I grew up reading National Review in the 1980s. As I described in “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” my father got me a subscription when I was 13 years old, and it shaped my worldview. Its founder, William F. Buckley Jr., was a childhood hero. As an adult, I was thrilled to occasionally appear in its hallowed pages. I admired its 2016 cover story “Against Trump.” More recently, the magazine has been largely supportive of President Trump — no doubt in part because it is eager to avoid the fate of the Weekly Standard — but it still publishes principled writers such as David French and Jay Nordlinger who are not afraid to tell its subscribers what they don’t want to hear.
So it was a shock on Monday afternoon to see myself attacked in National Review as, essentially, a traitor to the white race. “Max Boot Fans the Flames of Racial Hatred” was the headline of an article by John Hirschauer. This was a response to a Post column I had written last week taking aim at the 55 percent of whites who in a 2018 poll said that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. This perception was obviously untrue, I pointed out, but Trump was playing on this sense of white victimhood. My conclusion: “White people can be pretty clueless. (I know, I’m one myself.) Get a grip, folks. We’re not the victims here.”
In reply, Hirschauer labeled me one of “the self-loathing whites” who has adopted “the politics of self-hatred.” He accused me of “speaking in … totalizing racial language” that “is stoking the flames of race hatred.” So telling whites not to be racists is an incitement to race hatred? How Orwellian.
In 2016, a group of white supremacists led by Richard Spencer got into a scuffle in the District after one of them accused an anti-racism protester of being a “self-hating white person.” These bigots routinely label any white person who offends their racist sensibilities a “race traitor.” I have gotten used to this kind of invective from white supremacists online. I did not expect to get it from a magazine that has defined mainstream conservatism for more than 60 years.
I still held out hope, however, that Hirschauer, an intern, did not speak for the magazine. That daydream was dashed late Monday night when Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review (and someone I have long liked), took to Twitter in defense of this loathsome screed.
Responding to a tweet of mine complaining about Hirschauer’s article, Lowry wrote: “Wow. This is a complete distortion from @MaxBoot He wasn’t attacked for denouncing racism; he was attacked for his ‘totalizing racial language.’” In a subsequent tweet, Lowry wrote: “I’m sorry to see @MaxBoot denounce as white supremacist an article that refers to ‘white supremacists and their detestable program.’” He then posted a recent editorial, “Crush This Evil,” calling for a battle against white supremacism (but without accusing Trump of racism or incitement). His arch comment: “Recent editorial from the publication that @MaxBoot considers white supremacist.”
I have no idea what “totalizing racial language” means; it’s the kind of cant that Buckley, a stickler for precise language, would have mocked. What I do know is that this article employed the language of “race treason” against me. Yes, Hirschauer attacked white supremacists in passing but he also engaged in moral equivalency and implied that, by denouncing racism, I was driving whites into their arms. (“Boot sets up a Faustian choice for ‘white’ readers: Side with the white supremacists and their detestable program, or sell your political soul to Max Boot and become one of the self-loathing whites.”) This is part of a rhetorical strategy also employed by Trump, who occasionally denounces white supremacists but more often promotes racism while insisting his critics are the real racists.
Contrary to what Lowry wrote, I did not accuse the entire magazine of espousing white supremacy; I merely said one article used white-supremacist language. But that this ugly article didn’t set off any alarm bells is itself alarming — and telling.
With its long-standing opposition to immigration (both illegal immigration and current levels of legal immigration), National Review has found common ground with the far right. Like many conservative media outlets, it has flirted with the “great replacement” theory espoused by the El Paso gunman. A National Review article in January warned: “The native-born are having fewer children, leading to a fear that new entrants into American society will replace the existing culture rather than assimilate into it.” This is, sadly, a return to the roots of a magazine that defended Jim Crow in the 1950s (and even the early 1960s) and South Africa’s apartheid regime until its dissolution in 1994. Nowadays the magazine often defends Trump from (well-founded) charges of racism.
I take no pleasure in writing these words. I am heartbroken to see that it is not just the Republican Party that has become Trumpified but much of the American right — including a magazine I once revered.