Racist race to federal polls

Many see AUKUS as a timely gambit to create a “khaki election” campaign for a floundering Coalition government—it’s also potentially a dog whistle effort to deploy racism to maintain power

17 October 2021 | Lucy Hamilton, Pearls & Irritations

This is important both because the Coalition has shown itself keen in recent decades to embrace divisive race politics, but also because these politicians’ role models in the Republican Party are taking Neo-Nazi talking points mainstream.

American role models

“White replacement theory” or “white genocide” is the central tenet of the far right depths of the internet, and it has inspired most of the white stochastic terrorism (apparent “lone wolf”) of recent years reaching back to Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing and Anders Breivik in Norway.

Now this idea is being spruiked by Republican politicians and their most prominent talking heads.

Newt Gingrich, crafter of the modern Republican movement, appeared on Fox recently talking about how the “radical left” desires to “drown traditional, classic Americans” and “get rid of the rest of us”. He had used the baseless fear that Americans would become subject to sharia law in 2010, so this grotesque strategy is not new to him.

Trumpist Republican Matt Gaetz recently tweeted that replacement theory correctly described what was taking place in America. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick spoke on Fox in September about how Democrats were importing immigrants who would have “two or three children” to create a giant body of Democrat voters. Scott Perry, a Philadelphia representative, said the same thing about replacing “native born” (code for white) Americans to transform the landscape.

Donald Trump’s white supremacist adviser Stephen Miller, who outlasted the other replacement theory advocates in Trump’s inner circle, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, is giving speeches to young Republicans on this issue which he presents as an existential threat.

Fox’s Tucker Carlson is at the centre of this transition from coded messages to blaring racial provocation. His “news” show is the highest rated at Fox, and has reached the highest ratings ever for any cable news show over the past year.

Carlson warns of “third world invaders” coming to America to replace white Americans. He has spoken repeatedly of the Democrats “importing a brand new electorate.”. Initially granted approval by Lachlan Murdoch for discussing this as a voting rights issue, he has now embraced the “Great Replacement” terminology overtly inflaming fear of “non-white DNA” coming to overwhelm “legacy Americans”.

Andrew Anglin, founder of a prominent American Neo-Nazi website, describes Carlson as “literally our greatest ally” and a “one-man HOLOCAUST!”.

In August, Carlson spent a week in Hungary televising his admiration for Orban’s racist policies and authoritarianism. He simpered over Orban, declaring love for Orban’s supposed defence of “Christian democracy” against “leftist liberalism.” Carlson’s overt praise for authoritarianism in this week of special broadcasts was shocking to political observers.

This is increasingly concerning, because many Republican politicians have expressed the hope that this “news” entertainment star will replace the old reality entertainment star as presidential candidate if Trump is unable to stand for the 2024 election.

Radicalising towards violence

The reason the radicalising of (mainly) men on the internet has resulted in shootings at synagogues as well as black churches and mosques is that it posits Jews as the malign intelligence behind the plan. George Soros, liberal billionaire and Holocaust survivor, is a key target of hate, but any “caravan” of refugees coming through Central America is seen as a tool of a Jewish conspiracy to replace white America.

This has merged with QAnon’s ludicrous terror about a cabal of liberal elites preying on children and aiming to destroy our countries. Whether the conspiracists use the coded anti-semitism of “lizard people” or the undisguised version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anti-semitism accompanies Islamophobia and racism in these swirling confections of fear and hate.

These politicians are not just pandering to a newly radicalised “base”. The tropes of a white replacement have long been a subtext in American politics. Lasting southern fears of the voting power of former slaves have informed so much earlier white policy making. Their angst is fuelled by the knowledge that white voters are becoming a minority throughout the country.

Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008 was met by a backlash that spawned the Tea Party movement which has done so much to destroy the Republican Party’s proud history. The “birther” lie — that Obama was not actually American and thus not qualified to serve as president — was key to the rise of Trump himself.

It’s one of the racist theories fomented by “conservative” think tank the Claremont Institute. John Eastman (the law professor who tried to convince then-vice president Mike Pence he could overturn the results of the election ahead of the attack on the Capitol) tried to reignite birther theories to discredit Vice President Kamala Harris last year in an opinion article for Newsweek. He is a senior fellow at Claremont. The Newsweek editor who commissioned the piece is a former Claremont fellow. Michael Anton who wrote a Washington Post opinion article on the topic is a senior fellow. Edward Erler, who wrote a book arguing second generation Mexican-Americans have no right to US citizenship, is a Claremont scholar.

