Aug 06, 2019
In popular discourse, white nationalists are often portrayed as super-patriots -- people who worship America and all it stands for. But the reality couldn't be further from the truth.
Take the instance of white nationalist terrorism in El Paso over the weekend. The culprit -- following in many footsteps before him -- apparently wrote and posted online a screed which fulminated against a "Hispanic invasion of Texas" and the conspiracy theory that American whites are being deliberately replaced.
Both terrorists like him and his ideological fellow travelers who nominally disclaim political violence literally want to destroy the United States.
Now, it is by no means the case that the U.S. has always been a utopian land of racial progressivism. On the contrary, white supremacy (as distinct from white nationalism) has a very long history in the United States. The country was founded by white Europeans who stole the land of existing inhabitants and massacred most of those who didn't die of smallpox. Many brought with them people kidnapped from Africa and kept as chattel in one of the most brutal instances of slavery in world history. For nearly a century after 1876, rich white men in Southern states presided over an apartheid pseudo-democracy, where black Americans were kept as a subordinate caste through regular outbursts of terrorist violence. Today racial segregation is nearly as bad as it was during Jim Crow, and most of the national wealth is held in a tiny minority of largely-white hands, as it has always been.
But neither is it true to say that open racism is the only thread in the American tapestry. On the contrary, the question of whether the United States will be a hierarchical white man's state or an egalitarian, multi-racial democracy has been the signature axis of political struggle here for the past 400 years -- and at key points white supremacy has lost. The nation's founding document says it's a "self-evident" truth that "all men are created equal." It was flagrant and obvious hypocrisy even at the time -- but a powerful moral ideal nonetheless that inspired leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass to reform the country to live up to its own bumper stickers. The moral cancer of slavery eventually sparked a war that killed some 750,000 people, drastically reformed the Constitution, freed four million slaves, and granted the men thereof the right to vote.
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