When European immigrant families came to America they sought to maintain their separate identities even at the cost of war with the natives, danger and death for themselves. Braving the difficult and sometimes hostile landscape in their relentless move west they came to feel entitled to the land riches and resources they found on their way.
This attitude along with the energy to occupy and settle the vast lands created the philosophic construct we came to call Manifest Destiny. The term refers to the unstated but understood “rights” of White, European-based, immigrant settlers to take the land, displace people and physically separate themselves from others different from themselves.
Ironically, the only people that were kept in their community were the Black slaves bought and paid for to work the fields and keep the homes in order. Slaves however, were not considered people, but expensive property necessary for agricultural production.
The westward expansion also created a dilemma for the growing abolitionist feelings in the North where slaves were not generally used for production. The bone of contention was the introduction of slavery in the new western territories.
A coalition of interests and groups against slavery united to organize the Republican Party. The successful election of Abraham Lincoln created the first major political Republican Party turn that resulted in the Civil War.
Winning the war and preserving the Union was a priority mandate for President Lincoln. Realignment of the political process and the rights of citizenship especially for Blacks in the South was the other.
Lincoln accomplished the first but was assassinated before he could address the other. This caused the Republican Party to slowly meander away from the Civil War issues and embrace the economics of money and industrial wealth.
In doing so, the South was in effect allowed to create and implement racist “Jim Crow” rules and laws that made African Americans and other minorities second class citizens. This was the major concern of the of the civil rights movements in the 20th Century.
During the Kennedy presidency, the Republicans sought to increase their political power by turning in a second major way and circling back to what the Party had been against in the Civil War. The effort, called the Southern Strategy, began with the Barry Goldwater candidacy and was successfully completed by Nixon’s election to the presidency.
In doing so, the Party aligned with the South’s conservative and racists politics as well as the political ground associated with the original European immigrant community that sought to displace and discount all other races and ethnic groups. This could last only for a relatively short time because that community continues to get smaller in its demography.
The “America First” ideology represents the third and perhaps the last significant effort to maintain the European immigrant heritage in a predominant position in a time when it is becoming a demographic minority. The Trump phenomenon and the radical anti-globalization movement is a backhanded admission that the American First people do not want that because the world is browner and that image is increasingly reflected in the United States.
Unfortunately, this also the root cause that divides our country. Also, that division is difficult to heal because it represents a struggle against the tyranny of heritage and identity.
The Republican Party needs to be an institution for all Americans of like-minded political philosophy regardless of geography, race, ethnicity, religion, social or economic status. The Party needs to get back to the Lincoln principles of equality before the law.