An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that the Public Religion Research Institute's American Values Survey found that 40 percent of Americans said they would prefer the United States to be "primarily made up of people from western European heritage.” The survey found that 10 percent agreed with that statement.
Given two statements — “I would prefer the U.S. to be made up of people from all over the world,” and “I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation primarily made up of people from western European heritage” — a plurality (48 percent) choose the former over the latter (10 percent). However, only 25 percent of Republicans agree with the former, and fewer than half of Whites do. PRRI reports: “Less than one in five Americans (18%) agree that the idea of America where most people are not white bothers them, while 81% disagree. . . [but] Republicans (27% agree, 71% disagree) are somewhat more likely to agree than independents (16% agree, 83% disagree) and Democrats (13% agree, 86% disagree).” Republicans are also much less likely to strongly disagree that a majority-nonwhite America bothers them, with 35 percent reporting that they do strongly disagree, compared with 52 percent of independents and 66 percent of Democrats.
On the topic of responding to Black Lives Matter protests, President Trump received rotten marks, with only 35 percent approving and 64 percent disapproving of his performance. As for the issue of racial injustice, a majority of Americans (56 to 43 percent) think police killings of Black people are part of a pattern, not isolated incidents. But Republicans and Fox News watchers think differently: “Around eight in ten Republicans (79%), compared to 40% independents and 17% of Democrats, believe that killings of African Americans by police are isolated incidents. . . . Republicans who trust Fox News most for television news (90%) are even more likely than Republicans as a whole to say that these are isolated incidents.” (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.) The refusal to acknowledge racism is now as much a defining feature of Republican identity as is being pro-life or anti-government. In defending the status quo, Republicans seek to fortify a system that treats Blacks far worse than Whites.
PRRI also conducted a clever test to see whether the race of protesters matters to various groups of Americans:
Americans are more likely to agree (61%) than disagree (37%) with the statement “When Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by the government, it always makes our country better.” However, Americans are less likely to agree (52%) and more likely to disagree (47%) with the statement “When Black Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by the government, it always makes our country better.”Republicans are 25 percentage points more likely to agree that protests make the country better when the statement does not mention Black Americans (49%) than they are when the protesters are specified as Black Americans (24%). Among Republicans who most trust Fox News, this effect grows to 37 percentage points: 47% favor the statement without Black Americans, compared to only 10% who favor the statement when the protesters are identified as Black Americans.
Republicans may not want to acknowledge the implicitly racist views in their party, but the refusal to recognize that Black protesters are trying to make our country better; the aversion to diversity; the failure to acknowledge racial injustice; and the overwhelming conviction that the Confederate flag (85 percent) and monuments to Confederate soldiers (90 percent) are symbols of “Southern pride” (not racism in recognition that the Civil War was fought to preserve slavery) are frightening indications that racism persists within the GOP — no doubt inflamed by a racist president. The siege mentality expressed by many in the MAGA crowd and the violent groups Trump refuses to directly denounce stem from a sense they are “losing” power and control in American society. That in turn spurs ever more desperate attempts (voter suppression, child separation) to maintain Whites’ dominant position in U.S. society.
Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of PRRI, tells me, “Overall, the survey confirms that denying the existence of systemic racism — both perceptions of continued discrimination today and the effect of past discrimination on the present — has become part of the identity of both Republicans in the political arena and white evangelical Protestants in the religious landscape.”
The findings raise a number of questions: Will these views change once their racist ringleader is defeated at the polls? Are Republicans so badly out of step with the country at-large that they risk becoming a rump, regional party? It also makes clear that dismantling of voter-suppression techniques will be critical to preserving democracy and promoting racial reforms.
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