This morning, Ross Douthat, writing plaintively about "a conservatism defined by despair and disillusionment," reminded his NY Times readers that "the GOP doesn’t know how to win majorities; the right doesn’t know what it’s conserving anymore... [T]he Republican Party’s current craziness comes from being in an extended, Groundhog Day version of the Democratic Party’s 1980s situation, in which the party’s rebuilds keep failing, but our era’s greater partisan polarization still keeps the right electorally competitive... Can conservative energies be turned away from fratricide and lib-baiting and used to rebuild the structures and institutions and habits whose decline has pushed the right toward crisis?"
At the same time, CNN reported that "Trump's continued promotion of the 'big lie' about the 2020 election could still incite his followers to violence, the Justice Department and judges noted repeatedly this week, as courts weigh the future dangerousness of US Capitol riot defendants. Two federal judges this week brought up the disinformation about 2020 from right-wing figures, and even Trump himself, as they considered keeping alleged Capitol rioters in jail before trial. And prosecutors from the Justice Department are arguing more explicitly that violent threats stemming from Trump-backed conspiracy theories are still alive, and that Trump supporters could be called to act again. 'It's never too late' for pro-Trump extremist groups like the Proud Boys to mobilize, because the right-wing political climate hasn't shifted much since Trump left office, federal prosecutor Jason McCullough argued at a hearing for one of the accused Proud Boys leaders earlier this week. The comments from prosecutors and judges demonstrate how Trump's post-presidency lying about 2020 is complicating matters for some of his most ardent supporters-- including people who heeded his call to come to Washington on January 6 and are now in jail cells awaiting trial."
I could care less about these insurrectionists rotting in jail cells. I wish them all the worst. But I am worried that:
1- 76% of Republicans have persuaded themselves that the 2020 election was illegitimate and stolen.
2- The "big lie" lives on not just in Trump's press releases but also in many of the media outlets-- from Fox to OAN, Newsmax and Hate Talk Radio-- that cheered him on during his presidency, which are deeply influential among his followers.
3- Vaccine-hesitant Trump voters are getting worse, not better, endangering the whole country.
Olivia Troye, a former intelligence officer who served as Pence’s counterterrorism advisor, as well as his lead staffer on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is now a co-director of the Republican Accountability Project. She made that video just above yesterday. And penned a piece for The Bulwark lamenting how her party has gone to hell: <a href="https://thebulwark.com/how-the-gop-absorbed-far-right-extremists/">How the GOP Absorbed Far-Right Extremists</>. Marjorie Taylor Greene's and Paul Gosar's Anglo Saxon Caucus is what got her going, at least in part because she believes they backed away for now, but that the caucus will be back. "The only material manifestation of the new confederacy of conspiracists was a seven-page manifesto filled entirely with clumsy, gnarly prose (even by government standards), punctuated with clunkers like this: 'America was founded on the basis of individual and state sovereignty, to ensure that no free American would be lorded over by a Monarch ever again.' Pretty rich from people who took their slogan from a wannabe autocrat who claimed the presidency gave him 'total authority' to 'do whatever I want.'"
But the creed against immigrants isn’t just dim-- it’s dark. It includes classic xenophobic tropes about “weeding out those who could not or refused to abandon their old loyalties . . . stay[ing] in the country at the expense of the native-born,” and calls to “abolish unnaturalized birthright citizenship, which actively encourages hostile interests to undermine the legitimacy of democratic self-governance by engaging in subversive ‘birth tourism’ and chain migration.” (Emphases added.)
No wonder the cacophony of condemnation for the authors was so intense. After promising the announcement of the caucus “very soon,” Greene’s spokesman, erm, clarified over the weekend that she is “not launching anything.” Gosar also denied any involvement in the document or the caucus.
