Activating white panic

Adam Serwer points out that the white nationalists are winning.

Despite the controversy over the rally and its bloody aftermath, the white nationalists’ ideological goals remain a core part of the Trump agenda. As long as that agenda finds a home in one of the two major American political parties, a significant portion of the country will fervently support it. And as an ideological vanguard, the alt-right fulfilled its own purpose in pulling the Republican Party in its direction.

A year after white nationalists in Charlottesville chanted, “You will not replace us!” their message has been taken up and amplified by Fox News personalities. Tucker Carlson tells his audience that “Latin American countries are changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country.” Laura Ingraham says that “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore” because of “massive demographic changes” as a result of “both illegal and sometimes legal immigration that progressives love.” They echo the white-nationalist claim that America is at risk because the nation is growing more diverse, an argument that treats the mere presence of nonwhite people, citizen or noncitizen, as an existential threat to the country. White nationalists like Cantwell are cheered to hear their beliefs championed on Fox. Cantwell wrote last year that Carlson “is basically telling white America to prepare for war as directly as he can get away with while remaining on Fox News.”

White nationalists win by activating white panic, by frightening a sufficient number of white people into believing that their safety and livelihoods can only be protected by defining American citizenship in racial terms, and by convincing them that American politics is a zero-sum game in which white people only win when people of color lose. While this dynamic has always been present in American politics, it has been decades since the White House has been occupied by a president who so visibly delights in exploiting it, aided by a right-wing media infrastructure that has come to see it as a ratings strategy.

On the other hand, the rest of the media infrastructure is not nearly as monolithically white male as it was in Nixon’s day. I think that’s one ratchet blocking a total victory for the white supremacists.

While liberals may have seen the backlash to Trump’s defense of the rally in Charlottesville as heartening, the incident itself seems to have convinced Trump and his allies that they could survive any controversy over the president’s views on race. Former Trump aides told Politico’s Annie Karni that “the takeaway from Charlottesville is the nihilistic notion that nothing matters except for how things play.” That helps explain why, about a month later, Trump began attacking black athletes for protesting police brutality. After an initial show of defiance, the NFL ultimately forced players to cease their protests or pay fines, allowing the head of state to dictate when Americans are allowed to protest violations of their rights by agents of that state—violations Trump himself has vocally encouraged. As long as the president believes racist demagoguery plays to his advantage, he will not retreat from it, and neither will his most loyal acolytes.

Indeed. We’re hanging by a thread here.

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