Can the Right Escape Racism? White identity politics has been partially suppressed before. Here’s how it could happen again.

More from Ross Douthat on the problem of white nationalism/supremacism in US conservatism:

Last week I wrote a column that simultaneously argued that conservatism has a problem with white-nationalist infiltration and that liberalism, influenced by the revival of racial chauvinism in the Trump era, is increasingly tempted to smear mainstream conservatives as racist.

The response was varied, but a common critique from the left was that any defense of individual conservatives from the charge of racism is basically irrelevant to the underlying structural reality that the Trump era has exposed — which is that the American right’s coalition is founded on racism, endures because of racism and has no future as a morally decent force unless it is essentially refounded, its racist roots torn out.

One of the more temperate versions of this argument was offered by New York magazine’s Eric Levitz, taking on my own essay and a column by Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner calling for conservative institutions to make themselves inhospitable to white identity politics. Such calls are well and good, wrote Levitz, but they wildly understate the challenge:

“… racism has been fundamental to American conservatism, and the G.O.P. in particular, since the mid-20th century realignment of the parties — even as its purportedly defining tenets have proven to be negotiable, from small government to antagonism toward autocrats to reduced deficit spending. None of this precludes the existence of nonracist conservatives, to be sure. It just makes them some of the least influential people in their movement, and renders their claims to broader relevance akin to shouting into a void.”

Levitz goes on to catalog various conservative policies, from border detention camps to voter-ID laws, that reflect the deeper-than-Donald-Trump influence of racism on the right. He argues that the various conservative factions have consistently made their peace with racism and racist policies since Richard Nixon, not just since 2016. And he suggests that since “the Republican Party would collapse without support from racists,” there is probably no path to a nonracist G.O.P. that doesn’t involve the total defeat and total reconstruction of the party.

Levitz is right that there is considerably more racism on the right than Republican Party elites wanted to believe pre-Trump and that the elite has conspicuously failed to confront its more overt and toxic forms — which is part of how we ended up with a birther as the president of the United States. In the longer view, he’s also right that white identity politics has been important to the conservative coalition since the 1960s, when the strategic and policy choices that the Nixon-era Republican Party made — in effect, rallying voters who opposed the Great Society’s vision of racial redress — ensured that a lot of racially conservative and racist white voters would migrate into the G.O.P.

Ross Douthat: Four Things That Are Not White Nationalism

His list:

  1. It is not white nationalism to recognize limiting principles on liberal universalism, and a justifiable role for particularity — ethnic, cultural, religious — in many political arrangements.
  2. It is not white nationalism to believe that countries like the United States would be better off with more babies.
  3. It is not white nationalism to believe that growing ideological uniformity in the commanding heights of culture makes American politics more polarized.
  4. It’s also not white nationalism for conservatives to try to find ways to persuade and reel back people on the right who are tempted by bigoted ideas

As always, it is the specifics that indicate whether the beliefs and principles are inclusive or exclusive, positive or negative.

Useful reminder not to automatically label or dismiss:

The American right in the Trump era has a racism problem. It’s fed by a Republican president who race-baits, a media ecosystem whose guardrails have collapsed, the lure of far-right ideas after various center-right failures and the influence of toxic forms of internet community on impressionable minds.

At the same time, the American right in the Trump era faces a liberalism that’s eager to discover and condemn racism where it does not actually exist. Positions that any de-Trumpified conservatism would necessarily hold are conflated with white nationalism, figures who opposed Donald Trump are hammered as enablers of racism, and progressives indulge a political fantasy in which the racist infiltration of the mainstream right is an opportunity to delegitimize conservatism entirely.

The coexistence of these two realities was usefully illustrated in the last two weeks. If you want evidence that bigotry on the right is a bottom-up problem as well as a feature of the president’s birtherism and Twitter wars, just read last week’s SplinterNews exposé on the email group where a cluster of youthful and not-so-youthful right-wingers gathered to play at white nationalism while holding down normal jobs for conservative publications and institutions. What was reported in the piece I can confirm anecdotally: Every extended conversation I have with 20-something conservatives includes a discussion of how to deal with racist flirtations in their peer group.

But if you want evidence that unjust delegimitization is happening as well, consider that in the very same period that the email exposéappeared, a succession of mainstream media outlets served up bogus accusations of racism against prominent and not-so-prominent conservatives.

A Defeat for White Identity What the midterms tell us about racial backlash and economic populism.

