going to say on that.”
That’s it? Isn’t someone going to stand up to Trump, or stand up for something, or just stand up? It’s about time, after all these years.