Earlier this week, a 22-year-old interview with John Ehrlichman, a former aide to President Richard Nixon, was published in Harper’s Magazine that confirmed what many black people have always suspected, which is that the “War on Drugs” was specifically designed to target African-Americans. Said Ehrlichman, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.” Ehrlichman added, “we knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”
I read Ehrlichman’s confession on the same morning that I was preparing to go and defend a young black man in federal court who had been indicted on weapons and drug charges. At that moment, I could not help but reflect on both the racism and inanity that is the War on Drugs as well as the fact that for the majority of my adult life, I was a card-carrying black Republican who at one point during my youth admired President Nixon.
Yes, you read correctly: I was a black Republican. Not a Herman Cain or Ben Carson Republican, mind you, but I fervently believed that blacks, particularly in the Republican-dominated South, needed to have brothers and sisters of good conscience advocating on behalf of black people in both parties.
When I registered to vote during my freshman year at Morehouse College in 1990-91, my dorm room walls not only featured the latest Jet Magazine “Beauties of the Week,” but they were also adorned with Newsweek Magazine’s pictures of President George H.W. Bush, General Norman Schwarzkopf and my idol, General and later Secretary of State Colin Powell. At a time when most of our campus was inundated with anti-war rhetoric, I was arguing at political forums for the need to defeat Saddam Hussein and establish order in the Middle East.
When I was a child, the Iran Hostage Crisis, where the Ayatollah Khomeni’s minions held 52 American hostages for 444 days from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, served as my first political awakening. The fact that the hostages were released on Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration Day was critical to my young political psyche.
What I was too young to understand at the time was that Reagan, like Donald Trump and other modern Republicans, was a race baiter. I was too young to comprehend the sinister nature of Reagan’s decision to announce his presidential candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a small town that was only famous for being the site where the bodies of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were found brutally lynched in 1964. Or that Reagan’s “welfare queen” comments early in his first administration were precursors to the continuing stereotypes of blacks being the main beneficiaries of government handouts, a position that to this very hour fails to acknowledge that more whites per capita participate in government assistance programs.
There was a time in my life where Republican race baiting was subtle. It is crystal clear that today, we have come almost full circle, as it is only a matter of time before Trump or some other major Republican figure starts using racial slurs as parts of their stump speeches. I saw this coming back in 2008 when Barack Obama was on the verge of becoming the first black President of the United States. Like many black Republicans, I supported Obama, in part because George W. Bush’s failed economic policies had us teetering on the brink of a new Great Depression. But to be honest, I also had no intention whatsoever of having to look my grandkids in the eyes someday and explain why I did not support the first viable black presidential candidate or fight hard against those whose biases compelled them to obstruct his efforts while in office.
So now, I watch my former party burn to the ground; immolated by racial hatred, misogyny, religious bigotry and a disdain for same sex unions. And to be honest, this is necessary. Hopefully, from the ashes, those of us of good conscience with conservative leanings will continue to work hard to make our nation’s de facto motto, “E Pluribus Unum” or “From many, one,” a reality and not just an illusory concept.
Chuck Hobbs is a trial lawyer and freelance writer based in Tallahassee, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @RealChuckHobbs