How to fight support for the ‘great replacement’ theory among Republicans
It is common in center-left circles to refer to the “great replacement” theory of white supremacy – the absurd and racist claim that white Americans are deliberately “replaced” by non-white immigrants – as a theory of the plot. But a striking new poll suggests the left would be better off focusing on the racist and anti-democratic tenets behind the claim rather than trying to dismiss it primarily as misinformation.
There is a risk of dodging or implicitly conceding the most dangerous ideas that underlie and fuel conspiracy thinking.
A survey released by the Southern Poverty Law Center last week made a stunning finding: An overwhelming majority of Republicans say they believe in key tenets of the “great replacement” theory. According to the poll, which was conducted with Tulchin Research, a Democratic polling firm, via an online panel in late April, 68% of Republicans agree with the statement that “the recent change in our national demographic composition has not is not a natural change but has been driven by progressive and liberal leaders actively trying to leverage political power by replacing more conservative white voters.
It seems the efforts of pundits and politicians supporting the “great replacement” theory like Tucker Carlson of Fox News and House Republican No. 3 Elise Stefanik of New York are paying off; the idea that liberals are seeking to remake American political and cultural life by replacing white people seems to be not only commonplace, but in fact dominant on the right.
To be fair, one explanatory factor is probably the question design itself. It’s convoluted and wordy, and it includes partisan signals (“progressive and liberal leaders”) without offering an alternative. I suspect that some Republicans and Democrats answering the question may have responded less to specifics and more to whether or not they generally favor the ideas and actions of progressive leaders on immigration.
But while we admit that this survey question isn’t well-crafted, this poll isn’t a massive aberration. According to a December poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 47% of Republicans agreed with the statement that “there is a group of people in this country trying to replace native Americans.” by immigrants who agree with their political views. .”
The reality we have to face is that these ideas that come from the white supremacist right are really becoming more mainstream. It means being discerning in fighting them. And the fundamental threat of the “great replacement” theory is not misinformation. These are rotten, racist values.
To be clear, the idea of the “great replacement” of course implies falsehoods. In its classic form, it posits the anti-Semitic trope that porous borders are designed by shadowy Jewish financiers. And the claim that the pro-immigration left is driven solely by the pursuit of political advantage is of course false.
But if progressives focus on the call of “great replacement” by thinking of a conspiracy theory, there is a risk of dodging or implicitly conceding the most dangerous ideas that underlying and fuel conspiracy thinking. Proponents of the replacement theory conceive of whites as constituting a single, cohesive civilization besieged by people they have deemed non-white. Culturally, they view whiteness as something that is corroded by racial diversity and integration, and politically, they view whiteness as a basis for the right to power. Even if you disprove the false conspiracies to import immigrants to change the nature of the country, these disturbing concepts of racial purity and hierarchy will remain.
When Tucker Carlson warns of the arrival of “obedient Third World voters,” he is trafficking racist and essentialist ideas about the perceived character of non-white immigrants. Of course, in reality, first-generation Americans often gravitate quite naturally to Republicans, non-white voters can often be conservative, and Donald Trump’s support for Latinos has grown even as his bigotry intensified. But this is not the question. Carlson and his fellow travelers simply use conspiracies to rally people around widespread hostility toward immigrants and people of color. Racism is the point.
And so anti-racism must be at the forefront of the fight against these ideas. The central problem is not the lack of evidence regarding a conspiracy theory, it is that the very premise of the “great replacement” conspiracy hinges on a racist worldview. The left should advocate for a welcoming society for immigrants and their path to citizenship, from cultural enrichment to civic health to greater prosperity. It may take more effort than calling people on the right paranoid, but it will keep the left grounded in the most critical principles at stake.