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The Achilles' heel of U.S. conservatism

Columnist Michelle Malkin speaks at the International Innovators

Columnist Michelle Malkin speaks at the International Innovators Forum at the Fight for Social Justice and Human Rights on November 4, 2018 in Malibu, Calif. Credit: Charley Gallay

“There is no room in mainstream conservatism … for holocaust deniers, white nationalists, street brawlers, or racists.” 

So said a statement issued last month by Young America’s Foundation, a leading campus conservative organization, as it dropped far-right pundit Michelle Malkin from its speakers  bureau. The decision was prompted by Malkin’s defense of a white nationalist group called America First, which has disrupted campus events held by the foundation’s affiliates, and of its Holocaust-denying leader, Nick Fuentes. 

The foundation has done the right thing. But if mainstream conservatism wants to be serious about disavowing bigotry, it needs to do a lot more.

Even the rejection of Malkin comes much too late, considering that she has peddled hate for at least 15 years. In 2004, she published a book titled “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror,” which argued that the American homeland security establishment was too skittish about profiling Arabs and Muslims because of a guilt complex about the Japanese-American internment in the 1940s. Malkin argued that herding nearly 120,000 people (two-thirds of them U.S. citizens) into internment camps was justified because some of them had pro-Japan sympathies, and the Japanese military apparently made some attempts to recruit them as agents. She dismissed the race factor in the internment as a myth, ignoring ample evidence of officially condoned anti-Japanese racism.

Over the next several years, Malkin relentlessly flogged anti-Muslim paranoia — even spotting “jihadi chic” in a black-and-white scarf worn by a model in a Dunkin’ Donuts ad which supposedly resembled an Arab garb, the keffiyeh. More recently, she turned her paranoia to all immigrants, legal or illegal. She has been a contributor to the extremist anti-immigration site VDare, which routinely posts racist and anti-Semitic material.

In her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, Malkin — herself a child of Filipino migrants, which makes her xenophobia more bizarre but no less ugly — blasted modern generations of immigrants as “militantly unassimilable and hostile.” In the Nov. 14 speech at UCLA that proved the last straw for Young America’s Foundation, she explicitly stated that non-European immigrants pose a threat to America because of a tendency to vote Democratic. 

Unfortunately, plenty of other pundits still in good standing on the right, such as Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, traffic in only slightly more veiled rhetoric about nonwhite immigration as a demographic menace.

Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported on some disturbing 2015 emails sent to a former Breitbart News editor by Stephen Miller,  a senior adviser to President Donald Trump and reportedly the principal architect of the Trump administration’s immigration policy. In the emails, Miller shares material from white nationalist websites (including VDare) and promotes other racist writings, such as the 1973 French novel “Camp of the Saints,” a repulsive fantasy about Europe’s destruction by hordes of migrants from India. Yet mainstream conservative commentators brushed aside the report on the grounds that the SPLC is biased.

The same conservatives still believe Trump-style American nationalism can be scrubbed of the bigoted taint that comes not only from high-level administration figures like Miller, but also from Trump’s own insults toward Mexicans, Muslims and migrants from “[expletive] countries.” 

In an age of racialized and polarizing identity politics on the left, conservatism could have a vital role as a movement that embraces an American ideal transcending race, color, religion or ethnicity. But first, it has to reject the large segment of the right that promotes white identity politics under a thin veneer of Americanism.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.