The real impact of Trumpism
Whatever becomes of former President Donald Trump in our politics, courts and culture, Trumpism will linger and try to metastasize. Trumpism raises big questions not only about what we expect from a president but also what America is and wants to be.
Trump’s ugliest legacy is how he seemingly reenergized the racism that has existed in America since its founding. The manifestations include a longtime conspiracy theory called the “great replacement.” White supremacists are injecting it into the political mainstream, especially within the Republican Party, particularly to fuel immigration fears.
What is the “great replacement” theory? An expert witness, Elizabeth Yates of Antisemitism Human Rights First, explained it to the Senate Homeland Security Committee last June: It’s the idea that a “cabal of malevolent elites,” frequently described as Jewish people, wants to replace white people with people of color. The theory, itself deeply racist, is that the cabal can more easily manipulate and control non-whites.
This theory spawns others: Anti-Catholic literature produced by the Ku Klux Klan once warned that the Pope was planning to enter the United States and declare himself Emperor. After the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., white supremacists spread rumors of a plot to commit genocide against the Aryan race. During the 2012 election cycle, presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann reportedly embraced the rumor that Muslims were trying to impose Shariah law in the United States.
The modern movement in the U.S. is part of a “deep and complex” global online ecosystem, Yates told the committee. It is decentralized but connected by the internet, which makes defense difficult. It is also more efficient. The average time required to radicalize a person used to be 15 months — with the internet, it’s just seven.
“We know that propagating these narratives is a deliberate tactic used by extremists, their sympathizers, and foreign adversaries to sow societal division and discontent — and they are succeeding,” Yates testified. She cited a recent study showing one-third of Americans say they are concerned that immigrants are being brought to the country for political gain.
She also explained how the “great replacement” idea has been used to justify attacks on mosques and synagogues in Poway, California, and Christchurch, New Zealand, and on Black Americans in Buffalo.
“Every wave of white supremacist violence in this country has been animated by conspiratorial and racist rhetoric in response to large-scale social changes,” she testified.
Today, those changes include the lack of growth in America’s white population while the number of Hispanic, Black and Asian Americans expands. The 2010 to 2020 decade was the first since 1790 that America’s white population didn’t get larger. During the same period, Hispanics contributed more than half of the nation’s population growth; Black and Asian American populations also grew, although at a lower rate.
The United States already leads the world in citizens born elsewhere. More than 1 million immigrants come to the U.S. each year. If current trends continue, 88 percent of the population growth in America between 2015 and 2065 will be immigrants and their descendants, according to the Pew Research Center.
White supremacists are apparently alarmed by reports that whites will be the minority in America by 2045. But this is disputed by some experts who say it’s the result of confusion due to changes in how the Census defines the races. Regardless, the narrative has created fear among whites that “Our group is being wiped out,” says Yale psychologist Jennifer Richeson. That leads to reactions such as voter suppression, lower support for programs to increase racial equity, and violence.
Racist hate crimes have been an epidemic in recent years. The Department of Justice says one takes place nearly every hour in the U.S. There were almost 7,300 incidents in 2021, 65 percent related to race or ethnicity, according to the department. However, the actual number of incidents is thought to be higher because of poor reporting.
So, how are white supremacists organized in the U.S.? Their goal is seemingly an absolute white majority in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hate groups, describes three categories in the movement: “Mainstreamers” want to infiltrate and subvert existing institutions, while “Vanguardists” believe revolution is the only way to achieve a white ethnostate. An “accelerationist wing” of Vanguardists wants to bring about the collapse of society.
It appears they are finding allies in the GOP. The “great replacement” myth is “being pushed relentlessly by the Republican mainstream,” according to an op-ed by Judd Legum in The Guardian. It has reportedly been promoted by Trump’s former White House advisers Steve Miller and Steve Bannon, as well as Tucker Carlson of Fox News and congressional candidates backed by Trump. In addition, several incumbents in Congress have made statements indicating support for the “great replacement” idea.
Since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, white nationalists have reportedly been trying to build alliances with other Republican officeholders and “cultivate a cohort of young, radical activists within the GOP,” the SPLC warns. It says their ideas are openly discussed within “the broader political right.” The SPLC says they use anger among Trump supporters to create a broad authoritarian, ethno-nationalist movement at the core of the Republican Party.
Trump’s legacy shows up in other ways, too. “White identity is a very powerful predictor of support for Donald Trump,” according to political scientist Ashley Jardina of Duke University, author of the book “White Identity Politics.”She says people high on white identity were at least twice as likely to support Trump as people low on that scale.
Research published by Political Science Quarterly reportedly found that voters who scored highly on indexes of racism voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Jardina points out that this element of Trump’s base are not all racists. Still, they appear to share the worry that non-whites will achieve greater political, economic, and social equality “at the expense of their own group’s power.”
Trump claims he is not a racist, but his words indicate otherwise. ABC News has identified at least 54 criminal cases where participants reportedly mentioned Trump in relation to threats, assaults and other violent acts, including acts that were racially motivated.
Before white supremacy’s roots grow deeper, we need a national conversation to inform the American people about the history and perversity behind the “great replacement” theory. We should explore what we want America to be. Are we a melting pot continuously stirred and refreshed by immigrants who arrive with idealism, energy and hope? Or are we a vibrant quilt of separate but coexisting cultures? White Europeans became the majority in America with the great replacement of Native Americans. Are we afraid our forebears’ genocide will come full circle?
Meanwhile, Congress and President Biden should agree on a fairer, clearer, faster, more humane, efficient and more orderly immigration process in the United States. We’ll need it. The New York Times predicts extreme global warming would cause more than 30 million climate migrants to seek entry into the U.S. over the next 30 years. Some are already among the thousands pressing at our southern border.
William S. Becker is co-editor and a contributor to “Democracy Unchained: How to Rebuild Government for the People,” a collection of more than 30 essays by American thought leaders on topics such as the Supreme Court’s perceived legitimacy. Becker has served in several state and federal government roles, including executive assistant to the attorney general of Wisconsin. He is currently executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), a nonpartisan climate policy think tank unaffiliated with the White House.
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