Ross Douthat’s take:

Running for president in 2016, Donald Trump sold two kinds of populism. One appealed to white tribalism and xenophobia — starkly in his early embrace of birtherism, recurrently in his exaggerations about immigrant crime, Muslim terrorism and urban voter fraud.

The other was an economic appeal, aimed at working-class voters hit hard by de-industrialization who found the existing Republican agenda too libertarian. Trump promised to protect entitlements and replace Obamacare with something more generous; his anti-immigration arguments were about jobs as well as crime; he promised lavish infrastructure spending and trade deals that would bring back factory jobs; he pledged to make the G.O.P. a “worker’s party.”

When this combination of appeals delivered victory, it set off an interminable debate about whether to look at Trumpian populism primarily through the lens of race or economics. Interminable, but crucial, because the answer would say a lot about whether a less tribal political alignment is possible — with Democrats winning back blue-collar whites or Republicans building a pan-ethnic nationalism — or whether we’re doomed to a permanent racial polarization of the parties.

The strongest argument for privileging economics is a simple one: Trump won millions of working-class white voters in the Midwest, the constituency and the region hit hardest by globalization, who had previously voted for Barack Obama. If you voted twice for the first black president, this argument goes, your main political motivation probably isn’t racism, and the fact that Trump ran as an economic populist seems like a more important explanatory fact.

The rebuttal, the case for privileging race, relies on a raft of studies, the most recent one summarized by Vox’s Zack Beauchamp just weeks before the midterms, which show that those Trump-Obama switchers were more likely to express racially conservative attitudes and hard-line anti-immigration views than they were to have suffered recent economic setbacks.

The hypothesis floated by these studies’ interpreters is that the combination of Obama’s presidency and Trump’s deliberate race-baiting had an activating effect on white anxiety. Racial backlash against the first black president was more limited in 2012 because Romney didn’t play to racial fears, but the backlash escalated, and flipped more white voters, once the next Republican nominee did.

I’ve taken swipes at these studies, but I’m more frustrated by the way they’re used by pundits than by the work itself, which does tell us two important facts — that Trump probably won getting-by-O.K., working-class Americans rather than the truly desperate, and that Obama-to-Trump switchers had to have a certain indifference to minority concerns (which is what many social-science measures of “racial conservatism” pick up) to tolerate his more bigoted appeals.

At the same time these kind of studies often treat immigration as a strictly-racial issue when it’s understood by many voters as an economic one (which is why African-American and native-born Hispanics can be immigration hard-liners). They elide the fact that you can base your vote on economic issues without being maximally economically anxious. (Given the G.O.P.’s historic brand as the party of business, you might expect a successful Republican economic-populist pitch to pick off the less anxious working class voters first.) And they encourage a slippage in liberal analysis where a voting bloc’s susceptibility to identity politics get described starkly as a “white nationalism” that implicitly places those voters beyond the reach of reason — even when they voted for Barack Hussein Obama four short years before.

Which brings me to the recent midterms, which offered a natural experiment in the race-versus-economics question — because, as president, Trump has been more plutocratic than populist on many issues, even as he has kept up the tribalist provocations and, just before the midterms, used the migrant caravan as an excuse for race-baiting.

If the Obama-Trump voters were primarily motivated by racial anxiety, you would expect his approach to consolidate them for the G.O.P. — especially with a strong economy, with the Democrats putting up lots of minority candidates, and so on.

But white identity politics failed to hold Trump’s gains. Some of the biggest swings against the G.O.P. were among middle and lower-income Americans, not just among affluent suburbanites. The Upper Midwest swung back toward Democrats. And among whites without college degrees, Democrats improved on Hillary Clinton’s showing by eight percentage points — identical to their gains among college-educated whites.

This doesn’t mean that the racial fears Trump stoked didn’t bring some Republican voters to the polls. But it proves that white-identity politics isn’t simply destiny, that Democrats can reach wavering white-working class voters instead of writing them off, and that if Republicans want to hold them, then actual economic populism — with its potential pan-ethnic rather than racially polarizing appeal — is a better bet than what we’ve gotten too often from his White House.

In what is not the most optimistic time for race relations in America, I call that good news.

Source: A Defeat for White Identity

The Necessary Immigration Debate: Ross Douthat

Further to my earlier post on Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) and Jeremy Bickles (To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration – Douthat continues his arguments, placing too much weight IMO on Putnam’s social cohesion and trust theories and not enough on economic factors and the general fragmentation enabled and accelerated by social media.

