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COLUMN: Another dog whistle

Back in 2015, pressure was mounting to move Confederate monuments out of public spaces. The GOP’s white rural base was incensed, demanding we not erase history like those statues did when they were erected.

To protect the monuments, the GOP put in place bureaucratic obstacles to prevent a local government or a gubernatorial administration from removing them. They passed a law that requires the North Carolina Historical Commission to approve the removal any Confederate monument in the state. With hundreds of monuments honoring the Confederacy across the state, the law was meant to slow the process of removal to a crawl. 

Now, Thom Tillis is using the same tactic in the U.S. Senate to protect the names of military bases honoring Confederate generals. Tillis and Sen. Tom Cotton introduced an amendment to the National Defense Reauthorization Act that would require the Department of Defense to set up a commission to study anything named for Confederates and then send a list to Congress and the Secretary of Defense to allow them to determine what should be renamed. The goal is the same as the North Carolina bill: stretch the process out as long as possible to keep all those white Republicans happy. 

As a country, we are entering into a new phase that will bring a new perspective on race and history. More than a 150 years after Lee surrendered to Grant, we’re coming to terms with the end of the Civil War and its meaning. Defending the Confederacy is no longer acceptable. It’s time to admit that the generals and politicians who led that cause did so to keep Black people enslaved. Protecting their places of honor in our society is racially insensitive, a term that is a euphemism for racist.  


Tillis can argue that he wants a thoughtful approach to removing names of Confederates from bases but he’s really just trying to appease his base. That’s the crux of the matter and has been for more than 50 years. The modern Republican Party stood with segregationists in the 1960s and 1970s, claiming states’ rights. They opposed the Martin Luther King Holiday in the 1980s, citing the burden on employers for having to endure another day off. When the GOP gained power in states across the nation following the 2010 mid-terms, they put in place voter suppression laws that disproportionally targeted African Americans, claiming they were combating voter fraud they had never noticed until a Black man became president. 

Now, they’re opposing removing monuments to men who took up arms against the U.S. government in name of protecting history. Republicans have been insulting or discriminating against African Americans for more than half a decade, always in the name of some other cause. That’s the essence of dog whistles and that’s what Thom Tillis is blowing right now. 

Despite their denials, Republicans have been tolerant of racism in their party since the 1960s. Today, the racists have become the core of their base. Tillis is trying to strike the balance of sending a message that he stands with them while telling the rest of us that he’s something else. And Thom Tillis is something else. He’ll be whatever he thinks you want him to be. 

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant.

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