That probably won’t last long. While the style was amateurish and crude, the substance of the America First Caucus is no different from what the Republican party standard has been for some time. If anything, the America First manifesto is slightly more nuanced and tamer than “not sending us their best . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Or “very good people on both sides.” Or “shithole countries.” Or retweeting screams of “white power!” Or telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
In case anyone still has doubts, the policy inside Trump’s White House was quite clear: White nationalists and other right-wing extremists, even violent ones, were to be considered political allies.
The question of whether Trump himself helped cause the dramatic rise in right-wing violence or was a symptom of it is complicated and may never be fully solved. The best answer is probably a bit of both.
Obviously there were right-wing terrorists before Trump became a political figure, the Oklahoma City bombers being only the most famous instance. There were international examples, too-- the perpetrator of the massacre in Norway in 2011 became an international martyr for right-wing extremists.
But the pace accelerated after Trump won the election. During my time in government, we witnessed the murder of Heather Heyer at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting (the perpetrator of which invoked Trump’s much-ballyhooed immigrant caravans as part of his motivation), and the El Paso Wal-Mart shooting where the shooter drove over 600 miles to kill Mexicans. Both the Pittsburgh and El Paso attackers made reference to racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric, the latter decrying the Hispanic “invasion” of Texas and explaining his actions as a defense of his country from cultural and ethnic replacement. These spectacular crimes occurred amid an overall increase in right-wing violence, and the White House knew it, yet refused to address the poisonous ideology that drove the violence.
...In a new essay, Sarah Longwell discusses the ongoing threats to American democracy and the maddening lack of urgency in our national response. For as ham-fisted as the launch of the America First Caucus was, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as the comical blunderings of fringe figures. What it represents is significant. Under four years of Trump’s leadership, the Republican party has allied itself with what FBI Director Christopher Wray has called a “metastasizing” threat.
The danger of the modern Republican party isn’t that it is populist and has nutty ideas about free trade and can’t spell. It’s not that it favors lib-owning cultural warfare over policy and good government. It’s not that Trump is a moral Lilliputian and every other significant member of the Republican party (with a handful of exceptions) is either a sociopath or a weakling.
The danger is that, just as the Big Lie about election fraud became de rigueur for Republican politicians after the election, explicit white nationalism may become the central motivating principle for much of the party. Gosar spoke at a white nationalist conference immediately before addressing CPAC. Sen. Ron Johnson has begun dabbling in so-called “replacement theory”-- the same theory that led the Charlottesville marchers to chant “Jews will not replace us!” Tucker Carlson recently invoked replacement theory on his show.
And as we saw on January 6, the party is willing to incite violence when it feels like its hold on power is threatened.
The America Firsters will be back. They will be better organized. They will have more followers. They will be better armed.
What are we going to do about it?
As Jonathan Davis-Secord noted in his piece on the real Anglo-Saxons for the Washington Post on Friday, that even Kevin McCarthy called out the 'nativist dog whistles.' "Those whistles were so loud," wrote Davis-Second, "they led to a strong and swift backlash. Plans for the caucus soon crumbled, with Greene blaming her staff for poorly preparing it, but the damage was done, and the term 'Anglo-Saxon' was trending. This is by no means the first time 'Anglo-Saxon' has been used to invoke and support white supremacy. The term has carried racial connotations since its inception, and it has been inextricable from modern white supremacist ideology for the better part of two centuries. Indeed, many groups have used a distorted historical image of 'Anglo-Saxons' to glorify an imaginary all-White past-- and to naturalize White rule and fear of people of color."
The “Anglo-Saxon” label first appeared shortly before 800 CE in continental Latin works as a way to distinguish the English speakers in England from the distant relatives they had left in what are now Germany and Denmark. The label had not yet developed its overtly racist connotations at this point, but it nonetheless distinguished peoples in a way that built into modern racism. The majority of the term’s appearances in early documents within England itself occurred again in Latin texts, where it indicated expanded royal control over the previously separate kingdoms of the Angles, the Saxons and several other segments of the island’s population. Specifically, King Aethelstan (d. 939 CE) was described in charters at the end of his life as “emperor of the Anglo-Saxons and Northumbrians, governor of the pagans and defender of the Britons.” Those Angles and Saxons-- and their kingdoms-- were distinct, and the other kingdoms of English speakers (not to mention Wales, Scotland or Danish settlements) were certainly left out of the term’s coverage.
