Thug

August 1, 2021

by Steve Stofka

Following the Civil War, the Democratic Party welcomed a new breed of thug organized under the name of the Ku Klux Klan. Clad in white hoods and bed sheets, they looked like characters in a Punch and Judy show. Using fear, torture and fire they attacked black people in the South. They used intimidation and poll taxes to discourage blacks from participating in their own government. The Democratic Party hugged the thugs.

In 1954, the Supreme Court decided the Brown v. Board of Education case (Oyez, 2021) and held that segregated schools were not equal. In 1956, a Clinton, TN school was the first high school to attempt integration. The sons and grandsons of the KKK thugs can be seen throwing rocks at black girls trying to go to school (LOC, 2004).

Ten years later, former Texas Senator and now President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to help give black people an equal opportunity to participate in politics, and the liberty to compete in the economy without prejudice. He tried to kick the thugs out of the Democratic Party and that bugged the thugs.

Dubbed the “Southern Strategy” Presidential candidate Richard Nixon welcomed them to the Republican Party. Instead of throwing rocks, Nixon proposed vouchers and other taxpayer funds that would help white parents in working class neighborhoods send their children to white only schools (Brown, 2004, 191-2). It was to be called “school choice.” In 1971, Nixon even proposed a Constitutional Amendment to reverse a Supreme Court decision to integrate schools.

“The Democrats don’t care about working people anymore,” became the refrain of voters who switched their allegiance from the Democratic to the Republican Party. In the 1980s President Reagan led a conservative movement that nurtured an intellectual thuggery. The actor Michael Douglas’ rallying cry of “Greed is good!” in the 1987 movie Wall Street portrayed this new-style thug. A 40-something Donald Trump, coddled from birth and protected by bodyguards and lawyers, liked the brashness. He portrayed brash.

Thirty years later Mr. Trump was brash enough to take on a phalanx of Republican Presidential candidates. He was a thug with a mug and spoke to the thugs in the party, saying any damn thing he wanted to because he was a smug thug. Thugs throw rocks at little girls. They grab women’s privates with impunity because they are not bound by the rules of decency. Mr. Trump promised his supporters a wall to keep out the Others. His supporters’ kids wouldn’t have to go to school with those Other kids. When he became President, he appointed an Education Secretary who championed school choice, and for four years he kept trying to build his Big Beautiful wall.

After he lost the election, the thug did not shrug. Rather, he remembered a line from actor Jimmy Cagney, “You dirty rat,” and complained, “Those thugs bugged the polls.” He called his supporters to the White House on January 6th  to take out the dirty rats who had stolen the election from him, including his own Vice-President, Mike Pence. The Presidency was his territory, see, and those Other guys was muscling in on his territory. Mr. Trump called on his supporters to take back the territory and they broke open the doors to Congress.  

Convinced that democracy produces populist thugs like Mr. Trump, the Founding Fathers set up a republic to insulate the institutions of law and government from public passions. After much argument and compromise, they would not let people even vote directly for their own President. Today we elect members of an Electoral College who elect the President. Two years after the drafting of the Constitution in 1787, the French people stormed the Bastille in Paris and ten years of Revolutionary fervor and terror followed. Answering critics, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison pointed to the anarchy that erupted in France as a demonstration that people could not be trusted with the power of a fully democratic state. January 6th was yet another reminder of that truth.

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Photo by Martin Zaenkert on Unsplash

Brown, F. (2004). Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and forces against Brown. The Journal of Negro Education, 73(3), 191. doi:10.2307/4129605

Library of Congress (LOC). (2004, November 13). Brown v. board at Fifty: “with an Even hand” the aftermath. Retrieved July 31, 2021, from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-aftermath.html#obj121C

Oyez. (2021). Brown v. Board of Education. Retrieved July 31, 2021, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/347us483

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