Charles P. Pierce and others have been making solid points about our inability to talk seriously about what happened in Charleston last night. Or, more specifically, about the unwillingness of mainstream politicians to confront the central story here. Hillary Clinton did broach the subject in a speech Thursday, but mainly in the context of guns and collective action. (“This time we have to find answers together.”) Still, one could see how this story and its aftermath might help define her campaign in a constructive way.
Charleston may also define the GOP race, but for very different reasons. What is clear, in the Right’s confused, unseemly response to the shooting, is how the refusal to meaningfully discuss racism — or to address the party’s well-honed use thereof – has been largely institutionalized in the GOP. One result is that the Republican party has no meaningful or honest way to discuss tragedies like this, and so is left to explain it as a purely random act of evil or as an attack on Christianity (which, apparently, is the best Fox can do); or as an occasion for yet another proactive defense of the Second Amendment — responses that, one suspects, will haunt Republicans for the next 16 months.
But the GOP is paying another price for its refusal to refute or even acknowledge the legacy of its Southern strategy. More and more, the GOP is the party of the dark family secret — an institution whose denial of a huge moral error is slowly robbing the party not only of its legitimacy as an American party, but also of its basic ideological functioning: this is no longer a party capable of saying what it is really about, or, importantly, of fielding candidates who reflect, and can argue for, the functional conservatism that was once at the party’s core, and which this country desperately needs. Rather, the GOP is a party so denatured by its own lack of courage and moral center that it now wanders the political streets muttering like a homeless person. One needn’t look too hard to see a direct line between the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina statehouse and a GOP “presidential” field made up in large part by narcissists, incompetents, and ass clowns.