Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace was a notorious segregationist who brought his racism to the national stage from the 1968 presidential election through the 1976 election. But according to one historian, President Donald Trump has surpassed Wallace's level of racism.
Princeton Professor Kevin M. Kruse wrote a piece in the New York Times Sunday that outlined the graver threat Trump is to the United States than Wallace was in the mid-60s.
Wallace told white, working and middle-class American voters that he was their champion. He could feel their pain, as the country transitioned from centuries of racist segregation to the civil rights movement.
"As governor, [Wallace] embodied the cause of segregationist resistance, literally standing in the schoolhouse door to block the first black students at the University of Alabama and figuratively standing against what he called the 'civil wrongs bill,'" Kruse recalled.
Kruse argued that Wallace didn't make his racist appeals in the open, he used phrases about "ordinary Americans" being overcome by liberal protesters and liberals in government. He talked about the "deep state" long before Trump even knew what that was. Wallace promised to restore "law and order," just as Trump has.
Wallace was a former bantamweight boxer, Kruse explained. So, he loved the political combat, much in the way Trump loves to fight his adversaries. He went after hippies, civil rights "agitators," "lazy" welfare recipients, "communists," "pointy-headed intellectuals" and "street thugs whom liberals, he said, believed had 'turned to rape and murder because they didn't get enough broccoli when they were little boys.'"
Trump is already recycling the tired 1950s threat Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) screamed into hearing microphones about everyone from American soldiers to Hollywood actors. More than a half-century later, the GOP is still crying "communist" and "socialism," regardless of whether it's true or not. Ironically, however, they're doing it while embracing a dictator who wants nothing more than to bring back the Cold War.
Like Trump, Wallace empowered and excited "Cabdrivers and cattle ranchers, secretaries and steelworkers, they hung on every word, memorized the lines, treasured them, savored them, waited to hear them again," Kruse quoted an Esquire profile on the ex-governor. "George Wallace was their avenging angel. George Wallace said out loud what they nervously kept to themselves. George Wallace articulated their deepest fears, their darkest hates. George Wallace promised revenge."
Trump's supporters parrot his attacks on "political correctness," they chant "send her back" about an immigrant congresswoman, they repeat "drain the swamp" without even knowing just how many lobbyists Trump has brought into his cabinet.
"He says what we're thinking and what we want to say," Kruse quoted a white woman at a Montana Trump rally.
"We wish we could speak our mind without worrying about the consequences," Kruse cited a white man at a Phoenix event. "He can speak his mind without worrying."
Unfortunately, our actions all have consequences. It's something most people learn as children. If we fall, it hurts. If you touch a hot stove, you get burned. If you start a war, innocent people die.
"By articulating their audiences' hatred, both men effectively encouraged them to act on it," he explained.
Wallaces rallies typically had outbreaks of violence as his fans took his words literally. Wallace advocated dragging hippies "by the hair of their head." That's precisely what happened at a 1968 rally, where protesters were dragged through metal chairs. Wallace announced from the stage, "You came here for trouble, and you got it."
Kruse recalled the 2015 Trump rally in Alabama where an African-American protester was punched, kicked and choked. Trump told his supporters, "maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing." He later went so far as to say he'd pay the legal fees of any supporter who beats up a rally protester.
The week that Trump was elected, Raw Story found at least 149 acts of violence by Trump supporters against people of color. We ultimately quit counting them.
In late 2018, Kruse recalled the arrest of Cesar Sayoc Jr., who mailed pipe bombs to high-profile Democrats and media organizations who criticized the president. His excuse is now that Trump and Fox News host Sean Hannity "radicalized him," a term often associated with terrorists.
"President Trump warned his supporters that they were in danger from Democrats, and at times condoned violence against his critics and 'enemies,'" the MAGA bomber's lawyers claimed.
"Since the midterms, Mr. Trump's rhetoric and the threats from his supporters have only intensified. In March, a Trump backer in New York was arrested on charges of threatening to 'put a bullet' in Ms. Omar's 'skull,'" wrote Kruse. "In April, a Trump supporter in Florida was arrested on charges of making death threats to Ms. Tlaib and two other Democrats. This month, two police officers in Louisiana were fired over a Facebook post, suggesting that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez should be shot."
The rhetoric will get worse as the president gets more desperate to win in November. But Kruse explained that it is "long past time" he think about the consequences of his words.