Alexandra Minna Stern: Is Trump Building a White Ethnostate?
On Saturday, Aug. 3, a 21-year-old white man entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, with an automatic rifle and opened fire. By the time he was finished, 20 people were killed and dozens of others were gravely wounded. Two more would die as a result of the injuries they suffered during the carnage.
The suspect left behind a manifesto citing the shooter at a Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque in March as the inspiration for his massacre. Similarly, the document made repeated reference to the “great replacement,” a theory among white nationalists that immigration threatens the demographic future of their race. As “Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate” author Alexandra Minna Stern would likely attest, this sudden eruption of violence is part of a larger trend across the West, facilitated in no small part by the presidency of Donald Trump.
In the latest episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” Stern traces the origins of this poisonous ideology with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer. While groups like the Proud Boys are fundamentally racist in nature, they are fueled by misogyny and a broader anxiety about evolving gender roles, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor professor notes. “I would say that the gendered elements of this are, for me, some of the most resounding neofascist elements of what white supremacy is today. Because it’s about traditionalism, it’s about patriarchy and it’s about anti-egalitarianism in its most stark [and] primordial forms.”
They’re also nothing new. Stern acknowledges that contemporary white nationalists are beholden to the eugenicists of the 20th century, including regressive thinkers like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard. “What was called race suicide in 1910 would be called white genocide in 2020,” she continues. “So there’s very similar logics at play, and there’s a rehabilitation of these ideas in an attempt to kind of update and repackage them—not always in the most effective way, sometimes quite clumsily—but nonetheless to do that for our current moment.”
For Stern, the fascist threat is much larger than any single American organization or movement. “This is part of a transnational phenomenon, and the alt-right is part of a transnational network,” she concludes. “And I think it’s important to be aware of that, because [it] gives alt-righters energy and gives them points of connection.”
In the media player above, listen to Stern’s interview with Scheer, or read a transcript of their conversation below the credits.
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of “Scheer Intelligence,” where of course the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Alexandra Minna Stern. And she’s written a number of books, [she’s a] great scholarly expert, professor of American studies and history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. But the two books that I want to talk about today, one that she did about four years ago called Eugenic Nation, and now her most recent book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate. And they are in similar subject, or related subject, of this drive to have white supremacy, really, the white ethnostate. And the subtitle is How the Alt-Right is Warping the American Imagination. And for those familiar with the Trump story, we know about the alt-right; we know about Steve Bannon and so forth.
Let me just begin with questioning your title: Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right is Warping the American Imagination. Hasn’t the American imagination always been warped on matters of race and white supremacy?
Alexandra Minna Stern: Yeah, well first, thanks for having me. I’m glad to be on to talk to you about both of the books. And yeah, you make a good point. You know, it always has been warped. And you know, this is a country that’s built on structural and racial inequalities. I think, you know, when you’re talking about a subtitle for a book, you want something that’s catchy and that also captures, really, the sense that–what I wanted to capture with that is that in many ways, the discourse and the language around politics and culture that we are using now has shifted kind of dramatically over the past few years, in terms of what is permissible to say and what is not permissible to say–what kind of new vocabulary is out there that is connected to white nationalism, or what is called the alt-right, or even the alt-lite. So my book is really attuned to thinking about language and words and the power that they have to shape and frame discourse.
I think, you know, last night on the—it was one of the debates of the democratic candidates, and I think it was Sanders who responded to one of the questions and said, “Wait a second. What you’ve just asked me is a republican talking point. I want to turn this around and answer it a different way.” So I think this whole issue of how we’re using language, and how that’s framing how we are allowed to think about things or not think about things, or have a progressive imagination—you know, that’s being squelched by some of this changed discursive terrain. So that was the idea. And then the title, proud boys both refers to an actual organization, but also speaks to the male chauvinism of the alt-right. And the ethnostate speaks to the racism and the xenophobia of the alt-right.
So I wanted to put those two pieces together, the misogyny and the racism, and flag them both at once. Much of the literature on the alt-right has focused primarily on racism and xenophobia, which of course is really important, and there’s good works out there that are unpacking that and allowing us to understand it. But as a feminist scholar, you know, I kind of put that—let’s focus on women, let’s focus on gender, let’s focus on the role of patriarchy in shaping what this aggrieved, white male entitlement looks like. And so that was important for me to have it in the title, because I think it’s an integral piece, and we’re not going to be able to really counter this unless we take that on as well.
