When Nazis marched in Charlottesville in 2017, they chanted “You will not replace us!” and, somewhat more clarifying, “Jews will not replace us!” The terrorist who gunned down 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, used this slogan (“The Great Replacement”) in his manifesto. Last night, Tucker Carlson appeared on a prime-time Fox News show to defend this theory, not only in substance but also by name.
“Replacement theory” imagines that an elite cabal, frequently described as Jewish, is plotting to “replace” the native white population with non-white immigrants, who will pollute and destroy the white Christian culture.
Carlson likes to complain about the liberal habit of anathematizing conservative ideas as racist as a substitute for engaging with their substance. So, let’s analyze.
Carlson’s argument is cretinously stupid even by the standards of a Tucker Carlson monologue. He simply asserts that immigration expands the electorate, and therefore dilutes the political power of the existing population:
It’s a voting-rights question. In a democracy, one person equals one vote. If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter.
Note that he is not merely arguing against illegal immigration. He is arguing against any immigration. Carlson proposes that any new U.S. citizen reduces the political power of the current population.
When the Constitution was ratified, the United States had fewer than 4 million people, and 13 states. By Carlson’s standard, the last 200 years have been a continuous process of disenfranchisement of that original population. Immigration is a complex issue, and it is obviously possible to support restrictions on either legal or illegal immigration without being racist. But Carlson’s point implies that any immigration, legal or illegal, politically disempowers all Americans.
Yet he’s not arguing for zero immigration. All he’s doing is framing immigration as some kind of zero-sum attack on the native population.
Anti-immigrant demagoguery is, of course, not new to conservative media. The most significant part of Carlson’s monologue is his decision to name-check replacement theory as the description of his ideas:
I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term “replacement,” if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate — the voters now casting ballots — with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what happening, actually. Let’s just say it. That’s true.
It’s actually not true. The most generous possible read of this comment is that Carlson lacks the intelligence to understand the word “replacement.” I don’t think the word is especially complex, but allow me to define it. When you replace someone, you remove them from their current position. My employer hires new writers pretty often. If they fired me and gave my job to a new writer, that would be replacement. If they just created a new job, and assigned the writers to work alongside me, that would not be replacement.
Immigration is not like replacement, because it does not involve deporting the current population.
Of course Carlson is intelligent enough to understand the definition of a grade-school term like “replacement.” The reason he’s using it is quite sinister. He could simply make standard issue, non-racist arguments for lower levels of legal immigration, or perhaps more stringent border security. Instead he actively wants to frame his ideas in terms that appeal to white supremacists.
One of the most profound and dangerous developments of the Trump era is that the Republican Party and its affiliated media has extended the rightward boundaries of its coalition to include self-styled white supremacists. They may not be the mainstream of the Republican Party, but they are a part of it. Carlson has been appealing to them for years with wink-and-nod messages that dovetail with their paranoid themes. Last night his embrace of white supremacy crossed an important and dangerous new threshold.