Posted on August 13, 2018

The White Nationalists Are Winning

Adam Serwer, Atlantic, August 10, 2018


From the looks of it, the Nazis lost the battle of Charlottesville. After all, Donald Trump’s handling of the aftermath of the rally, in which he said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protest, drew bipartisan condemnation. The attempted rebranding of white nationalism as the genteel and technologically savvy alt-right failed, the marketing campaign faltering after the murder of the counterprotester Heather Heyer and the attempted murder of several others revealed to the nation the logical conclusion of alt-right beliefs and arguments. {snip}

But the alt-right and its fellow travelers were never going to be able to assemble a mass movement. Despite the controversy over the rally and its bloody aftermath, the white nationalists’ ideological goals remain a core part of the Trump agenda. As long as that agenda finds a home in one of the two major American political parties, a significant portion of the country will fervently support it. And as an ideological vanguard, the alt-right fulfilled its own purpose in pulling the Republican Party in its direction.

A year after white nationalists in Charlottesville chanted, “You will not replace us!,” their message has been taken up and amplified by Fox News personalities. Tucker Carlson tells his audience that “Latin American countries are changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country.” Laura Ingraham says that “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore” because of “massive demographic changes” as a result of “both illegal and sometimes legal immigration that progressives love.” They echo the white-nationalist claim that America is at risk because the nation is growing more diverse, an argument that treats the mere presence of nonwhite people, citizen or noncitizen, as an existential threat to the country. White nationalists like Cantwell are cheered to hear their beliefs championed on Fox. Cantwell wrote last year that Carlson “is basically telling white America to prepare for war as directly as he can get away with while remaining on Fox News.”


White nationalists win by activating white panic, by frightening a sufficient number of white people into believing that their safety and livelihoods can only be protected by defining American citizenship in racial terms, and by convincing them that American politics is a zero-sum game in which white people win when only people of color lose. While this dynamic has always been present in American politics, it has been decades since the White House has been occupied by a president who so visibly delights in exploiting it, aided by a right-wing media infrastructure that has come to see it as a ratings strategy. {snip}

While liberals may have seen the backlash to Trump’s defense of the rally in Charlottesville as heartening, the incident itself seems to have convinced Trump and his allies that they could survive any controversy over the president’s views on race. {snip}

Horror at Charlottesville did not temper the president’s enthusiasm for demonizing religious and ethnic minorities that characterized his 2016 campaign, and has not dampened his administration’s efforts to turn those convictions into policy. The Trump administration has revoked immigration status for hundreds of thousands of black and Latino immigrants; it has turned a blind eye to police abuses of people of color and civil-rights enforcement; it successfully defended its travel ban targeting Muslims before the Supreme Court; it has adopted a border policy that prioritizes the jailing of children over the prosecution of criminals; it abandoned Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria; it has distorted the census in an effort to dilute the political power of minority voters; and it is now seeking to make it harder for legal immigrants to become American citizens. Emboldened by Trump’s success, a handful of candidates on the Republican ticket are either embracing white-nationalist figures or are white nationalists themselves.

Perhaps Trump would have pursued the same agenda, with the same abandon, had Charlottesville never occurred. Yet the incident and its aftermath ratified his calculation that his base would fervently defend any expression of bigotry against people of color. Trump’s base is not outraged by his mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities, but by the suggestion that such mistreatment is motivated by prejudice.


Only when Americans render a political verdict against Trumpism and its racialized vision of American citizenship will that skirmish be won. Until that happens, the white nationalists know that despite their infamy and humiliation, their pathetic adherence to a genetic determinism they desperately hope will rescue their lonely lives from insignificance is slowly succeeding at remaking the country in their image.