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To the Editor:
A quote attributed to Mark Twain goes “history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.” If we reflect on the 1950s, we can see the truth of this adage. Early in that decade, a crude, narcissistic Republican, Joe McCarthy, captured the imagination of many disgruntled and frightened working class voters.
Using a mixture of flag-waving, pseudo religiosity, anti-Semitism, false claims of Communist infiltration and displays of sympathy for the KKK and Nazi war criminals, McCarthy was able to build a base of support. However, this support dwindled once it became obvious that his demagoguery had crossed the line when he attacked the U.S. Army.
Yet, what would become the conservative movement in America soon found a different kind of champion. William F. Buckley Jr., a Yale graduate with a vocabulary to match, took up the mantle. He founded what has to be considered the most influential and lasting print media for spreading the conservative gospel, the National Review. Buckley and McCarthy were different in that one was a loud, crude man who often acted irrationally and the other was a calm, polished, gifted orator from the “upper” classes.
While the package was different, the internal product was the same — blatant bigotry wrapped in lies designed to instill fear and division for political gain. While McCarthy waived imaginary lists of Communist federal officials, Buckley penned articles like “Why the South Must Prevail.”
In this piece, Buckley asked and answered, what he called the central question regarding Civil Rights: namely “whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes — the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”
This, and dozens more articles like it, were written while the “measures” being taken included the “strange fruit” of dead Black bodies hanging from Southern magnolia trees. Such articles proclaiming the necessity to protect White Supremacy and reject the democratic process, which Buckley defended right up to his death in 2008, made him a giant within conservative circles.
Today, we hear the rhyme in the decline of a crude, narcissistic, Republican demagogue named Trump and the rise of a well-spoken, Ivy Leaguer who exploits the same 1950s fears and hatreds named DeSantis. Whether America will learn from, or be drawn to its historical poetry, only time will tell.
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