The Claremont Institute indeed seems to be providing academic credibility for cleansing America of people born in the country and with citizenship, but whom its scholars believe undesirable. They, like Carlson, do not detail how this “removal” of non-white Americans is to take place, but the idea itself is chilling.

These ideas had been spoken more quietly in the years leading up to the Trump presidency, but the bile was spilled into the open during his years, removing the shame society had come to impose for speaking racism aloud.

Now bigots proudly decry “cancel culture” that would limit their “right” to say whatever cruelty or inaccurate race characterisation enters their head, no matter the risk of murderous radicalisation. Meanwhile anyone who points out inequities is quickly “cancelled” by the mortified right.

The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 that aimed to address the continuing systemic racism that blights the lives of so many black and brown Americans have given impetus to the backlash.

The “nativists” that promote these fears about disappearing white America are simultaneously working to strip First Nations Americans living on reservations of their ability to vote, as well as manoeuvring to grant Trump Republican officials the ability to cancel the votes of majority black districts.

Another unnerving aspect of the fanning of the flames of racism is the Republican governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis shifting the blame for their own Covid policy failures onto supposedly diseased migrants coming over the border. Trump has been reigniting his 2015 descriptions of migrants as diseased in recent publicity. Adding disease to the fear of non-whites as “rapists” and “murderers” that Trump promotes is a potent provocation to violence.

Whitewashed history and racist elections

The efforts to draw some balance into the recounting of American history in schools has been labelled as a cruel effort to make white students feel bad. Critical race theory, an university law school framework that aims to detect where old racist structures continue to distort the system, is depicted as being taught to harm white children. It never has been taught in schools but fury and outrage is levelled against teachers and administrators. Some fear for their lives.

Eight Republican-led states have already introduced laws to limit how race can be discussed in schools and another 20 are planning restrictions.

We have seen over and again through history where deploying fear and hatred of an “other” can lead to atrocities. It is a frightening aspect to a violently divided and vulnerable moment in American history.

Fox News’s Australian sibling, Sky News, has worked to import culture war fury over critical race theory, Black Lives Matter and cancel culture into the Australian polity. These issues provide regular angry fodder for News Corp pundits.

When Western forces left Kabul in August, the Coalition government attempted to create a fear that refugee boats would restart, or that our abandoned allies were a terrorist threat. This effort quickly fizzled in the face of community empathy for those left behind. Our measly offering to take 3000 of the displaced compared to tens of thousands offered sanctuary in our peer nations is a quiet expression of the White Replacement fears that have motivated our “conservative” politicians in recent years.

After Geoffrey Blainey’s “history wars”, Pauline Hanson’s ugly demagoguery bled into John Howard’s Tampa election; divisive racist political strategies have been integral to “conservative” political campaigning since.

Lenore Taylor reported leaks from Scott Morrison’s colleagues that he suggested Islamophobia as a campaign strategy for the Liberal Party in 2010. The later “stop the boats” campaign placed bigotry at the centre of our conservative campaigning.

The ALP has been too often caught echoing the coded racism of “national security” gambits in election campaigns and in parliament, terrified of being wedged by the combined might of the Coalition and its News Corp bullhorns.

The polite version of replacement theory is present in the think tank to promote Western civilisation to which Tony Abbott was appointed director in 2016. The Ramsay Centre’s campaign to establish itself as a school in an Australian university to defend the Western tradition is in the same vein. This explains the staunch resistance in the institutions that flirted with accepting the money. The threat to Western civilisation is a trope equally present in the internet ethno-nationalist sewers.

Turnback policy means that “boats” can’t arrive, making this electoral angle less fruitful, so the current Coalition government seems to want a richer national security angle to win the looming contest. The “threat” of China is to replace the “boats” as the requirement to vote “conservative.”

The fact that the pandemic emerged from China has given the Canberra war drums a populist energy. Trump’s “China Virus” is a ready theme for the “base,” priming it with a simplistic face to the complex geopolitical manoeuvring.

Some of our politicians seem genuinely to believe that China poses a substantial threat. They call themselves — laughably — the wolverines. Others see a vote winner.

Whatever the motivation, Australians should beware our Coalition government deploying another racist election campaign. Trump’s Republican Party seems set to use that most deadly aspect of fascism, race hate, to entrench their power. It might already have broken their own country beyond repair. We must not echo that chaos here.

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University, this article was first published at Pearls and Irritations.