Interesting how the term “white nationalism” has somehow begun to supplant the more honest phrase “white supremacy,” both here and in the United States.
Everyone seems to be using it now. It will be an election campaign topic in our general election this fall, and the American one late next year.
And let’s be clear, it’s a euphemism. The word nationalism, to most people, has a virtuous whiff; historically, it’s been conflated with terms like patriotism and loyalty and solidarity with one’s civic tribe.
When the word is modified with a racial adjective, though, any distinction dissolves. A white nationalist stands with white people, advocating for white prerogatives and the protection of white governance.
A white nationalist would claim that flying the confederate flag on a state building is an expression of cultural history, rather than racial sentiment. A white nationalist would claim, as the television host Megyn Kelly once did on Fox News, that Jesus was white, and, by implication, God, too. (Jesus would have been a dark-skinned Sephardic Jew, not a blue-eyed, bland-faced fellow with wavy brown locks).
And before someone raises it, because people do, there is no comparison between white nationalism and assertions of solidarity, or even superiority, by minorities. They haven’t been in charge for centuries on this continent. White nationalism is about keeping power white. Yes, yes, there are minority groups represented among Justin Trudeau’s ministers, but they were all given jobs by a white guy.
Supremacy by another name
White nationalism is in fact white supremacy. It’s understandable that white supremacists would want to be called nationalists, but that doesn’t make them any less supremacist.
Which is why, presumably, conservative politicians here and in the U.S. are expressing such anger at having the label applied to them. They accuse their liberal opponents of planning attack ads and messaging portraying them as racists, or, at the very least, opportunists chasing racist votes.
They’re right about that. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers are making a concerted effort to bind Conservative leader Andrew Scheer to the so-called alt-right scene (another euphemism) in this country, and Democrats, newly in control of the House of Representatives, have convened hearings on the threat of white nationalism.
The fact that Republicans obsequiously excuse President Donald Trump’s boorish rantings, of course, makes it easy for Democrats.
He eagerly hits Twitter every time an act of extremism is committed by a Muslim or a brown-skinned immigrant, but takes comparatively incidental notice when hate crimes are carried out by white Christians or non-Muslims, something that’s been happening far more often in recent years.
When the man arrested for the mosque murders in Christchurch left a manifesto praising Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” Trump, who has said he doesn’t believe his rhetoric inspires violent white extremists, further declared that white extremism isn’t really a threat, despite ample evidence to the contrary, including the assessment of his own justice department.
This of course is also the president who said there were some “very fine people” in the white mob carrying torches in Charlottesville, Virginia a few years ago. He proudly calls himself a nationalist, without specifying what kind: “Use that word,” he tells his angry, overwhelmingly white base. “Use that word.”
Candace Owens, a conservative American activist cited by the New Zealand murderer as his greatest influence, told Congress recently that the whole “white nationalism” thing is nothing more than a Democrat re-election strategy. (She also once said Hitler wasn’t such a bad fellow, at least until he started trying to conquer the world).
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Trump fanboy, was suspicious when YouTube, which was live-streaming the hearing, took down hundreds of racist and anti-Semitic viewer comments, musing about whether it was all just more Democrat “hate hoax.”
Rep. Steve King, who has rhetorically asked what’s wrong with being a white nationalist or white supremacist, remains a proud Republican.
And even if extremists do applaud Trump, ask his supporters, what can he do about it?
Never do they ask, or attempt to answer, the obvious question: Why is it that white supremacists, from the neo-Nazis who threw celebratory salutes the night of his election, to former KKK leader David Duke, to the Charlottesville torchbearers, to the New Zealand murderer, or Cesar Sayoc, the Florida bodybuilder who sent explosives to Trump’s critics in 2018, gravitate right, rather than left? Why is conservative politics such a natural home for white supremacists?
Canadian conservatives might ask themselves the same question. Rather than whining about how unfair it is that Liberals are associating Andrew Scheer with Faith Goldy — an obvious white supremacist (a label she rejects) who proudly advocates for “European identity” and “white identity,” and who has contributed to a neo-Nazi podcast — they could instead reflect on why in heaven’s name he appeared on her online diatribe show two years ago.
Or why Scheer chose to address the “United We Roll” yellow-vest gang in Ottawa this year, where, yes, Faith Goldy also spoke to the crowd. (And former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier). Or why he would hire as his campaign manager a former director of the far-right shock talk site Rebel Media, where Faith Goldy worked until she became too much even for them. Rep. Steve King, incidentally, endorsed Goldy’s recent bid for mayor of Toronto. Somehow, she still lost.
Conservatives in Canada might also ponder why there have been so many racist and anti-gay bozo eruptions in Alberta’s United Conservative Party, rather than in, say, the governing NDP. Or why a small-c conservative senator’s racist posts remain online (yes, Lynn Beyak was expelled from the Conservative caucus for the posts, which were denounced by Scheer. But how does the party attract characters like her in the first place?)
Or why a conservative government in Quebec, a place where a giant illuminated cross overlooks the province’s biggest city (an expression of cultural history, of course), would be willing to suspend the constitution to pass a law clearly aimed at keeping religious Sikhs and Muslims out of the public service.
The answer is that somehow, over the decades that have passed since the ’60s, and as North American cities have become much less white, it’s become more okay in some circles to be a white supremacist.
Changing the label to white nationalist obscures nothing.
Abraham Lincoln, according to legend, used to ask his cabinet members how many legs a dog has if you consider a tail to be a leg. His answer: four. Because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.
This story originally appeared on CBC