A video from Prager U — an organization that shares right-wing videos online but is not actually an accredited institution of higher learning whatsoever — highlighted a speech given by Kanye West in Salt Lake City earlier last month.
More recently, West has said he wants to rename himself, temporarily, as “Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West.” He’s also suggested that he may run for president in 2024.
In the Prager U video, however, which captured a speech the rapper gave on October 6, West tried to tell a brief tale of history, making a defense of the current incarnation of the Republican Party by talking about the history of the GOP in the 1860s.
West spoke into a microphone to a large crowd of people. It was “the Republican Party that freed the slaves,” he said in his diatribe.
West is factually correct, but missing 150 years of change that the Republican Party of the 1860s has undergone. In actuality, a Republican today would be unrecognizable from their own party back then.
Taking a quick look at the party’s platform from 1868 — just three years after the Lincoln assassination — highlights that fact. Consider that the document, promoting the party as the better option for the nation in that year’selections, called for the continued “equal suffrage” of men in across the country and particularly in the south. This is a direct call for the right to vote for former slaves in those states to continue, unabridged.
Today, the GOP is clearly the party of disenfranchisement. Republicans push restrictive, and in almost all cases unnecessarily burdensome, voter ID laws. The party has promoted efforts to close polling places, with thousands of locations shut down across the nation over the past few years. Republicans continue to oppose granting suffrage rights to ex-felons who have served out their sentences. And Republican legislatures and governors across America have also purged registered voters from the voting rolls for innocuous reasons.
All of these moves have detrimental consequences, but they have hurt communities of color far more than they have white people. While Republicans in the 1860s were no saints, with many of them still harboring racist viewpoints, the party back in those days was about empowering black Americans, not finding methods of disenfranchising them as the GOP appears to be doing today.
The 1868 platform is important to look back upon for another reason: the issue of immigration. A Republican today reading what the party wrote back then might feel their blood turn red hot, if you didn’t mention to them the fact that it was their party that had written it:
“Foreign immigration, which in the past, has added so much to the wealth, development of resources, and increase of power to this nation — the asylum of the oppressed of all nations — should be fostered and encouraged by a liberal and just policy.”
Just try to put forward those ideals in the Republican Party today. Any candidate for office, or any politician already selected to serve, espousing those viewpoints would undoubtedly be primaried by a far-right candidate denouncing them.
One last point about the 1868 platform — it also mentions impeachment. The Republican Party of that year pushed hard in defense of their attempts to remove President Andrew Johnson from office, alleging that he had “usurped high legislative and judicial functions,” and that he “abused the pardoning power.” Johnson also “denounced the National Legislature as unconstitutional,” those Republicans said.
Flash-forward to today, and you see a chief executive who is doing exactly those things.
- President Donald Trump has “usurped” Congress by refusing to accept their decision on funding the border wall and removing funds from other parts of the government in order to pay for it.
- He’s “abused the pardoning power” by granting clemencies to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and author Dinesh D’Souza, seemingly only because they are strong supporters of his policies.
- And Trump often calls the actions of his detractors — including those in Congress — unconstitutional, and even treasonous.
The very reasons cited in the 1868 platform from the Republican Party in defense of their attempts to impeach a president could be used to justify the impeachment of the current commander-in-chief.
The overall point? Kanye West and others who say that Republicans freed the slaves, or otherwise point to the positive changes to the nation that the GOP pushed for in the 1860s as justifications for supporting the party today, haven’t studied actual history, from recent times or the past.
Even words from Lincoln himself could be derided by the party today as being “socialist” if a member of the GOP was unaware of him saying them:
“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital,” Lincoln once said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
It’s that president’s views that West says he admires. Unfortunately, the temperament and viewpoints of Lincoln and the party he once led are nowhere to be found within the White House today.