“Abe Lincoln freed and protected the slaves and he was Republican…” read a text to Kanye West from someone named “Steve,” which West quickly screen grabbed and posted on Twitter. He has since deleted the tweet along with John Legend’s amazing response, which he also published: “They love bringing that up to deflect from the fact that now the Republicans have become the party of the Confederacy. They defend the Confederate flag and oppose civil rights advances almost uniformly.” Charlamagne Tha God also weighed in: “So to say Republicans helped black people but imply Democrats never have is stupid.”
Over the years, friends and colleagues have tried to convince me that I should be a Republican using a version of the Kanye two step. Republicans did good things for vulnerable people once, and Democrats have failed vulnerable people recently, so why not give the former a chance? Kanye points to Democrats’ failures and President Trump’s dragon spirit to suggest more people should be Republicans. Republicans I know take an only slightly different tack. “Obama deported more people than any other president. Also, don’t you want lower taxes?”
Kanye has lured half of liberal America into trying to convince him that he’s wrong. It would be more productive to direct that energy toward convincing the people we know personally, when they pull the Kanye two step on us, that they have it backwards.
Late last year I was at the Capitol Hill Club, a famous gathering spot for Republican elites, strategizing with a GOP lobbyist friend to get more House Republicans to support the Dream Act. He had garnered GOP support for other social justice campaigns, so we (a coalition of immigrant rights organizations) had enlisted his help. As a practical matter, we knew we would be unable to help Dreamers unless more Republicans supported the cause.
Most Republicans who support the Dream Act wish their party would become more socially moderate and racially tolerant, which may be why this Republican interrupted our strategy session to Kanye me. “You really should be a Republican,” he said.
“I think you should be a Democrat. You believe in gay marriage, in immigrant rights, and that black people should vote,” I responded.
He laughed and took a bite of his sandwich. He went on to tell me that while he is to the left of most Republicans on social issues, he believes that one day the GOP will move to the center on those issues.
“But Democrats will never believe in small government, or low taxes,” he added. This was a logical conclusion; in order to give social services like education to children, healthcare to veterans, and financial assistance to low-income communities, the government needs revenue.
It’s probably true that American liberals, and the public servants they elect, will always support progressive taxation, and downward income distribution, as tools of virtue and social cohesion—and at levels that even the most socially liberal Republicans will dislike. But he was probably wrong to assume that conservatives are less immutably intolerant than liberals are immutably committed to social welfare. As Republicans have become more culturally homogenous, they have become more hostile to immigrants and minorities, fighting the tide of demographic change rather than trying to accommodate it. But even if they eventually purge their coalition of bigots, and somehow hold the party together, it is morally rotten to treat sustained bigotry as a cost others must accept to hold taxes down.
Both parties have inflicted pain on people of color, but it is clear, especially in the Trump era, that ethnic hostility, not low taxes, is the glue holding the GOP together. The Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has spent significant resources rolling back protections for people of color. It has eliminated the office of Community Relations Service (an office tasked with race relations), re-embraced private prisons, racist drug prosecution guidance, and the mistreatment of transgender youth in schools.
At a recent event in West Virginia, Trump literally tossed aside scripted remarks about tax cuts, so he could rant about fictions like immigrants being rapists, and minorities committing vote fraud. Tax policy, he said, was too “boring.”
Before Donald Trump took over their party, I understood why some socially tolerant people voted Republican—particularly if they were religiously devout Christians. But the party’s new avatar is an unchurched hedonist and a crook. Trump panders to the grifting leaders of today’s religious right, but the alliance between them, and the hypocrisy it exposes, will poison both conservatism and organized religion in the eyes of future religious agnostics for generations to come.
Which is to say that after Republicans nominated Trump and he won the presidency, the Kanye argument lost all credibility—particularly as deployed by those who care genuinely about social issues, and the rights of people of color. If they support Trump—the leader of the birther movement, and the man who ascended to the most powerful position on the planet step by step up a racist ladder—they don’t care enough. Trump began his presidential campaign infamously by accusing Mexican immigrants “[of] bringing crime.” “[T]hey are rapists” he said. He has returned to these themes repeatedly in the years since. And yet the Republican Party embraced him and continues to embrace him. The GOP stood behind him as he said immigrants from Haiti, Africa, and El Salvador, are from “shithole countries.” When Trump called Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, “some very fine people,” Republicans covered for him. It wasn’t just Trump who endorsed Roy Moore, a bigot and a child predator, in the recent Alabama Senate special election. The Republican Party and its affiliates also spent millions on his campaign. Trump terminated DACA, the program that protected hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation, but it was the GOP congressional leadership that has stood by, breaking their promises to those Dreamers, doing nothing.
I know first hand how badly written regulations can kill businesses. Many of them don’t even have their intended effect. I believe the private sector can provide certain services more efficiently than the government. And of course, all other things being equal, I would rather pay lower taxes. But things aren’t equal. No tax cut dividend is worth the harm Trump has inflicted on vulnerable people, and on our standing as a country.
We don’t know whether Kanye West understands any of this, or whether he understands it all too well—whether he can be convinced he’s wrong or whether he’s in the market for something other than convincing. But millions of decent people will be receptive to this point. That Republican loyalist from the Capitol Hill Club might not ditch the GOP, but people in your lives very well might.