RS: You know, it’s interesting. I want to pick on one aspect of this, because some people would think, oh, this is an old issue. But what you make clear is the whole Trump phenomenon is an extension of a persistent idea—that’s why I was talking about the subtitle—a persistent idea that this is basically a northern European extension of culture, civilization, of whiteness, and that’s what makes America great. And to the degree that others get in on the act, wherever they come from, that dilutes it.
Now of course, we know the reality is quite the opposite; immigration, you know, from all over the world, obviously has nourished the country. But I want to pick on one person that you discuss in your book, Jordan Peterson. And the reason for that is that his name comes up in a lot of polite circles that I visit. And he seems to be more acceptable in terms of his—what is the right label, white chauvinism, or—than others. So could you just—because people might have heard of Jordan Peterson, he gets huge audiences and speaking fees. And he’s somebody you discuss in your book.
AMS: Yeah. I mean, he’s a very interesting person in this constellation of characters that make up the alt-lite and alt-right. Jordan Peterson is not interested, first and foremost, in pushing for white nationalism, and has spoken out against certain types of authoritarianism. So I’m not trying to put everyone in the same bucket in this book. But what Jordan Peterson does is he endorses a set of rigid gender binaries, a very strict understanding of traditionalism and patriarchy. And his thinking revolves around binaries and what we might call genetic or biological essentialism. So he thinks that due to biology, women should play one role, men should play another role; due to biology, whites are smarter than blacks, Asians are often smarter than whites, and there is a hierarchy in terms of [inaudible], or you know, the general factor of intelligence.
Those ideas and that kind of binary thinking is part of the bedrock of what is warping the American imagination. And this kind of alt-right, alt-lite thinking, it’s antithetical to some of the ideas that we might support in terms of thinking of equality, opportunity and a kind of a more expansive American society. He’s interesting not only because if you unpack his ideas, you know, that’s what you get to—but he has been mentioned by those who are drawn to the alt-right as someone who has red-pilled them.
That means that they have found him, often on YouTube or on a social media platform, maybe they read his book—and the ideas resonate with [them]. It’s often younger white men, but not exclusively, who follow him. And they feel that, you know, his proclamations about order over chaos and traditional gender roles really make sense to them, and allow them to kind of manage their world and put it in some kind of a cohesive understanding. But if you follow his thinking along, it leads to things like, certainly, attacks on leftism, which is seen as corrupting American and Canadian society, universities; certainly anti-feminism.
And he’s someone for whom transphobia, and real kind of discomfort and hostility towards trans folks and anyone who is kind of gender nonbinary, that’s kind of core to his thinking. And again, that gets back to why he is so focused on these dichotomies.
RS: Well, I just want to jump in about a false consciousness here for the white male. And what you have is a situation in which the problem is that many white males do not register successfully in today’s economy. You can say as a proposition they’re smarter, but there seem to be a lot of people who can come from India or China and play a very significant role in Silicon Valley and the new wired world and so forth. And increasingly, you know, the slogan used to be “free, white, and 21 and you got it made in America”—you know, that’s not true. That, in fact, there’s a desire in the high-tech industry in particular, and also in manufacturing, that goes abroad to find other workers; that in fact, you know, maybe the white male is not the indispensable ingredient to economic success.
And the false consciousness is one that says: You are, but you’ve been excluded by identity politics, by—right? By all this language that came out of the university. And so, ironically, they’re saying that the white male no longer has a level playing field on which to compete. Isn’t that the sort of nut of the whole thing?
AMS: Yeah, I mean, I think you’ve summed it up, you know, very well. And that really captures that sense of white male aggrieved entitlement. I’d add to that cisgendered white male aggrieved entitlement. And feeling both that they are being left behind as a society that they increasingly don’t recognize moves forward, and that all of these new things coming down the pike—such as diversity. Which, you know, you see endorsements of racial and ethnic diversity in a range of different areas in society, including marketing and television, and also legal dimensions—although that’s more contested, we have to unpack that at greater length. And they feel like they are being, you know, erased. And, in fact, that’s one of the great concerns of white nationalists, is they’re being erased, whites will go extinct, and the great replacement is afoot, both in the United States and in Europe, and also in Australia and New Zealand and a few other places.
