Former Senator John C. Danforth appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell recently, to speak about his op-ed in The Washington Post, calling on Republicans to shun Donald Trump and his politics.
It was a relatively limited argument for the party's supposed discomfort with Trump, as it relied heavily on the early development of the Republican Party under Lincoln. That was a long time ago. He neglected to mention the infamous Southern Strategy utilized by Republicans during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a strategy Jeet Heer of The New Republic notes, in February of 2016, that began with William F. Buckley's The National Review and the 1964 candidacy of Barry Goldwater, only later to be adopted by Richard Nixon on the heels of LBJ's civil rights initiatives:
"The Southern Strategy was the original sin that made Donald Trump possible."
Neglected, as well, was the infamous trip by Ronald Reagan to Philadelphia, Mississippi, to kick off his 1980 general election with a speech celebrating "states' rights." As Rachel Maddow noted , Philadelphia, Mississippi was known for the murder of three civil rights workers, and 1980 was the first year in many election cycles that segregationist George Wallace was not on the ballot. Maddow recalls Reagan's all-white crowd that day, and his apparent effort to "mop up" any segregationist votes that might be left over from the Wallace days.
Beyond these oversights, however, Danforth almost instantly removed any impression that his op-ed was some kind of profile in courage, in his interview with Lawrence O'Donnell. After introducing Danforth as holding both divinity and law degrees from Yale - intimating some kind of moral authority - O'Donnell began by asking Danforth if he is referring to elected Republicans in the op-ed. Danforth replied that he understands how hard it would be for the men and women who represent actual Americans to stand up to Trump. So much for moral clarity. Then, after doing his historical dive back to the time of Lincoln, Danforth totally destroyed his own credibility, by criticizing liberals for "identity politics," and being "touchy" about things like "micro-aggressions." It is rather breathtakingly obtuse for Danforth to complain about Trump's divisiveness and prejudice, while taking issue with the reaction of the victims of that divisiveness. After all, how does one effectively fight back from racism, misogyny and antisemitism, without being accused of engaging in "identity politics?" Being ever-cognizant of one's identity is the price you pay for a society that treats you based on that identity. (As a recent article on the debate over whether Jews should consider themselves to be white points out, the issue is academic: White Supremacists and the KKK have made that decision, for the time being.) The luxury of ignoring one's identity is reserved for the majority.
I've been an avid fan of Lawrence O'Donnell's show for some time now. There are many times when he has had the courage to speak truth to power on air, and urged other journalists to do the same. But as with his recent interview with George F. Will condemning Trump, without asking Will about the climate denialism they share, I was disappointed that O'Donnell didn't confront Danforth on his hypocrisy. Perhaps he holds him in high esteem due to his long legislative career. But if Republicans are really to rid themselves of the stench of the Trump presidency, they need to look more deeply at themselves, than their historical ties to President Lincoln.