They Are Who We Said They Were

Say it ain’t so, Saint Ronnie! (boldface mine):

The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh…

Had the story stopped there, it would have been bad enough. Racist venting is still racist. But what happened next showed the dynamic power of racism when it finds enablers. Nixon used Reagan’s call as an excuse to adapt his language to make the same point to others. Right after hanging up with Reagan, Nixon sought out Secretary of State William Rogers.

Even though Reagan had called Nixon to press him to withdraw from the United Nations, in Nixon’s telling, Reagan’s complaints about Africans became the primary purpose of the call.

“As you can imagine,” Nixon confided in Rogers, “there’s strong feeling that we just shouldn’t, as [Reagan] said, he saw these, as he said, he saw these—” Nixon stammered, choosing his words carefully—“these, uh, these cannibals on television last night, and he says, ‘Christ, they weren’t even wearing shoes, and here the United States is going to submit its fate to that,’ and so forth and so on.”

The president wanted his patrician secretary of state to understand that Reagan spoke for racist Americans, and they needed to be listened to. “You know, but that’s typical of a reaction, which is probably”—“That’s right,” Rogers interjected—“quite strong.”

…Oddly unfocused, he spoke with Rogers again two hours later and repeated the story as if it would be new to the secretary.

“Reagan called me last night,” Nixon said, “and I didn’t talk to him until this morning, but he is, of course, outraged. And I found out what outraged him, and I find this is typical of a lot of people: They saw it on television and, he said, ‘These cannibals jumping up and down and all that.’ And apparently it was a pretty grotesque picture.” Like Nixon, Rogers had not seen the televised images. But Rogers agreed: “Apparently, it was a terrible scene.” Nixon added, “And they cheered.”

Nixon didn’t think of himself as a racist; perhaps that’s why it was so important to him to keep quoting Reagan’s racism, rather than own the sentiment himself. But Reagan’s comment about African leaders resonated with Nixon, because it reflected his warped thinking about African Americans…

The 40th president has not left as dramatic a record of his private thoughts. Reagan’s racism appears to be documented only once on the Nixon tapes, and never in his own diaries. His comment on African leaders, however, sheds new light on what lay behind the governor’s passionate defense of the apartheid states of Rhodesia and South Africa later in the 1970s. During his 1976 primary-challenge run against Gerald Ford, Reagan publicly opposed the Ford administration’s rejection of white-minority rule in Rhodesia. “We seem to be embarking on a policy of dictating to the people of southern Africa and running the risk of increased violence and bloodshed,” Reagan said at a rally in Texas.

Needless to say, some Americans, especially those whom a New York Times deputy editor might refer to as non-Southern or non-Midwestern, aren’t surprised (boldface mine):

But many African Americans have long regarded Reagan as an exploiter of racism for political gain. He kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, a Ku Klux Klan stronghold where civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered in 1964.

As Bob Herbert wrote a decade ago in the New York Times, Reagan appeared “in front of a white and, at times, raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000, chanting: ‘We want Reagan! We want Reagan!’ ”

Reagan told the crowd, “I believe in states’ rights,” signalling his views on racial justice. “Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery,” Herbert wrote, “but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.

He was opposed to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was the same year that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were slaughtered. As president, he actually tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He opposed a national holiday for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to get rid of the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination. And in 1988, he vetoed a bill to expand the reach of federal civil rights legislation.

Il Trumpe just says the parts you’re supposed to say in private in public. They are who we said they were.

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2 Responses to They Are Who We Said They Were

  1. jonolan says:

    So? While couched in what is now called racist rhetoric, Reagan was essentially right. Allowing the “leaders” of the African “nations” to have a say beyond their borders and to affect international rulings and norms was and still is dangerously stupid.

  2. Zachary Smith says:

    “While couched in what is now called racist rhetoric…”
    The way you phrased that suggests you have different standards for “racist rhetoric”. Perhaps stuff more radical than “monkeys” and “cannibals”.

    “Allowing the “leaders” of the African “nations” to have a say beyond their borders and to affect international rulings and norms was and still is dangerously stupid.”
    You forgot to mention whether you approve of allowing “leaders” of American “nations” being allowed to bomb and murder and raise hell “beyond their border”s. Care to clarify that issue?

    Reagan was a softer spoken and more polished version of Trump, and in my personal opinion even more racist than Trump. At least Trump didn’t deliberately start his Presidential campaign in a place were Black US citizens had been murdered.

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