So indeed, I mean, I think that that is certainly part of it. And you know, it is—the demographics of the United States is changing. We are becoming an ethnoracial plurality in different parts of the country at different rates. So in California, where you are, California is already an ethnoracial plurality state. Texas is; a few others are heading that way. It’ll take longer in other parts of the country. But that kind of sense of demographic crisis and, you know, ringing the bells of kind of this demographic devastation, is one of the paramount issues for white nationalists.
And it’s something that, if you look at how do people end up kind of allying with these movements, it can start by watching a Jordan Peterson video—I mean, it doesn’t have to; it could end there. But often you can start going down the rabbit hole of these ideas and end up in kind of a very ugly place that we would recognize as racist and xenophobic, not to mention sexist and anti-leftist and the rest of it. So that’s kind of the construction in a nutshell.
RS: And fascist, as well. Because after all—
AMS: Well, indeed. And I would say that the gendered elements of this are, for me, some of the most resounding neofascist elements of what white supremacy is today. Because it’s about traditionalism, it’s about patriarchy and it’s about anti-egalitarianism in its most kind of stark, and in their eyes, primordial, forms.
RS: So I want to get at the—why it works. I mean, you know, I’m not going to hold Trump responsible for all of this, but he is the president of the most powerful country the world has ever seen. And he can change a lot of things—trade policy, he can go to war, he can do a lot of stuff. And it seems to me the critical issue is the identification of your well-being with your place in the economy. And if you think about it, you know, say in terms of trade and so forth, if everybody’s making out—and I’m going to connect this to the debate in the Democratic Party, with what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, I think, are saying—is it should not be a win-lose situation.
If we can do well by all of our people, then you know, you’re not left out. And it’s only if you think that there’s some ego drive—and I want to connect it with your first book on eugenics. Because as I say, that’s sort of always been with us. And I don’t want to mis-characterize your book, but as I understand it, it basically was to take the superior white male gene—right?—and make it be dominant by sterilizing, by eliminating others. Whether it was killing Native Americans or sterilizing Latinos and so forth. So could you connect your two books, because I’m trying to get listeners to be familiar with the, sort of a part of—the body of your work, actually.
AMS: Yeah, well, thank you for that invitation. I would say one thing is, you know, there tends to be an assumption that economic resentment breeds racial resentment and xenophobia. But some of the more interesting work—especially that’s come out in light of the 2016 election, and some of the patterns that were at play there—by political scientists and survey researchers who’ve looked at this, actually shows that racial resentment is first and foremost. And that, in a way, is—the economic resentment is secondary to that.
So we’ve seen a shift where racial resentment is really a driving force in political decision-making, electoral politics—now, that’s been brewing for a while; it’s something that’s been happening over the past 30 or 40 years–really begin to intensify under Obama, and then was so starkly manifested in the 2016 election.
And so one of the questions is, how is that going to play out in the 2020 election? And if Trump’s most recent comments about, you know, sending people back where they came from, and a whole range of other things he said, including his associating Baltimore with, you know, racial associations of Baltimore with disease and so on and so forth—it’s likely that that is going to continue to play out. So that’s one thing that I think it’s really important to keep in mind.
In terms of connections between the two books, you know, one of the reasons I wrote my most recent book is because I was aware by 2015—I had kept tabs on some of these neo-Nazi, white supremacist organizations. I was aware that there was a continuous thread of thinking around things like race and intelligence, or gender and intelligence. You know, these ideas have been around for quite a long time, and there is an element of kind of like, you know, the old wine in new bottles type of phenomenon.
But as I was getting to know, you know, this kind of motley crew of writers and social media platforms, webzines associated with what came to be called the alt-right, I realized that eugenic ideas were first and foremost among them. So, really, ideas about, as you were mentioning before, breeding. You know, who should be part of the white body politic. And when that’s driven by a white racist logic, that means that immigration should be stopped so certain people can’t come in. And breeding, you know, should be controlled so that certain people will reproduce more and other people will not reproduce at all.
