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How does one gain political converts?

Pat Buchanan's 2011 book Suicide of a Superpower included the line "White America is an endangered species" and the accusation that white Americans who tolerate demographic shifts suffer from "ethnomasochism". In June 2018, Buchanan appeared on “The Laura Ingraham Show” and asked "whether Europe has the will and the capacity, and America has the capacity to halt the invasion of the countries until they change the character — political, social, racial, ethnic — character of the country entirely." While acknowledging that "separating migrant kids from their parents" looks bad "politically and emotionally," Buchanan says that the president nonetheless has got it right on "the mega-issue — the Third World invasion of the West".

What's he on about? Charles M. Blow, who quoted the lines above on June 24, 2018 — and who also cited a recent Brookings report that, since 2007, less than half of American newborns are "white non-Hispanic" and furthermore that, among white non-Hispanics, there are more deaths than births — says that "[w]hite extinction anxiety, white displacement anxiety, white minority anxiety" is at the "core" of the Republican administration's current immigration policies.

Blow writes:

All manner of current policy grows out of this panic over loss of privilege and power: immigration policy, voter suppression, Trump economic isolationist impulses, his contempt for people from Haiti and Africa, the Muslim ban, his rage over Black Lives Matter and social justice protests. Everything.

Trump is president and is beloved by his base in part because he is unapologetically defending whiteness from anything that threatens it, or at least that’s the image he wants to project. It is no more complicated than that. These immigrant children crying out for their mothers and fathers are collateral damage, pawns in a political battle to wring strict legislation out of Congress — medieval torture displays meant to serve as deterrents.

* * *

These immigration policies are for people who conflated America with whiteness, and therefore a loss of white primacy becomes a loss of American identity.

The hard-right endorsement of guns similarly manifests racism, as argued in a tweet from several months ago. The link goes to an academic paper from 2015.

But what to do about it? On June 25, Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" discussed how to persuade the "42 to 45 percent of Americans" who currently support Donald Trump to withdraw their support. "How do they move away," he asked, "from a candidate, from a politician who is using race constantly, who is lying every day, who is subverting the rule of law every day, who works every day to undermine the power of the federal judiciary?" “I don’t think calling them racists and I don’t think kicking them out of restaurants," he said, referencing a current debate about three Trump administration officials who faced backlash in restaurants, "will move them. At the end of the day, politics is about making friends. It’s about converting people to your cause.” A guest agreed, saying that comparisons between the Trump administration and Nazi Germany are especially excessive and counterproductive, and he suggested that a better response is to portray the president as "simply not up to the job. That's it. He can't do the job."

This is a problem. What if Trump supporters are indeed motivated by racism, and what if the Trump administration is indeed uncomfortably close to authoritarianism — and what if calling out that truth causes his supporters to dig in their heels and thus worsens our collective situation? Should opponents of Trump paint him as someone who "can't do the job"...of what? Of enacting enough racist, authoritarian policies? Doesn't portrayal of him as an ineffective, hapless thug risk inspiring white people to turn to another candidate who is a more brutal thug? I suggest that we have to identify specific good things he cannot accomplish and identify politicians who are capable of doing those good things. I also suspect that pointing toward goodness will occasionally necessitate calling out racism and authoritarianism as goodness's opposite. Can we do this without offending and distancing some people? No. What will the result be? I don't know.

Scott Jennings wrote on June 25 that the left was wrong to think that "outcry over this decision" — namely, the Trump administration's policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border — "would fundamentally alter the political landscape." After all, this policy is consistent with Trump's platform, and some of his supporters "may even like him more" for it. He added that "whatever Trump's family separation position cost the Republican Party politically has more than been erased by hysterical comments like those from Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters, who called for the public to 'create a crowd' to 'push back on' Trump administration officials....voters may not want to trust control of the government to people who believe in mob justice over civil discourse."

Ryan Cooper in The Week on June 25 offered a different perspective: "For someone legitimately concerned about political incivility, the far right would rationally get about 90 percent of the attention." (David Runciman, in his book How Democracy Ends, released in the US in June 2018, made a similar point: “He governs from outside the bounds of democratic civility, which requires recognition that there can be truth on the other side. He is making a mockery of the system that is tolerating him.”)

Cooper continued:

But civility worriers have internalized the fact that the right could not possibly care less what they think or say (unless it is to laugh in their faces for being prissy and easily bullied). It feels pointless to hit Trump for being an indecent monster, because it basically is. Nobody will ever convince the hard right of anything; if we want to stop them they must be politically defeated.

So instead, the left gets half or more of the attention. Discourse anxiety caused by the president of the United States being a disgusting oaf gets transplanted onto a handful of powerless college students and peaceful protesters. The only accomplishment is to sow disunity and bitter arguments among the opposition to Trump.

But how to defeat the right without convincing at least some of them?


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