Even though essentially every prominent Democrat has urged Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to resign after news broke that he featured a racist image on his personal medical school yearbook page, conservatives have seized on the embarrassing scandal in their never-ending attempts to rewrite history.
On Monday night, Fox News’ host Sean Hannity insisted that Northam’s yearbook proves that Democrats are the real racists, while citing former President Abraham Lincoln — who was assassinated over 150 years ago — and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The contents of this “Hannity History Lesson” are nothing new for those who have spent time following the right-wing echo chamber. Republicans often use Lincoln and civil rights votes that occurred over half a century ago to deflect accusations of racism.
The Republican Party:
Freed the slaves
Passed the Civil Rights Act
Deployed the 101st airborne to end school segregation
Fought for slavery
Founded the KKK
Filibustered to kill the Civil Rights Act
Know your history, free your mind
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) February 2, 2019
Someone may want to let her know that Democrats were the party of slavery and had to get voted out of office so Republicans could abolish slavery, give women the right to vote, AND deliver Civil Rights. 🤦🏽♀️#blessherheart https://t.co/h2utwbhj6l
— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) February 1, 2019
Just a reminder: it wasn’t the Republicans who wanted to save slavery. And Lincoln was NOT a Democrat. https://t.co/J2Qxm1rHp3
— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) July 6, 2018
It is true that Lincoln was a Republican and many Democrats opposed both the abolition of slavery 155 years ago and the passage of the Civil Rights Act nearly 55 years ago. But what this convenient conservative narrative ignores is how the parties’ platforms have shifted dramatically during that time. The Democrats and Republicans of the 1860s bear little resemblance to their 2019 or even 1964 successors.
For example, the Republicans of the 1860s established the first federal income tax, a national banking system, a federal currency, and Reconstruction — which was intended to achieve social justice in the post-Civil War South — after fighting and winning a war that established the federal government’s dominance over states.
The GOP formed in 1854 in the wake of the Whig Party, which had finally fallen apart after years of deep internal divisions over slavery. But in the decades between the Civil War and the Great Depression, Republicans shifted from a party focused on expanding civil rights to protecting the financial interests of wealthy Americans. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal gained popularity, conservatives became increasingly opposed to the expansion of the federal government.
During the century between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both Democrats and Republicans sent numerous segregationists to Congress, as geography was a more common indicator of racial attitudes than party identification.
But the real shift occurred when President Lyndon B. Johnson picked up the reigns of the proposed Civil Rights Act following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Democrats — who controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress by large margins — introduced and provided most of the votes for the Civil Rights Act. It passed the House and Senate with the support of zero GOP legislators from the South and only a handful of southern Democratic lawmakers.
Johnson knew the backlash for his party would be swift, reportedly telling an aide, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”
The Republican nominee for president in 1964 — Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona — was a vocal opponent of the Civil Rights Act. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) switched his party affiliation and joined the GOP during that campaign, citing Democrats’ support for expanding civil rights. The South has been solidly Republican since 1964.
Richard Nixon was supported by around 32 percent of Black voters in the 1960 presidential election. Since the Civil Rights Act and subsequent Voting Rights Act of 1965 were enacted, no GOP candidate has received more than 15 percent of the Black vote.
Kevin M. Kruse — a popular historian who debunks conspiracy theories so frequently that his Twitter account displays an image of Sisyphus — mocked Hannity’s Monday segment and provided a history lesson based on actual history in a series of tweets.
Well, I had a good run, I guess. https://t.co/LRQDq4asy4
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) February 5, 2019
(Gestures futilely at pinned threads, sobs uncontrollably) https://t.co/Ev59ns2mgt
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) February 5, 2019
Many of the Republicans using Northam to criticize Democrats have had little to say about racism within their own party.