Which obviously resonates with, it’s the same thinking that was at play in the early 20th century with the eugenics movement and the passage of sterilization laws. Which, as you know, in California was a really big deal; over 20,000 people were sterilized in California in the 20th century. So that’s one thing. But not only were these ideas embraced—and if you look at, like, the Christchurch manifesto, the first three sentences that are just repeated are—it’s all about, it says something, I don’t want to amplify what he wrote. But really, the focus is on reproduction, it’s on breeding, it’s on control of reproduction of certain groups over other groups with a white supremacist logic.
And you will find that white nationalists, and others—kind of even who are on the, straddling the kind of alt-right—tend to embrace this, eugenics ideas and also eugenic authors. So they’re often paying homage to people like Madison Grant, who wrote The Passing of the Great Race, or Lothrop Stoddard, who wrote The Rising Tide of Color, and other books, which were all about—you know, it’s the same language.
It’s “hordes,” “onslaughts,” of brown people, of black people, of immigrants, of racial others; it needs to be stopped to protect America. Because you know, what was called race suicide in 1910 would be called white genocide in 2020. So there’s very similar logics at play, and there’s a rehabilitation of these ideas in an attempt to kind of update them and repackage them—not always in the most effective way, sometimes quite clumsily—but nonetheless, to do that for our current moment.
RS: OK, we’re going to return in a minute, because this is fascinating. And I’m talking to Alexandra Stern, and we’re talking about both of her books. One, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate—current alt-right description in great detail, much better than I’ve seen anywhere else. I applaud you, although I don’t envy you for spending a lot of time on these websites, but you’ve been willing to do it. And the other book that I want to return to right now is Eugenic Nation, because I think that’s where you have the seeds of this sort of white arrogance. And we’ll be right back after we take a break. [omission for station break]
I’m back with professor, University of Michigan professor of American studies and history, Alexandra Minna Stern, the author of two books. And one is Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate, the alt-right now, which is very important because of the Trump administration and what have you. And the book that I think shows some of the antecedents of this, Eugenic Nation. And just when we broke off the discussion, you were talking about this history of idea of the right people should give birth, and they are white, and so forth—breeding.
And it is uncomfortable to bring up the fact that that also had a lot to do with the birth control movement, and even Margaret Sanger. I know, you know, it’s not a simple connection. But you see it in other policies; you see it in welfare reform, the wrong people are having children, you know, and so we have to discourage that. You saw that—and it’s not just white people, because after all, they didn’t want the Irish—I assume they’re white—but they didn’t want Catholics to breed, they wanted Protestants to breed.
So why don’t you just introduce a really ugly aspect of America—which came to, by the way, be adopted by the Nazis—that the wrong people are being born? And that leads to a real contempt for people around the world who are of a different color, and therefore you don’t mind killing them in wars and so forth, because their life is clearly expendable; in fact, should be curtailed.
AMS: Yeah, there’s so much to talk about there. I mean, I think just your last point—you know, really, who has the authority to decide whose life is worth living, and who is likely to have quality of life, and quantity of life as well. I mean, those are kind of general justice issues, bioethical issues, that are talked about today in the context of new genetic technologies and things like that. And we could have a whole long discussion about that as well.
But going back to the early 20th century, when the eugenics movement took off, you know, you’re right: The ideas were, you know, the kind of reigning ideas and frameworks were about who should be breeding and who shouldn’t be breeding, who should come into the body politic and who should be barred from the body politic. And these decisions were being made by white elites.
Let’s just take California; we’re talking about, for the most part, white male Protestant transplants. And that’s something that is actually kind of ironic, is if you look at, for example, David Starr Jordan, the president of Stanford University; John R. Haynes, who’s a big name in Los Angeles—these are men who were physicians and professionals and elites who came to California, often from the East Coast or the Midwest, and wanted to implant their own idea of what this new Mediterranean utopia would look like. And it would be one in which there, in the ideal world, there was white purity, and in which Mexicans and the Mexican past would be purged.
And so that played out in the early 20th century in California, and was kind of interwoven into deportation policies, into the ways in which sterilization was carried out in state institutions, and in racist propaganda that was common among groups like the Commonwealth Club of California. They probably don’t like to recognize that today, but they were a hotbed of eugenic racism in the 1920s and 1930s. So that was very much, that was very much at play then.
