In 1980, Orange County, California boasted a population that was 78 percent white. It was the birthplace of the American conservative movement, boasting 38 chapters of the anti-communist John Birch Society.
John Wayne —star of perhaps the finest movie ever made, The Searchers—was a member of this organization and lived in neighboring Newport Beach. In 1979, the same year he died at age 72, the airport in Orange County was renamed John Wayne Airport. A nine-foot statue of Wayne in cowboy garb stands in the lobby of the main terminal.
The Resolution of the Orange County Board of Supervisors proclaiming the name change says he was a “man of humility, of honesty, and a hero of the American West (who) was a symbol to the world of the traditional American values.”
If ever an actor epitomized the concept of Manifest Destiny, it was Wayne. He fought for 14 years to have the film The Alamo made—a movie he directed, produced, and starred in as Davy Crockett. Donald Clark writes in John Wayne’s The Alamo: The Making of the Epic Film that the movie was Wayne’s idea of “how being an American should be illustrated.” To Wayne, the Alamo was the archetypal American story, and the actor said the film should “remind the freedom-loving people of the world that, not too long ago, there were men and women who had the guts to stand up for the things they believed in, to the point of death.”
Yet Wayne’s conception of American identity is being buried by demographic change. In 1970, Orange County was 86 percent white. By 2004, the massive growth in non-white population (mostly Asians and Hispanics) pushed whites to just 49 percent of population. This demographic transformation ensured Democrats won all seven congressional house seats in 2018 election, a stinging reminder that demography is destiny even in the land of John Wayne.
Not surprisingly, the new population inhabiting the area has no love for a figure associated with the conquest of the West and traditional American identity. In 2016, a push by white Republicans to have a day celebrating the birthday of John Wayne was overwhelmingly voted down because of Wayne’s “racism.” A resolution in the State Assembly failed by 36-19 votes, with opponents Assemblyman Luis Alejo and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez citing a 1971 Playboy interview in which Wayne gave his views on race.
Among these were:
I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.
Our so-called stealing of this country from them [Indians] was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.
In today’s America, there’s something of an industry in finding old things to be offended by and drawing attention to them on social media. Thus, on Sunday, a screenwriter named Matt Williams rediscovered the interview and tweeted, “Jesus f**k, John Wayne was a straight up piece of s**t.” It was re-tweeted more than 10,000 times and liked more than 31,000 times, to the point “John Wayne” was trending on Twitter.
A pop culture website called Toofab called the interview “jaw-dropping” and racist. Among the quotes sparking outrage were:
The academic community has developed certain tests that determine whether the blacks are sufficiently equipped scholastically. But some blacks have tried to force the issue and enter college when they haven’t passed the tests and don’t have the requisite background.
There has to be a standard. I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves. . . . Now, I’m not condoning slavery. It’s just a fact of life, like the kid who gets infantile paralysis and has to wear braces so he can’t play football with the rest of us.
I will say this, though: I think any black who can compete with a white today can get a better break than a white man. I wish they’d tell me where in the world they have it better than right here in America.
Scott Eyman’s John Wayne: The Life and Legend reveals Wayne felt the 1964 Civil Rights Act violated the rights of property owners. Wayne also faced opposition because of his views on race even in his own era. A year after the 1971 Playboy interview, Wayne was made the grand marshal of the Rose Bowl Parade. The USC Daily Trojan opined that the selection of Wayne was “a gross insult to Blacks, to American Indians and to Americans of any race who believe in equality. John Wayne is blatant racist.” (p. 468) The editorial failed to dislodge him from his position.
Yet the postmortem damnatio memoriae may well succeed. It is likely there will be a movement to rename John Wayne Airport. After all, what does John Wayne have to do with the new population of Orange County, and, more broadly, California? And what does this new population have to do with the America that existed before the 1965 Immigration Act?
America was once an unapologetically white nation, and even film stars knew this to be true. Yet 2019 America is a self-hating, collapsing society. Republicans who think even an icon like John Wayne can survive demographic change are fooling themselves.
America’s elite is at war with this country’s own past, which is to say its white past. Our enemies won’t stop until every white hero is reexamined for hints of “racism.” The intent is to retcon our past—to ensure that American whites have no future.
The solution is to adopt an attitude like John Wayne’s and unapologetically stand for this country’s heroic heritage. There’s nothing wrong with the Duke, nor with America’s glorious past. Like John Wayne said in that interview in 1971: “We’re remembering that the past can’t be so bad. We built a nation on it.” Yet, like he also said, “We must also look always to the future.”