By Juan Williams Los Angeles Times
By Juan Williams
Los Angeles Times
One year ago last weekend, hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally. We all know what happened next. Counter-protesters condemned their hateful message and the rally descended into violence, leading to the senseless death of Heather Heyer. Afterward, unbelievably, President Donald Trump placed blame on “both sides.” Prominent Republicans denounced the remarks.
“There is no moral relativism when it comes to neo-Nazis,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, said: “We must stand united in opposition to this hate in no uncertain terms.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., addressed Trump directly: “Mr. President, we must call evil by its name.”
In the year since, Republicans in Congress increasingly turned a blind eye to the president’s racial animus. They appear to have lost interest in a host of urgent policy issues related to racial inequity: enforcing the Voting Rights Act, reforming the criminal justice system, fixing immigration.
Meanwhile, their party’s candidates exhibit blatant racism.
Seth Grossman, a Republican nominee for Congress in New Jersey, called diversity “a bunch of crap.” Corey Stewart, the Senate nominee from Virginia, flaunts his ties to an organizer of the Charlottesville rally and displays the Confederate flag at campaign events. Arthur Jones and John Fitzgerald, House nominees in Illinois and California, respectively, are Holocaust deniers.
Trump is embracing candidates like Grossman, who stated he believes minorities, immigrants, young women and “elites” are waging a war on white men. As Trump turns the GOP into a white identity party, congressional Republicans do nothing.
Their cowardice stands in stark contrast to Republican leadership during the racial turmoil of the 1960s. Without Republican support, there would have been no Civil Rights Act of 1964, no Voting Rights Act of 1965 and no Fair Housing Act of 1968. It’s almost as if Republicans forgot the central role they played in civil rights history. Here’s a reminder.
To pass the Civil Rights Act, President Lyndon Johnson needed Republican support in the Senate. He knew Democrats from the South — strong segregationists — could block the bill. He asked top Democrats in Congress to reach out to influential Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen came from a conservative Illinois town with few black people, but he admired the legacy of his party’s founder, Abraham Lincoln. He agreed to pull in Republican support.
Dirksen saw to it the phrase “pattern or practice” was inserted before “discrimination” in the text of the bill, ensuring the federal government could not shut down private businesses unless they were systematically engaging in discrimination. His language guaranteed that when allegations of employment discrimination came up, state and local governments had time to take action before the Justice Department.
The strategy worked. The Civil Rights Act passed. GOP support proved equally critical to the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act.
In the decades after, Republicans made it clear there was no place in their party for racists, even as white segregationists fled the Democratic Party.
When, in 1981, members of the Ku Klux Klan lynched a black teen named Michael Donald in Alabama, President Ronald Reagan condemned them in a speech to the NAACP.
In 1996, Sen. Bob Dole, then the Republican presidential nominee, told his convention crowd any bigots in the audience should exit quickly.
Even in recent years, some Republicans led bipartisan efforts to address racial inequality. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced legislation in 2015 to reform the criminal justice system by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes. When President Barack Obama said he would sign the bill if it came to him within the year, Grassley joked he wasn’t used to such support.
Although both parties backed the legislation, the election of Trump and other factors got in the way. Grassley reintroduced the bill in 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it an error, and Grassley said he was incensed.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., criticized Sessions, explaining how mandatory minimums unfairly targeted minorities.
The party is continuing to hold back well-meaning individuals. Paul and Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, joined three Democrats — Richard Durbin, Bob Casey and Cory Booker — in reintroducing a bill last year that would eliminate juvenile solitary confinement. Republicans in Congress left the bill for dead.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., joined then-Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to reintroduce the Voting Rights Amendment bill. The legislation would update the formula used to determine which states need to get federal permission before changing registration and voting practices. The bill went nowhere.
During the final stretch of his presidential campaign, Trump posed a condescending question to African Americans: By voting for him, “what the hell do you have to lose?”
We now know a very important part of the answer.
America lost a Republican Party willing to work on racial division. We lost a GOP that, less than a decade ago, could issue a report calling for more outreach to black, Latino and Asian voters. We lost a party that once knew how to reject bigotry and heinousness by white supremacists.
According to a poll conducted in June by Quinnipiac University, 55 percent of Americans agreed that “President Trump has emboldened people who hold racist beliefs to express those beliefs publicly.”
This country was once capable of uniting against racism. If we want that America to return, we will need the efforts of both parties.
— Juan Williams is a columnist for the Hill and a co-host of Fox News’ “The Five.”