RS: You know, what’s so fascinating about this is clearly, I mean, you know, I like white people; I guess I am one of ’em. But the whole idea that we are superior, white men are superior in a way, is just contradicted by human history. And also that somehow, that white people will take us in the right direction; I mean, the fact is the greatest mayhem in the world came in Germany, with the most well-educated, you know, solid white people.
And yet they embraced a notion of eugenics which caused them to become the most primitive, brutal, ugliest regime we’ve ever seen in modern history. And so it’s interesting how these ideas cross over. They start out saying, “We’re enlightened, and we’re going to breed more enlightened people, and you’ll go to the right schools,” and so forth, and you end up being savage in your policies. You bomb people at random, kill millions of them because they’re of the wrong color.
And I want to get back to a point I raised at the very beginning, and that is that maybe this whole identification of success with the economy—I know you said the order is a bit different. But I, you know, we’re getting it now with trade policy and everything else. What if it turns out that Chinese workers, “yellow” workers, who when they came to California were not allowed to be citizens—we had the [Chinese] Exclusion Act—were not allowed to breed, were not allowed to marry, were not allowed to do anything because they were considered inferior and dangerous and so forth. What if it turns out that this large Chinese population can produce brilliant doctors and physicists and be more effective?
One way you could approach it—or India, or Africa, or any other place—you could say, great. Welcome to the dance. We’ll all live better, right? We’ll benefit from your discoveries and your productivity and so forth. And the sickness of racism is a denial of the value of others, even when they help us. Right? It’s, if it didn’t come from white people, it’s somehow inherently defective. Isn’t that what the alt-right is all about?
AMS: Yeah, I mean, I would say that those ideas are shot through the alt-right to a great extent. And certainly the, you know, aspect of dehumanizing certain people because of their national origin, the color of their skin.
And I just want to go back to a point that I meant to make earlier, which is that you were talking about the connection between Margaret Sanger and the eugenics movement. And there is, at points throughout time, noticeable manifestations of eugenic thinking in white liberalism. So it’s not like white liberals should be let off the hook, because some of these ideas, for example, about population policy—what is the right-sized family, who should be targeted for birth control and so on—I mean, you can find some of those same ideas, not in the extreme form that you would find with the kind of eugenic sterilization brigades, but you could find it in Johnson’s policies in the 1960s around kind of new society and things like that.
So I think it’s important to keep that in mind, and that’s also important because one of the things, I think, that I really tried to do in the book, in terms of understanding the alt-right, is not to sensationalize it, but also not to trivialize it. So to find that middle ground, so that we can really kind of deconstruct it on its own terms. So you know, I think that there are definite points of connection between the eugenics of the early 20th century and some of the ideas that are happening today.
And one other point I’d like to add in is that it’s interesting to look back at—so 32 states passed eugenic sterilization laws in the U.S. in the early 20th century—from 1907 to 1937—with Indiana being the first and Georgia being the last. But none of those laws, unlike what was passed in Germany, targeted specific racial, religious, or ethnic groups. They all were couched in the language of disability. So it was about people who were feeble-minded; it was about people who were mentally defective, about people who were likely to breed unfit progeny. But that language of disability became kind of, was refracted, then, for the enactment of racism and sexism.
So I think that another key point about studying the history of eugenics is if one really wants to unpack it and to understand it, it’s definitely connected to disability history, and kind of righting those wrongs as part of what is disability justice. And that is often left out of these discussions, and it’s interesting to think back.
You know, one of the many of the kind of unpleasant things that Trump has done, one was kind of making fun, in a kind of a body-language way, of someone—I think, you know, I think his presumption was the person had a physical disability, perhaps cerebral palsy or something like that. And that was just one instance of how he is demeaning a person with a disability, and there are, I’m sure, there are probably other instances as well. But that’s not just something to be seen in isolation. That’s part of this kind of bigger package, from my perspective at least.
RS: Yeah, and people of his family origin—and my own; my father was from Germany—killed—their government; their government, they couldn’t control it anymore, but Hitler was elected—their government deliberately killed anybody with physical disability that, you know, that they cared to. But I want to push this, we only have a few minutes, say 10 minutes left, five minutes left.
