Ruth Ben-Ghiat: What is Rep. King's vision? An America "that is just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same"
It's too bad neither King nor his GOP allies want to remember that every racist state in history has failed, she writes
Editor’s Note: Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, and professor of history at New York University. Her latest book is “Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema.” Follow her on Twitter @ruthbenghiat. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Iowa State Rep. Steve King deserves a big thank you from the American people. His recent tweets and statements have brought the racist beliefs of parts of the GOP and our new administration into the open. The gloves are off; the charade’s over. The message has now been broadcast loud and clear: Only white’s right, and only white rights count, in 2017 America.
King’s an admirer of the Dutch extremist politician Geert Wilders, a candidate for prime minister whose party is on the ballot in the Netherlands’ upcoming election. Wilders’ “Freedom Party” has prioritized “de-Islamizing” the country through a total ban on immigration from Muslim countries, the closing of mosques, and a shift in cultural climate that makes it too risky and uncomfortable for Muslims (6% of the population) to remain there.
Today’s racists, like Wilders, believe in population management as the way to save white Christian European society. This is the context for King’s tweet that Wilders “understands that culture and demographics are our destiny.” Persecution from below and state action from above (deportations to get people out, bans on letting people in) will, over time, reduce the number of undesirables able to pollute the genetic pool.
“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” King tweeted. What is his vision? An America “that is just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same,” he explained on CNN’s “New Day.”
Yesterday’s racists couldn’t have said it better. Let’s listen to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, the first sitting leader to have a comprehensive racial project. In 1927, he warned that decreases in European fertility meant “the entire white race, the Western race, could be submerged by races of color that multiply with a rhythm unknown to our own.” Six years later, Adolf Hitler came to power, taking population management and racism to a whole new level with Jews as his main targets.
I’d say no one needs reminding how the Axis racist enterprise ended, except that cresting right-wing populism has coincided with a new phase of anti-Semitism and attempts to forget the Holocaust, along with an uptick in hateful speech and violent actions taken against Muslims and other people of color.
Racism is a peculiarly mobile hatred, and difficult to contain once it’s allowed to proliferate, as it has been in America since Trump appeared on the political scene. Is it a coincidence that his Muslim, black, and Latino-baiting administration managed to release a statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention Jews? I think not.
Racists sound, and act, similarly through the ages because racism is rooted in a primitive fear of those who look “different than us.” Whether they are harassing Jews on the street in 1933 Berlin or killing someone in a bar in 2017 Kansas because he looks Arab, racists want to live in a fantasy world of sameness, their cultures untroubled by the influences of supposedly dangerous or inferior peoples.
There’s a reason King feels empowered to broadcast such views today. Trump’s campaign was one long national education session in alt-right opinion. Over one week in January 2016, 62% of Trump’s tweets had white nationalist origins or connections. The broker of these connections – former Breitbart CEO Stephen Bannon – was rewarded with unparalleled advisory power in the administration. It’s not surprising that Trump and members of his staff have quickly moved to put the power of the state behind the denigration of all that is nonwhite, and engage in a futile attempt to wrench us back to a mythical time when all races “knew their place.”
It’s too bad that neither King nor his GOP allies want to remember that every racist state in history has failed, either because it ended up in a ruinous war or because the population, far from being “managed,” rose up against it.
King might want to do an image search of Mussolini in 1945. It’s not pretty (he ended up strung up like a ham in a Milanese square). Hitler? He committed suicide as his Nazi regime went down. The biracial Trevor Noah may have been “born a crime” in South Africa, to quote the title of his memoir, but apartheid failed as well. And I know some people are attached to their Confederate flags, but the Jim Crow laws are history.
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Executive orders, and even eventual state repression, simply won’t work to try to stop the processes of social emancipation and demographic change. By 2043, the United States will become a minority-majority nation.
Instead of trying to force “others” out, those who don’t like this prospect, such as Rep. King, should feel free to investigate other places to live. As a child of “somebody else’s babies” – i.e. immigrants – I can tell you we’re not going anywhere.