Instead of help, Fox host prefers scare tactics
On Aug. 11, 2017, a self-styled “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, horrified the country with a chilling display of hundreds of young white men marching by torchlight, chanting racist slogans like “blood and soil,” “white lives matter” and “you will not replace us.” The next day, a young neo-Nazi plowed a car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators, killing one of them. Joe Biden later said that the episode prompted him to run for president in a “battle for the soul of the nation.”
The battle hasn’t ended — perhaps it never will — as evidenced by the normalization of extremist rhetoric. Last week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson echoed one of the sentiments of the Charlottesville rally by touting “replacement theory,” the discredited notion that changes in demographics and immigration are bringing about the replacement of white people by non-white people.
“The left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term replacement — if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” he said. “They become hysterical, because that’s, that’s what’s happening actually.” Likening immigrants to newly adopted children favored over their biological siblings, he added, “You would say to your siblings, you know, I think we’re being replaced by kids that our parents love more.”
The rhetoric is outrageous, but more important, it can be deadly. The political scientist Robert A. Pape recently found that fear of white people losing out was a dominant motivating factor for those who rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In fact, “replacement theory” has a long history — from the 1890s to the 1920s, nativists argued that inferior Eastern and Southern European peoples (many of them Catholics and Jews) were replacing the dominant population of Northern European Protestants. The 1916 tome “The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History” by eugenicist Madison Grant and the 1920 volume “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy” by historian and white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard fueled this paranoia, which has been echoed, in our own times, by such media figures as Pat Buchanan, Peter Brimelow and Laura Ingraham.
It is true that America is changing, just as Western societies everywhere are changing, due to shifting demographics and migration driven by poverty, climate change, fear of persecution and more. And yes, the fertility rate for white American women is lower than those of other racial and ethnic groups. But all U.S. birthrates have fallen significantly, just as they have around the world, and that shouldn’t be surprising; birth rates fall wherever and whenever women attain greater economic and political independence, and gain more control of their bodies. If Carlson really wants more Americans to have children, he should support paid sick leave, paid parental leave and child care subsidies, along with making permanent the expansion of the Child Tax Credit that Congress recently adopted.
It is also true that many white Americans — particularly those without college educations — feel they are left behind economically and abandoned by their government. White male longevity has declined as “deaths of despair” (suicides, overdoses of methamphetamine and opiates, alcohol-related liver disease) have claimed the lives of a growing number of working-class people lacking in opportunities. Automation and globalization have set back labor unions and contributed to soaring inequality that hurts people of all races, regions and generations.
Helping American workers — about three-fourths of whom are white — may require dramatic changes to an economy that has been disproportionately good to the wealthy and powerful. Yet xenophobia and racism have always been the handmaidens of powerful Americans who would rather see working people divided into tribes — by religion, race, region, etc. — rather than united into a potent political force.
Carlson would rather scare white people than help them organize for decent health care and education, stronger labor protections, a more robust safety net and a sustainable planet. Indeed, this charlatan — born in San Francisco and raised in La Jolla — has never used his perch to actually help disadvantaged people of any race. Always, he prefers to stoke his audience’s fears, suspicions and resentments.
Immigrants come here to pick fruit, change diapers, build houses, start businesses and give their kids a hope at a better life. In other words, they seek to add and contribute to our society and economy, not to replace anyone. Zero-sum rhetoric suggesting that any group’s advancement comes at the expense of another group reflects a fundamental misunderstanding not just of immigration, but of basic economics.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew better than anyone that minorities in America seek nothing more than an acknowledgment of their equality, and that poor white Americans were among those who stood the most to gain by dismantling the racist nonsense peddled by people like Carlson. “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience,” he said in 1965. “And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”