Let me just push this a little further. I think what your books, your two books—and I would really recommend that people get ahold of them—they should be the basis of a discussion. Because if we don’t understand that America has not always been great, that there is actually a sickness as part of the great westward expansion, a contempt that begins with contempt for the people who lived here, who we killed, and didn’t want to see them breed, and thought they were incapable. And moving on to the contempt for the slaves that we brought here, and so forth. There’s been a sickness to this whole thing, you know.
And it shows itself in two categories that come to mind right away. One is the prison population. [inaudible words] Enhancing people’s skills and so forth, improving their education, making up for a poor education—no. We were going to punish them. That was certainly true with the welfare reform. And the main thing we’re going to do is to get them to not have children.
So we’ve got this big war that the statistics were all wrong based on supposedly an explosion of teenage pregnancy and what have you. And you’re right, those two programs had considerable liberal support. Also, somebody like Ehrlich and the whole population bomb, you know, and the whole idea that the wrong people were having children. And I think that’s the thing that connects the alt-right—your second, you’ve written other books, but the two that we’re talking about, the eugenics book and the alt-right book—they’re based on an idea that there’s only one set of people that are really worth preserving and caring about, and the rest are an inconvenience. And those are the nonwhites.
AMS: Well, I would say that that speaks to one of the issues that I’ve been trying, tried to track in the book, which is the extent to which this thinking is creeping into what we might call the mainstream. It’s not exactly clear what the mainstream media is these days, there’s so many media echo chambers.
But there has been an alt-right creep, both in terms of on the one hand, you know, the recognition of the language or even just knowing what some of these words are. And some of them are acronyms and some of them are very much like memes. So, it’s not necessarily even words, it’s memes that are circulating. So, think for example of Pepe the Frog and what happened with the alt-right seizing upon that meme, and you know, kind of playing with it and twisting it around and making it kind of one of their mascots for the upsurge, and the effect that they had on the 2016 election.
Now, since then, the guy who, the artist who designed that has actually won a copyright battle, I think against The Daily Stormer that was using it. And he won that, so they’re not allowed to use it anymore. Now, stuff proliferates all the time on social media, and I guess that’s one thing that I, in addition to thinking about the alt-right creep and really, like, keeping track of it. So we need to keep tabs on it, and we need to be aware of the way in which this language is being used, and the issues are being framed, so that we can reframe them.
And I say “we” here in terms of, you know, progressive Americans who embrace a multicultural vision, a multiracial vision—reclaim them for the society that we want instead of always being on the defensive, or having them creep up on us, and then we’re in a situation where we’ve kind of surrendered that space. And so that seems to me, that’s something that’s very important.
And another thing about the alt-right that I learned from writing this book is that yes, it’s—to a great extent, as we were talking about before, there is the phenomenon of old wine in new bottles. But the social media terrain has changed the way things are done, and the way in which ideas and memes circulate. And have just—you know, it’s a different media ecosystem these days. And we, I think as both scholars and journalists, we really need to understand it, and understand the kind of like twisted and unpredictable ways in which it can work. That’s one thing.
And the other thing is that, you know, the alt-right—we’ve talked about the U.S., and a little bit about Nazi Germany, and the context of history. But you know, where are we in 2019? We’re in a world where there are rising authoritarian and national populist movements around the globe. And so the alt-right is, you know, one of many in that regard. It’s not as successful politically as, you know, kind of sister or analogous movements in places like Italy, or for example what’s happening in Poland these days. Even with the rise of groups like, you know, the democrats, the Swedish democrats, and the National Front in France.
So I just—this is part of a transnational phenomenon, and the alt-right is part of a transnational network. And I think it’s important to be aware of that, because that is—you know, that both gives it energy, and—gives alt-righters energy, and gives them points of connection. And it also raises really important questions about where are we heading, you know, writ large as humans, as we kind of barrel towards the later years of the 21st century and are facing things like climate change and refugee dislocation and all those kinds of issues.
I just like to have that really big-picture, transnational scope to this, because I think you can’t understand the emergence of the alt-right without putting it in that broader frame.
RS: You know, just in sort of wrapping it up, let me just suggest that one problem—well, you know more about this than I do—is what we mean by the male ego. Because it would seem to me if you didn’t have a particularly screwed-up idea that you have to be central to your family, to the world, and so forth—that’s sort of the A-male personality—you could enjoy the success of others. Right?