For centuries after the Norman conquest in 1066, however, the label fell out of use almost entirely.
It was another 700 years before the “Anglo-Saxon” label came into widespread use-- and it was at that point that it began to morph into a justification for white supremacy. Early medieval English law codes had been resources for anti-monarchist arguments in Early Modern England, and early Americans adopted that approach too. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wanted to construct a connection between the new, White-dominated democracy and an “Anglo-Saxon” heritage. In the 19th century, at the height of British colonialism in Asia and Africa and of U.S. ideas of manifest destiny and continental conquest, the term became more popular for differentiating White colonists and culture from the people they were subjugating.
As Britain imposed control over more parts of the globe, they used the term to justify seizing power from people of color. For example, British phrenologist George Combe wrote that colonial expansion in India could only be explained by the racial inferiority of Hindu people, who were “utterly unable to contend against a mere handful of Anglo-Saxons.” As White settlers in North America displaced Native Americans, invaded Mexico and expanded slavery to the West, they became preoccupied with notions of racial identity and superiority-- and with keeping power in White hands. For example, in describing an expedition to expand Texan control over what is now New Mexico, journalist George Kendall wrote that Mexicans were animalistic, “and so they will continue to be until the race becomes extinct or amalgamated with Anglo-Saxon stock.”
The idea that White Americans sprang from some imagined Anglo-Saxon heritage flowers anew in moments of mass immigration or perceived threats to White dominance, such as civil rights gains for non-White Americans. For example, in the 1920s, Ku Klux Klan materials claimed to support “Anglo-Saxon” forms of government, and the U.S. passed restrictive immigration laws grounded in eugenics theories.
The term “Anglo-Saxon” was also adopted by academics studying early medieval England as the discipline developed in the late 19th century, and the study of the Old English language was then conflated with study of an “Anglo-Saxon” racial heritage. These racist connotations were often ignored as the 20th century progressed, yet their exclusionary violence never disappeared. Scholars of color in the field routinely face aggressive questioning from White colleagues who asked, with disbelief, what possible interest a person of color could have in early medieval England. Scholars of color have been working against this barely hidden aggression for decades, and they have suffered for it, being silenced, attacked and sometimes forced out of the profession.
It was only at the urging of scholars of color in September 2019 that the professional organization once called the “International Society of Anglo-Saxonists” underwent self-reflection over its name, a process that revealed the field’s continuing rancor and exclusionary barriers. Ultimately, the group changed its name to become the “International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England,” but only after bitter debate and the loss of many members. Academic use of “Anglo-Saxon” continues, but at least awareness of its past-- and present-- connotations is increasing.
In the end, the obvious racism of America First’s use of “Anglo-Saxons” doomed the idea for the caucus, but that racism is not new, and it looks to be repurposed once again. The continuing use of the “Anglo-Saxon” label perpetuates popular misinterpretations of the past and strengthens contemporary racism. Ironically again, the “Anglo-Saxon” invasion of England prefigures the threat that white supremacists now imagine impending at the U.S.-Mexico border. They fear a modern version of the supposed “race replacement” that they think took place in early medieval England, except they consider the medieval version acceptable because of the invaders’ White skin.
The culture, literature and history of early medieval England are fascinating and important subjects of study. But understanding the reality of early medieval England also reveals the falsity of modern invocations of “Anglo-Saxon” heritage. The rich and marvelous literature, art and intellectual achievements of early medieval England came out of a diverse and fragmented society shaped by waves of migration and invasion, not by a homogeneous Whiteness. We should study that real past, but not to justify White supremacy or a fantasy of a White paradise in medieval Europe.