King is out of step with Amer­i­can ideals

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view

Gold­berg says U.S. Rep Steve King shouldn’t get the ben­e­fit of the doubt over his com­ments on white na­tion­al­ism.

As a per­cent­age of its pop­u­la­tion, Iowa sent more troops to fight in the Civil War than any other state. Iowans fought on the side of the Union against the Con­fed­er­ate South. Abra­ham Lin­coln, the pres­i­dent of the United States and the com­man­der in chief of Union forces, was the first Repub­li­can pres­i­dent. So it seems odd (to me, at least) that a Repub­li­can con­gress­man from Iowa would dis­play a Con­fed­er­ate flag on his desk. But that’s what Rep. Steve King did as re­cently as 2016. (He re­moved it only after it was re­vealed that a cop killer had waved a Con­fed­er­ate flag at an Iowa high school foot­ball game.)

I’m not one of those peo­ple who think ev­ery­one who dis­plays a Con­fed­er­ate flag is nec­es­sar­ily a racist or a bigot. But I usu­ally re­serve the ben­e­fit of the doubt for ac­tual South­ern­ers who are nod­ding to tra­di­tion or nos­tal­gia.

If there’s one thing King has not earned it’s the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Even ac­count­ing for an IQ that seems to be in con­flict with the idea that white peo­ple are su­pe­rior, the man un­der­stands what he’s up to.

In an in­ter­view with the New York Times pub­lished Thurs­day, King asked: “White na­tion­al­ist, white su­prem­a­cist, Western civ­i­liza­tion — how did that lan­guage be­come of­fen­sive? Why did I sit in classes teach­ing me about the mer­its of our his­tory and our civ­i­liza­tion?”

The ob­vi­ous an­swer is be­cause he needed an ed­u­ca­tion — and still does.

At the 2016 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, King re­sponded to the sug­ges­tion that the GOP needs to ap­peal to Amer­i­cans other than old white peo­ple: “I’d ask you to go back through his­tory and fig­ure out, where are these con­tri­bu­tions that have been made by these other cat­e­gories of peo­ple that you’re talk­ing about, where did any other sub­group of peo­ple con­trib­ute more to civ­i­liza­tion?”

Con­trary to the prat­tle of white na­tion­al­ists and su­prem­a­cists (and, in­ter­est­ingly, var­i­ous left-wing the­o­rists and black na­tion­al­ists such as Louis Far­rakhan), Western civ­i­liza­tion is not syn­ony­mous with white­ness. Many of the peo­ple King would count as white to­day were not con­sid­ered white by var­i­ous gi­ants of Amer­i­can white na­tion­al­ism and white supremacy. Czechs, Hun­gar­i­ans, Poles, Ital­ians, Greeks et al. weren’t “whites” at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, when the Steve Kings of that era were ter­ri­fied of non-white im­mi­grants.

In 1911, the joint con­gres­sional Im­mi­gra­tion Com­mis­sion com­pleted a 41-vol­ume re­port that in­cluded the Dic­tio­nary of Races or Peo­ples, a pseu­do­sci­en­tific grab bag con­tain­ing “a mot­ley com­pen­dium of eth­nic stereo­types, skin com­plex­ion, head shape, and other hardy peren­ni­als of the race sci­ence lit­er­a­ture,” ac­cord­ing to Prince­ton his­to­rian Thomas Leonard in his vi­tal book “Il­lib­eral Re­form­ers.”

Bo­hemi­ans had heavy brains. South­ern Ital­ians were too “ex­citable” and “im­pul­sive” to adapt to or­ga­nized so­ci­ety. Slavs were overly prone to “pe­ri­ods of be­sot­ted drunk­en­ness” and “un­ex­pected cru­elty.” Ger­mans from the Ty­rol re­gion were too broad-headed to be of de­sir­able stock.

In fair­ness, “white” wasn’t a term of art back then, so white su­prem­a­cists were ac­tu­ally Aryan or Nordic or English (not Ir­ish!) su­prem­a­cists. But you get the point.

Then there’s the no­tion that non­whites haven’t made wor­thy con­tri­bu­tions to civ­i­liza­tion. Leave aside that by not count­ing Ital­ians (sorry, Galileo and Da Vinci!), East Euro­peans (sucks for you, Coper­ni­cus!) or Jews (Ein­stein? Good rid­dance) as white, you’re be­queath­ing many of the glo­ries of civ­i­liza­tion to non­whites. But even with the most ex­pan­sive def­i­ni­tion of “white” pos­si­ble, how do we ac­count for the fact that Chi­nese, Ot­toman and Arab so­ci­eties were leaps and bounds ahead of Europe for cen­turies? The Chi­nese in­vented the com­pass, paper, mov­able type, me­chan­i­cal clocks, iron smelt­ing and count­less other in­no­va­tions when “white” Europe was a bar­baric back­wa­ter. And let’s not for­get that Chris­tian­ity is a cul­tural im­port from that great melt­ing pot that was the Mid­dle East.

One is re­minded of Ben­jamin Dis­raeli’s fa­mous re­tort to an Ir­ish Catholic par­lia­men­tar­ian’s anti-Semitic at­tack on his her­itage: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the an­ces­tors of the right honor­able gen­tle­man were bru­tal sav­ages in an un­known is­land, mine were priests in the tem­ple of Solomon.”

But this is the wrong way to re­spond to King’s big­otry. Among the best ideas and ideals of Western, Chris­tian and, most im­por­tantly, Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion is that we are sup­posed to judge peo­ple on their in­di­vid­ual mer­its, not keep score based on their an­ces­try.

This vi­sion was cen­tral to the cre­ation of the Repub­li­can Party, which is why it’s so dis­may­ing that Rep. King calls him­self one.

Jonah Gold­berg is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency. Read­ers may write to him via email at gold­bergcol­[email protected]

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