Yes, there’s new audio of Saint President Ronald Reagan, widely considered by Republicans to be the pinnacle of Republican achievement and a shining beacon of well-coiffedness, being a raging, odious racist. Of course there is. Reagan led the party through the transition from doing very racist things in openly racist ways to doing very racist things under thin pretenses of reform and oversight and patriotism. He inherited it from racists and staffed it with racists. He was a staunch advocate for gun rights only until black Americans began taking public advantage of the same rights, upon which he reversed the rules; he popularized the notion of black “welfare queens” living extravagant lives at taxpayer expense, and he rode the conspiracy theory with Trumpian conviction during his own campaigns.
Yes, Reagan was a racist. In private he doesn’t appear to have felt the need to hide it, when talking with like-minded leaders in unguarded moments. After African nations had helped foil a United Nations vote that didn’t go America’s way, the California governor called then-president Nixon and absolutely unloaded.
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan told his president.
Nixon himself was, of course, a racist ass in his own private conversations; this was a period in which top Republican leaders knew they had to tamp down the public versions, but were perfectly comfortable strategizing among themselves over how they could accomplish racist goals with various versions of Reagan’s crude language. The pair knew each other well enough to dispense with the more evasive version.
What does the new audio reveal, then? Not much. It provides another humiliation for the ever-lucrative cottage industry of Republicans insisting the great conservative heroes of modern history were Actually Not Racist, but none of the grifters (e.g., Dinesh D’Souza) find such humiliations damaging to their bottom lines. It is at least another reminder that the Republican Party electoral strategy, led now by Trump, of nonwhite demonization has followed a straight line from those days to these; “welfare queens” are inextricably linked to the Central Park Five, and “monkeys” to “shithole countries,” and each conservative presidential campaign in memory has relied on stoking fear against black Americans, or immigrants, or non-English speakers, or all of the above, in a relentless effort to portray White Civilization as being under siege.
And then as now, the challengers to white rule can only be turned back by an entertainment star with noteworthy hair and a not-entirely-on-the-level personal history. Conservatism, by definition, is most comfortable dipping its bucket in the same old wells.