Equally striking that his emphasis on the societies that have major social cohesion issues and political impacts while being silent on the exceptions (to date) like Canada, where GSS, Census and other data indicate much less of a problem:

One important task for a columnist is figuring out which ideas can be usefully argued over and which ones can’t. The responses to my column last week urging Democrats to negotiate with Stephen Miller and Donald Trump on immigration, because a deal hammered out with restrictionists would have more durability and democratic legitimacy, were helpfully divided between the first category and the second.

The argument-ending rejoinders ran as follows: Trump is a racist, Miller is a racist, and making major deals with them normalizes presidential bigotry. Since I agree that Trump’s race-baiting is disgraceful, I respect that rejoinder, and I don’t think my own arguments are likely to dislodge people from a firm point of moral principle.

But another kind of response is worth disputing. Instead of making a moral judgment, it purports to make an empirical one, implying that the serious case for immigration restriction is all but nonexistent, and that negotiating with restrictionists is therefore like negotiating with flat-earthers.

I want to challenge this view by expanding on two points that I mentioned last week, both of which offer reasons to regard immigration as a normal policy question with costs as well as benefits to any course you choose.

First, as mass immigration increases diversity, it reduces social cohesion and civic trust. This is not a universal law, as the economics writer Noah Smith has pointed out; there are counter-examples and ways to resist the trend. However, it is a finding that strongly comports with the real-world experience of Europe and America, where as cultural diversity has increased so has social distrust, elite-populist conflict, and the racial, religious and generational polarization of political parties.

Moreover, the trust problem is not a simple matter of racist natives mistrusting foreigners, since social trust is often weakest among minorities — which is one reason why the most diverse generation in American history, the millennials, is also the least trusting. So you can see the political effects of distrust even if you ignore the Trump Republicans entirely: It’s one reason why campus politics are so toxic, why Democrats struggle to keep their diverse coalition politically engaged, and why the Bernie-Hillary contest produced so many cries of racism and sexism.

Then linked to these ethno-cultural tensions are the tensions of class, where mass immigration favors stratification and elite self-segregation. In the United States, as in France and England, regions and cities with the largest immigrant populations are often the wealthiest and most dynamic. But this doesn’t mean that poorer regions are dying from their own xenophobia, as is sometimes suggested. The hinterlands are also filled with people who might want to move to wealthier regions (or who used to live there) but can’t because an immigrants-and-professionals ecosystem effectively prices out the middle class.

It is a testament to immigrants’ grit and determination that they can thrive working long hours for low wages while living in crowded housing with long commutes. But the social order of, say, the Bay Area or greater Paris is not one that can serve for an entire country — and it ill-serves not only lower-middle-class natives but also the descendants of the immigrants themselves, whose ability to advance beyond their parents is limited by a continued arrival of new workers who compete with them for jobs and wages and housing.

Thus our rich and diverse states also often feature high poverty rateswhen their cost of living is considered, while second and third-generation immigrants often drift into the same stagnation as the white working class …

… And they do so out of sight and mind for the winners in this system, who inhabit a world where they only see their fellow winners and their hard-working multiethnic service class. Which in turn encourages them toward mild contempt for their fellow countrymen who don’t want to live under a cosmopolitan-ruled caste system, who feel alienated from the Californian or Parisian future.

For some pro-immigration Republicans this contempt is Ayn Randian: We’ll all be better off with more hard-working immigrants and fewer shiftless mooching natives. For pro-immigration liberals it’s the predictable cultural triumphalism: The arc of history is long, but thanks to immigration we won’t have to cater to heartland gun-clingers any longer.

In both cases there’s a fantasy of replacement that’s politically corrosive, and that’s one reason why Donald Trump is president and Jeb! and Hillary are not.

Now all of the foregoing is one-sided. It leaves out the real advantages of immigration, economic and humanitarian, which are part of the policy calculus as well — as is the recent decline in illegal immigration, and the fact that the problems I’ve identified are more manageable in America than Europe. Hence my own view that keeping current immigration levels while bringing in more immigrants to compete with our economy’s winners and fewer to compete for low-wage work represents a reasonable middle ground.

