The Rise of White Nationalism in the United States

Written by: Ken Wang

In a political rally in June, Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) thanked the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) for “the historical victory for white life” after the Court overturned Roe v. Wade (1973)

Later, Miller’s team clarified that she made a mistake by saying “white life,” but almost all mainstream media picked up this mishap. However, this mishap reveals Miller’s true intentions, and it is indicative of the prevalence of white nationalism in current U.S. politics.

In the same week, SCOTUS made another decision that would allow coaches to lead prayers after football games, despite the objections of the school. This decision further blurs the separation of church and state, a tradition that dates back to the Renaissance Era in early modern Europe and is enshrined in the American constitution. 

In August, SCOTUS struck down New York’s new gun control laws, claiming much of it being unconstitutional. Although the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin stating that violence against the mass population, especially racial and religious minorities, has been increasing, SCOTUS, with a 6-3 conservative majority, decided to put those people at risk. 

Collectively, these cases in the past few months have illustrated one thing: SCOTUS prioritizes the protection of white males who endorse Christian values. This means a new form of white nationalism that goes beyond race is quickly emerging in U.S. domestic politics, but this is also emerging in U.S. foreign policy. 

White nationalism is dictating the United States’ domestic and foreign policy, and this is not news either. White nationalism has been a centerpiece of  U.S. foreign policy throughout its history. American scholars have contributed, whether implicitly or explicitly, to Hitler’s race politics, which caused one of the greatest tragedies in human history – the Holocaust.

Rober Sussman, in his book The Myth of the Race, wrote the study of eugenics became popular and predominant in American academia during the early 1900s, and four American scholars – Charles Davenport, Harry H Laughlin, Henry F. Osborn, and Madison Grants – led the eugenics activism in the United States. 

After the fall of the Weimar Republic, Sussman wrote, Hitler came to power and adopted the eugenic ideals of scholars like Grant and the scientific work of Davenport and Laughlin, along with other German racial hygienists. The work of these scientists contributed to the development of Hitler and his Nazi Party’s racial policy – to create healthy and racially pure Germans. 

Germany was not the first case where Americans, whether explicitly or not, contributed to or remained silent on the racial policies of another country. In the 1950s, when the South African government implemented Apartheid policies, the United States did not directly confront the South African government.

The United States did not confront South Africa’s Apartheid policies for two main reasons. The first is the racial segregation in America itself during the 50s. The United States would not have gained a solid footing to criticize other countries’ racial practices.

Besides, the United States needed South Africa as a Cold War ally for its political and material strategies. According to J.P. Brits, he argued that politically, South Africa was a great partner during the Korean War to combat the spread of communism and continued this anti-communist foreign policy. 

According to Brits, the United States relied on South Africa for “chrome, high-grade asbestos,” manganese, and uranium. In exchange, South Africa wanted the United States to restrain itself from commenting on Apartheid policies. 

Throughout history, the United States has been closely associated with white nationalism. Germany and South Africa are just two examples. Even before them, the United States colonized Hawai’i and the Philippines by denying their political entity and forcing military takeover to serve the interests of American white political and business elites at the cost of indigenous people and racial minorities.

It is worth noting that the United States is not the only country experiencing an increase in white nationalism in mainstream politics. In Great Britain, the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) was the main proponent of Brexit, which successfully mobilized the xenophobic sentiment of the public.

In France, Marine Le Pen, a candidate in the recent French Presidential Election whose racist and Islamophobic rhetoric has gained popularity among supporters of far-right politicians. Regardless of the traction that Le Pen gained, Pres. Emmanuel Macron has won the re-election.

In Germany, the inconsistent performance of Alternatives for Germany (AfD) has also given space for right-wing extremism to grow, especially with the wish of the party’s former leader to resume the primacy of neo-Nazi politics in Germany.

In the United States, under Trump and Trump-era justices and Republicans, women lost the right to decide about their bodies with the reversal of Roe, public officials can lead prayers in public schools again, and conservatives ban books about race in southern states. Additionally, many other religions, such as Judaism, recognize that the idea of life is formed at birth rather than conception or pregnancy.

All these regressions in U.S. domestic politics mean that the U.S. government is trying to make one particular segment of American civil society the only legitimate group: cisgender white males who embrace protestant Christian values, forming a new form of nationalism that goes beyond racial factors (white nationalism 2.0). 

White nationalism 2.0 is also closely related to populism, and it is eroding the democratic institutions in America. Compared to conventional white nationalism, white nationalism 2.0 goes beyond race and involves gender, sexuality, nationality, socioeconomic status, and other non-racial factors.

This is the case because white American nationalists like Trump use policies and political authority to demonize minority groups while centralizing political and economic power to themselves, as Panayota Gounari argues. This is reflected in U.S. foreign policy through the Muslim Ban, the ICE Directive regarding international students, the extended wait period at the border for refugees, the attempt to reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (an Obama-era policy that allows children under the age of 18 who illegally arrived in the United States to live, study, and work in the States with a permit), etc. 

Additionally, the United States utilized racial and identity policies when the pandemic broke out. Trump constantly racialized the pandemic by calling it the “Chinese Virus” or “Kung Flu”. Before the pandemic, it racialized terrorism, despite much domestic terrorism being caused by white nationalists, who target synagogues and mosques

Domestically, the federal and state government have been restricting voting rights, imposing more challenges on minorities to exercise their democratic rights. Governors like Ron DeSantis pushed for the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, denying the existence of the LGBTQ+ community.

Essentially, White nationalism 2.0 is reclaiming the United States’ imperial/colonial identities through its foreign and domestic policies by deeming only Christian white cisgender males as legitimate citizens, a more than 200-year-old political concept upon which the United States was built. 

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