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Young: The toxic tone of identity politics

Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News' "Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight." Credit: AP/Richard Drew

Charges that the modern American right is hurtling toward outright white nationalism have been a growing concern for some time. Now, Fox News’ highest-rated host, Tucker Carlson, is working hard to validate that view by channeling the "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory, which holds that elites in Europe and North America are intentionally replacing white populations with Third World (code for "nonwhite") migrants. If you want to talk about "identity politics," this is one of the more toxic varieties.

Earlier this month, appearing as a guest on another show, Fox News Tonight, Carlson sneered that "the left" and various "gatekeepers" get "hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement’ " and "suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate . . . with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." But that, Carlson insisted to immigrant-phobic guest host Mark Steyn, is exactly what’s going on.

There’s a good reason many people, including the Anti-Defamation League, respond intensely to "replacement" rhetoric: It’s fueling far-right extremism, including terrorism. The white mass shooter who killed 23 people, mostly Hispanics, in El Paso, Texas in 2019 admitted targeting "Mexicans" and cited "replacement" fears. In 2017, the tiki-torch marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia notoriously chanted, "Jews will not replace us," referring to beliefs that the "replacement" is being engineered by a Jewish cabal.

Despite harsh criticism, Carlson has defended his statements. He claims he’s concerned about voting rights, not race: Democrats are "diluting" the power of his vote by "importing a brand-new electorate." By that logic, if voting rights mean that the relative impact of your vote must remain perpetually unchanged, you’re also under assault when fellow Americans have a lot of kids — or move to your state.

Carlson denies racist intent, even noting that large-scale immigration hurts low-income Black workers. But that feels like window-dressing: After all, he specifically targets immigration from the "Third World," especially Mexico and other Latin American countries.

It should be said that some progressives have engaged in their own identity talk that plays into "replacement" hysteria, claiming that changing demographics will guarantee Democratic rule and Republican decline or portraying Democratic successes as victories of a diverse coalition over a white electorate — white male voters in particular.

The reality of demographic and political change is considerably more complicated than either left-wing triumphalism or right-wing scaremongering allows. Carlson’s claim that "voters from the Third World" are "obedient" vassals to the Democrats was grossly racist; but some progressive pundits’ and politicians’ rhetoric suggesting that minority voters who vote the "wrong" way are being disloyal to their identity is no less offensive.

In fact, voting preferences, like other cultural patterns, are hardly set in stone. Between 2016 and 2020, Donald Trump lost votes among whites but gained among Hispanics; he would have lost the last election much more decisively without the support of many Hispanic and Asian American voters, often ones turned off by rising radical progressivism in the Democratic Party.

Interestingly, surveys show Americans — including Republicans — becoming much more positive about a future nonwhite American majority: In 2020, only 11% in a Pew Research Center poll said this prospect was "bad," down from 22% in 2016. Smart conservatism would capitalize on this by embracing diversity. The other way is the Tucker Carlson way.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.