Americans often consider the migrants who cross our southern border only from that point forward, thinking of them as people who suddenly appeared in Texas or Arizona demanding our attention. We tend to think only about that last few miles of the journey because it makes it easier not to think about what pushes people to get to that point and it makes it easier to disregard any twinges of conscience about what responsibility we are expected by our culture or our faith to hold for one another.
That’s an ungenerous assessment of America’s response to surges in migrants seeking the promise that, in other contexts, the United States celebrates. But it also describes something close to a median response, not the most damaging and dishonest extreme of responses to increases in migration. For that, we turn to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who’s intertwined immigration and politics to foment the idea that America faces an intentional racial apocalypse at the hands of those families.
He did so again on Wednesday night, arguing, once again, that Democrats (particularly President Biden) are hoping to bring more immigrants into the country to outnumber real Americans, by which he unsubtly means White Americans. The case he made on Wednesday is thoroughly dishonest, unfailingly bad faith and extreme — but it’s also familiar, which is the more worrisome point. So if you’d like to understand why this particular iteration of his embrace of the white nationalist argument that non-Whites are taking over the country, it is parsed in the section below. Feel free to skip it if you’re by now sufficiently familiar with Carlson’s shtick.
The obvious dishonesty of Carlson’s latest argument
“You’ve got to ask yourself, as you watch the historic tragedy that is Joe Biden’s immigration policy, what’s the point of this?” Carlson asked at the beginning of the segment. “Nothing about it is an accident obviously, it’s intentional. Joe Biden did it on purpose.”
Just consider how bizarre that sentence alone is. Did what? Unleashed an earthquake on Haiti? Spurred violence in Central America? Or does he mean the undefined “policy” itself? Which is, what? To continue to quickly send most migrants back out of the country, maintaining a policy started by President Donald Trump and opposed by Biden’s party?
Carlson needed to imply that Biden wants the surge in migration to happen so that he could introduce remarks made by Biden during a 2015 summit on terrorism: “Here’s Biden explaining the entire point of mass immigration.”
“An unrelenting stream of immigration. Nonstop. Nonstop,” Biden says. “Folks like me who were Caucasian of European descent for the first time in 2017 will be in an absolute minority in the United States of America, absolute minority. Fewer than 50 percent of the people in America from then and on will be White European stock. That’s not a bad thing. That’s a source of our strength.”
You’ll be unsurprised to learn that this quote reads differently in the broader context of his comments, which you can see at C-SPAN’s website. Biden was celebrating the “unrelenting stream of immigration” over the course of the country’s history that “started all the way back in the late 1700s.” He was describing it as a defining characteristic of American greatness, explaining to a Chinese official that it was central to American success.
His line about White Americans being a minority is incorrect. The Census Bureau does project that Whites will be a minority of the population in a few decades, but that ignores both that non-Hispanic Whites (as the formal definition has it) will still be by far the largest population group, that Americans increasingly identify their racial backgrounds in complex ways and that it relies on a consistency of “Hispanic” identity that probably isn’t warranted.
But the line is useful for Carlson.
“'An unrelenting stream of immigration’: but why?” he said. “Well, Joe Biden just said it: to change the racial mix of the country. That’s the reason. To reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World. And then Biden went further. He said that non-White DNA is the, quote, source of our strength. Imagine saying that this is the language of eugenics. It’s horrifying.”
This is not what Biden said, at all. He said that diversity is a source of our strength. He said nothing about intentionally changing the “racial mix” much less anything about DNA. That’s Carlson projecting, manifesting his own worries about how White America will be polluted by outsiders. It’s Carlson articulating his own insecurities out loud.
“This policy is called the great replacement,” Carlson said — which it is, by white nationalists.
The embrace of Carlson’s rhetoric
Carlson first started overtly embracing the idea that White America was being intentionally replaced on his show back in April. Then, it was framed more explicitly in terms of politics; that Democrats, worried about losing elections, were bringing in new voters. Now, he’s mostly sidestepping that, instead amplifying it through the lens of his long-standing disgust about how “dirty” immigrants are hurting the country.
Since April, though, this idea that Democrats are intentionally encouraging new migration to win elections has become part of the fabric of Republican rhetoric. There was Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) citing it during a hearing on immigration in the House. House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) used it to fundraise last week. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) spoke of a “silent revolution by the Democrat Party and Joe Biden to take over this country.” Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) have in recent days both suggested that the administration was intentionally allowing thousands of people to cross the border into the United States, prying open the door for the sorts of “but why” progressions that Carlson is happy to supply.
Far from being treated as anathema, Carlson’s theory about immigration is being woven into mainstream Republican rhetoric. Stefanik is a member of the House Republican leadership team and weighs the balance of raising money versus demonizing immigrants as dangerous in favor of the former. Nor is there any indication that Fox News is concerned about what Carlson is espousing. When he first made the comments back in April — again, centered not on “non-White DNA” but on immigrant voters — leadership at the network defended him.
“A full review of the guest interview indicates that Mr. Carlson decried and rejected replacement theory,” Lachlan Murdoch (Rupert’s son) wrote to the head of the Anti-Defamation League. “As Mr. Carlson himself stated during the guest interview: ‘White replacement theory? No, no, this is a voting rights question.' ”
So what is it now? Now Fox News promotes Carlson’s argument on the homepage of its website.
All of this is occurring in the context of months of feeding false information to the political right about a stolen election and framing of efforts to contain the coronavirus as fascistic and a threat to basic American freedoms. Fox News has played a central role in amplifying disinformation and skepticism about coronavirus vaccines, helping to make vaccination into an issue that fundamentally overlaps with political views. The network has proved its willingness, if not its ability, to get viewers to put politics over their own well-being.
Now, Fox News is leaning into the idea that Democrats and the president want to submerge White America with new immigrants. Now Republicans are amplifying the idea. What comes next is not increased empathy for those trying to improve their lives. What comes next is, at best, increased demonization.
And at worst?