The West’s anti-Liberal Backlash Can’t Escape Its Racism

Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, August 1, 2017

The turbulent politics of the past year have hinged on a grand historical premise: The liberal status quo of the West is in crisis. Figures such as President Trump swept into power promising jobs for the disaffected, closed borders for migrants and economic protectionism; his fellow leaders in Europe preached an even more xenophobic message.

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And although the Trump administration tries to distance itself from “white nationalism” and its supposedly fringe adherents, ethnic grievances anchor the West’s anti-liberal backlash. It’s at the heart of the “traditionalist” Christian nationalism embraced by White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who despite various rounds of West Wing purges has held onto his post.

“I think Trump was a legitimatizer,” said William Regnery II, a secretive funder of a slew of “alt-right” organizations that champion extreme anti-immigration politics in the United States. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Regnery said that white nationalism has gone “from being conversation you could hold in a bathroom to the front parlor.”

Over the weekend, a group of committed white nationalists, including some figures directly connected to Regnery’s funding networks, held a conference in Tennessee, debating everything from Trump’s record on race to the prospect of fashioning some chunk of America into a whites-only “ethno-state.”

Jared Taylor

Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of American Renaissance, the far-right website that staged the event, spoke to the Guardian about the millennials turned on by his message. “These young white guys,” Taylor said, “they have been told from infancy that they are the villains of history. And I think that the left has completely overplayed its hand.”

A similar argument is made by considerably more powerful people in Europe. Last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered a speech in a leafy Romanian town where a majority of the population is ethnic Hungarian. Not many international outlets covered the event — far-right website Breitbart was an exception, gleefully quoting the right-wing premier at length for his call to stop a “Muslimized Europe.”

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Viktor Orban

Viktor Orban (Credit Image: © Jakob Ratz/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire)

Others on the far right are taking matters more directly in their hands. This summer, a group called “Generation Identity” set about trying to challenge the efforts of NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders that are operating ships in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants whose own vessels have sunk or become inoperable. Hoisting a “Defend Europe” banner, they tried to disrupt rescue efforts and even threatened to tow stranded migrants back to sea.

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Generation Identity March

Credit Image: © Visual via ZUMA Press

[I]t’s impossible to ignore the rhetoric that binds politicians in Central Europe to once-fringe radicals in Tennessee — and Washington.

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