If it turns out, whatever country in the world, they make good inventions, they deal with medical problems, they make better products, and we live in a multinational world economy—we’d all benefit from that. And that goes to climate change. If they could figure out better ways of doing solar, for example, in China—you know, we’d benefit from it. Because after all, the Chinese are polluting the atmosphere more effectively than almost anybody else by virtue of their population, their dependence on coal.
So what really, the sickness here, is that male ego, that idea that if you’re not central to the whole human experience, then you’re missing out and you’re a failure. And I think it goes to this dependence on your place in an economy which is unrealistic. White males will simply not be, by virtue of numbers alone, the indispensable ingredient to human progress. They never were, but they certainly visibly will not be that. Whether we talk about the internet world, health science, what have you. And it seems to me your theme here has come up against that.
And when you try to make the white male indispensable, you get into this sickness of sterilization, eugenics, and so forth. Is that not the real warning? And therefore, if that’s true, what’s happening in America or in the other countries is not an accident, and it’s not an exception. And I would disagree with you only on one thing: It seems to me the alt-right has been more successful in America than anywhere else. Because we are the most powerful nation in the world, and we do have a president who seems wedded to the idea that the white male is very, very special, is enlightened, is our savior, and has to be listened to.
AMS: Well, I would say that in terms of the circulation of the ideas, and this reverberation effect that Trump’s tweets have, for example, you know, across the country, and the way in which they—you know, he has thrown dog whistles to the wind, and is just embracing unabashed racism. I would say in that sense, yes, there has been alt-right creep. There has been, you know, in—I don’t like to use the word “success,“but they’ve been effective to some extent.
Although I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily so consciously designed or choreographed; it’s a kind of amalgamation of a bunch of different things that have come together. What I was referring to more is in terms of actually—because we have, you know, we don’t have a parliamentary system in this country. You know, you now have the alternative for Germany—I don’t remember the exact number, but you know, holding I think it’s like 15 percent of the seats, you know, in the German government, you know, as representatives. And you find, you have similar things at play in Italy, you know, with, I think it’s Salvini, and certainly what’s going on in Poland. So I would say on the level of kind of like political representation and political leadership, and more across the board.
Think of Steve King, for example. Now, that was like, you know, a very mealy-mouthed censure that the republicans gave him. They stripped him of his committees—I don’t know if he’s, he might have been reassigned to them by now, I can’t quite remember. But you know, basically, he was such a white nationalist in his tweets, and he was so out of control, that they had to put their foot down. I don’t think they—maybe some of them cared, but I don’t think they really cared that much. But they knew they had to do something. So I don’t know.
It depends on how you define what has been effective. What I would say is that, you know, I’m very concerned going into—I’m very concerned with where things are right now, if you look at what’s happening on the U.S.-Mexico border, and you think of the kind of racial logics of building an ethnostate, and how those are kind of playing out on the U.S.-Mexico border, in terms of how populations and people are being treated, how families are being separated.
But I’m very concerned going into the 2020 election, because of the ways in which political discourse and culture have shifted, things have become so ugly. And yes, you have, you know, Trump’s tweets, and you have a presence of these ideas and these groups that some people think have kind of fallen apart post-Charlottesville, but I would say not. Not at all.
And in fact, you know, there was kind of a reckoning among those groups after Charlottesville, but in a way, that kind of debacle helped some of them figure out how to organize more effectively. And so it would be really naive to assume that that was enough to kind of—you know, a few sentences, a few jail sentences, a few deplatformings is going to be enough to get rid of these groups. No, that’s not the case.
RS: And that is discussed in great detail in your book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate. The author is Alexandra Stern, a professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan. And her previous book that we’ve been discussing, also very important, Eugenic Nation. The two of them, I think, form indispensable reading if you really want to understand why we have this persistent strain of racial madness in the country. And it has its intellectual pretensions that appeal to, evidently, a fairly wide audience.
And a shout-out to Peggy Watson at Michigan Public Radio for engineering this on their end. And on our end at KCRW, we had Kat Yore and Chuck P engineering the program. The producer is Joshua Scheer. And this is Robert Scheer. Back next week with another edition of “Scheer Intelligence.”