BY: Alex Griswold
A front-page New York Times story detailed Tuesday how the white supremacist and alt-right movements that many warned were on the rise now appear to be fractured and on the decline. The most obvious indication of the far-right’s slide back into irrelevance came Sunday when barely twenty people showed up to the much-hyped “Unite the Right” rally …Read More
A front-page New York Times story detailed Tuesday how the white supremacist and alt-right movements that many warned were on the rise now appear to be fractured and on the decline. The most obvious indication of the far-right's slide back into irrelevance came Sunday when barely twenty people showed up to the much-hyped "Unite the Right" rally a year after it drew 400 attendees.
It was a fine premise for a fine story, but toward the end of the piece comes this:
But some experts on white nationalism say the movement’s political agenda remains disconcertingly widespread. And some policy issues the far right has promoted, including immigration restrictions, ending affirmative action and instituting trade protections, have been embraced by mainstream right-wing politicians and pundits.
"What’s crucial for the fate of the alt-right is not the demonstrations," said Thomas J. Main, a political scientist at Baruch College. "They are a political movement that is concerned with influencing the way people think, and there are a lot of signs that their ideas continue to penetrate mainstream media and political culture."
Seriously, New York Times? Whether or not you agree with tariffs, immigration restrictions, or opposition to affirmative action (I'm only one-for-three), it's pretty obvious that these are long-debated, legitimate policy positions on the left and right alike that ought to be divorced from the smear of white nationalism.
Yes, white nationalists do support those positions, but only because they happen to fall in line with their idiosyncratic views. When mainstream right-wing figures hold the same positions for wildly different reasons, it doesn't follow that it's a sign that white nationalist ideas "continue to penetrate" our politics.
Take for example the issue of abortion. Nazi Germany led the way in liberalizing abortion laws, legalizing it for all women but strongly pressuring Jewish and non-Aryan women to seek the procedure. Later during World War II, they banned the procedure for Aryan women and made it a capital crime to procure one.
It's exceedingly obvious that the Nazi position on abortion had nothing to do with reproductive rights or protecting human life and had everything to do with promoting certain races. But one could have made the same bad faith argument the Times does and accuse post-war Republicans and Democrats alike of embracing "some policy issues the far right has promoted," even though their motivations were radically different.
Proponents of the supposed "far-right" positions outlined by the Times include liberal members of minority groups who obviously have no love of white nationalism. Bernie Sanders is a proponent of keeping immigration levels low, denouncing the 2007 comprehensive immigration bill as a Koch Brothers ploy. Congressman Ted Leiu ripped Harvard for its affirmative action policies, calling them racist against Asian-American students. Proud Native-American Elizabeth Warren supports tariffs as a means to protect workers.
The same is true of ordinary Americans. Take affirmative action, the most obviously racially-tinged of the three debates. Polling on the issue is notoriously difficult, as responses are wildly dependent on how questions are phrased. But a 2016 Gallup poll found that 50% of blacks and 61% Hispanics said that colleges should admit applicants solely on merit, rather than taking race or ethnicity into account. When asked how much race or ethnicity should factor into admissions decisions, a majority of blacks (57%) and a plurality of Hispanics (47%) said it "should not be a factor at all," rather than either a minor or major factor.
Even if we take it for granted that question phrasing or some other circumstance led to higher-than-usual support, how many "white nationalist" policies could you trick more than half of minorities in the country into supporting?
The worry about support for "immigration restrictions" is arguably the most tenuous from the Times, given the longstanding bipartisan consensus for at least some immigration restrictions (only 21% of Americans support "basically open borders"). Where's the line that makes one a borderline Nazi? This is one of the issues where I depart from pro-Trump conservatives, but even I realize there are good-faith, non-racist reasons to support reducing legal immigration levels, ending the lottery visa, curtailing family migration, etc. I just happen to disagree.
We should delight in the fact that racist and far-right elements of our body politic appear to be on the decline. But to suggest the taint of racism has now infected well-meaning individuals within the political mainstream is textbook fear-mongering.Read Less