White nationalism has not caught fire in US

By Charles Gray Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/27 18:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

One of the most unnerving things about Donald Trump's victory has been the way it seems to have empowered the forces of white nationalism as a political movement in America. Many commentators have been deeply concerned about the possible future implications the rise of this movement has for America's political and cultural landscape.

White nationalism, although often distinguished from simple racism by those who study it, is based on the assumption that the US is a nation that should be defined by the interests of the country's white population. Observers have pointed out that the rise of white nationalism is often tied to fears regarding the loss of traditional social and economic privileges whites have previously enjoyed. 

Indeed, white nationalists are quite open in claiming that multiculturalism and immigration are deadly threats to what they view as the vital interests of white America. To be blunt, white nationalism is a reaction to a world in which being white is no longer an assurance of cultural, economic, or political privilege.

In fact, white nationalism represents a zero-sum view of the world that is quite familiar to historians who have studied the history of similar nationalist and racist movements. Any gain by minorities represents a loss for whites and any gain for whites must come at the cost of minorities. Furthermore, economic losses, such as those that have so damaged the Rust Belt, are not merely a sign of changing economic conditions, but are also a sign that the white families living in these regions are under active assault by a society and government that no longer protects white interests. 

Modern day white nationalist groups have many forebears, including 19th century anti-Irish and anti-Asian groups, showing that white nationalism is not unique to modern America. Fortunately, in both cases these exclusionary groups ultimately failed in their missions. If the current rise of white nationalism in the US is disturbing, the fact that its nativist forebears ultimately failed to achieve their long-term goals should help us to avoid undue panic.

This is especially true when we note that the claims that white nationalists now speak for the nation run aground on a number of points. The first and simplest is that white nationalists represent a minority even among self-identified American whites. The recent election, where Donald Trump explicitly appealed to white nationalists, was marked by low voter turnout among both Democrats and Republicans, a fact that indicates that white nationalism has not "caught fire" among the mass of the American people. Trump's high support among non-college educated whites does not force us to assume that they are all white nationalists; as a group that has fallen behind the rest of America in economic terms, it stands to reason Trump's outsider message would appeal to them. 

Finally, we should remember that white nationalists cannot change the fact that the US is becoming an ever more multicultural society. Indeed, the continuing growth in the number of interracial marriages is a stinging rebuke to the toxic ideology of white nationalism.

However, one concern regarding the white nationalist movement is how far it will normalize racist actions and speech. For instance, the FBI has announced that 2015 saw hate crimes hit levels not seen since the immediate aftermath of 9/11 attacks, with the trend continuing into 2016. The fear, and it is not an unreasonable one, is that white nationalism in the US has become more acceptable among some groups, and that racist and anti-immigrant attitudes will continue to rise after the election.

Fortunately, despite the danger of increased racial tension, white nationalism's long-term future remains uncertain. As a movement primarily defined by what it opposes, white nationalism is unlikely to have the ability to improve the social or economic positions of its adherents. In the face of failing to deliver on the extravagant and unrealistic promises they have made, white nationalist leaders could find their support vanishing as quickly as it appeared, especially when one remembers how few Americans voted in this election.

Ultimately, white nationalism is a movement rooted in the past, rather than one looking into the future. This is why these groups have ultimately failed to achieve their goals, both in the US and in the larger world. From the Know-Nothing Party to the Asiatic Exclusion League, parties rooted in the dogma of white nationalism have ultimately proven unsuccessful in their futile and harmful quests, leaving their nations the worse for their existence and the better for their ultimate failure.

The author is a freelance writer based in Corona, California. charlesgray109@gmail.com Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

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