But the calculus is not simple, a middle ground is actually worth seeking, and recent immigration plays a role not only in America’s greatness, but in our divisions and disappointments as well.

via The Necessary Immigration Debate – The New York Times

To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration –

While the most effective rebuttal to the Douthat piece can be seen in Noah Smith’s Twitter thread,, this article also is powerful:

President Donald Trump’s immigration policy is, increasingly, in the hands of his policy adviser, Stephen Miller. To most, Miller’s history and views should disqualify him from handling the sensitive topic. Even top Republicans have said that they had little faith in Miller’s bona fides.

But, to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Miller — the man who has displayed xenophobic and sexist traits since he was a high school student — is bringing to light something Americans should be debating: Do we really want immigrants?

Douthat suggested Sunday that Miller should be a point person on any immigration deal, saying that Miller can appeal to the “conservative” base that successfully blocked bipartisan immigration reform in 2013. And Douthat seemed to be in Miller’s camp, writing that Miller has some good points in not wanting immigrants:

>The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics. There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance. . .

Douthat’s displeasure at immigration boils down to the fact that he may have to speak to someone who doesn’t speak English, even though his complaints don’t match the rhetoric of the guy at the end of the bar:

The present view of many liberals seems to be that restrictionists can eventually be steamrolled — that the same ethnic transformations that have made white anxiety acute will eventually bury white-identity politics with sheer multiethnic numbers.

The Stephen Miller wing of negotiations — that starts with the White House and goes down to the Freedom Caucus, with a long detour through the pages of Breitbart — is the dominant one. And that wing doesn’t want to “bury white-identity politics,” despite the fact that “America” has successfully absorbed other cultures for generations.

Remember that, at one time, the problem was that there were too many Irish immigrants coming into the country. At another time, it was Germans. And remember that those cultures gave Douthat the culture and the food that’s now interwoven in Americana — because even apple pie isn’t all that American.

But the fundamental problem is that in the United States, you can’t eliminate cultures that aren’t white. The U.S. wasn’t founded on an ethnic identity. Native to the country are the Native Americans. There’s a Mexican contingent that lived in the Southwest before it was part of American territory. Puerto Ricans, Samoans, Chamorro, Filipino and Haitians are all American citizens, by birth, because American territory is vast and doesn’t simply cover just White Settlement, Texas.

But Douthat’s claim overlooks one major error that completely blows up his entire argument. You can’t assume that America is built on a white identity — neither then nor now — without realizing that the country was built on the backs of black slavery and of land that once belonged to Native Americans. And Westward expansion was powered thanks to a Chinese-built transcontinental railroad.

Unfortunately for Douthat, white America hasn’t done as much as he may think it has.

via: To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration –

ICYMI: Ten Theses on Immigration – Douthat, The New York Times

Buried in Ross Douthat’s concerns regarding immigration and integration, is an endorsement of Canadian and Australian approaches:

As someone who is (obviously) skeptical of the elite-level consensus on immigration’s benefits, I’m glad to see the G.O.P. and conservatism tilting away from George W. Bush/Rubio-Schumer “comprehensivism” on immigration policy. But I also think that the stampede to Trumpism is being unduly influenced by a conflation of the American and European situations. Europe faces a real, potentially deep and epoch-defining crisis — a refugee problem that could threaten the very foundations of the continent’s post-Cold War order. America faces a much more normal sort of policy quandary, to which the ideal political response could reach the destination that Salam proposes in his essay — sharper limits on low-skilled migration and a more Canadian or Australian approach to immigration as, effectively, recruitment  — without huge and wrenching shifts, mass deportations, religion-specific entry bans, and all the rest of the Trumpian bill of goods.

So while we should be guided, no less than Europe, by a greater prudence than our leadership has shown to date, we should also recognize that what is (for Germany especially) now a crisis Over There remains as yet an opportunity for us.

Source: Ten Theses on Immigration – The New York Times

The Promise and Peril of Pope Francis –

An interesting reflection by Ross Douthat of the NY Times on religion in the West, how the centre is “hollowing out,” with the more orthodox, traditional or conservative tendencies becoming relatively stronger. Some interesting longer-term implications for many religions:

But the test of his [Pope Francis’] approach will ultimately be a practical one. Will the church grow or stagnate under his leadership? Will his style just win casual admirers, or will it gain converts, inspire vocations, create saints? Will it actually change the world, or just give the worldly another excuse to close their ears to the church’s moral message?

The Promise and Peril of Pope Francis –