White supremacy is a problem. It has been a problem as long as the United States has existed. The irrational belief that white people, or people of European descent, or however you want to refer to them, are somehow to superior to others is vile. It is a worldview that should be fought, pushed back against, and vilified. But it is not some kind of new crisis that requires us to become less free in order to oppose it.
As has been highlighted during the Democratic primary, within my lifetime there were U.S. senators who actively and publicly supported segregation. Groups like the Klu Klux Klan not only operated openly, but also often had the tacit support of law enforcement. In those days, white supremacy was not a fringe movement animated by lone wolf gunmen, but a coordinated effort to keep power in the hands of white people.
We don’t live in that world anymore. That is not to say that American society has perfected itself or that racism no longer exists, but it is to say that lunatics like the El Paso shooter with his mindless and bizarre, racist, and eco-fascist manifesto do not represent any rising mass threat. In fact, the increasingly violent and malevolent actions of these kinds of people suggest just the opposite: they are losing badly and they know it.
Thus the fight against white supremacism has morphed from attacking its genuine manifestations to using false accusations of it against political opponents. This was again vividly illustrated yesterday when a raft of Democrats attacked The New York Times for a headline reading “Trump Urges Unity Against Racism.” The president can literally denounce white supremacist racism and have that used as an occasion to call him a white supremacist racist. You can’t make this stuff up. This kind of one-sided politicization of what should be a bipartisan concern destroys the credibility of leaders on the left who claim to care about ending white supremacy, which ultimately undermines that cause.
Let this front page serve as a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by – and often relies upon – the cowardice of mainstream institutions. https://t.co/ynjgtT66yI
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 6, 2019
Hey, @nytimes — what happened to “The Truth Is Worth It?”
Not the truth.
Not worth it. pic.twitter.com/N5tMTEoLln
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) August 6, 2019
Lives literally depend on you doing better, NYT. Please do. https://t.co/L4CpCb8zLi
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 6, 2019
They've already changed it again. pic.twitter.com/Jycua7Gv3w
— Karol Markowicz (@karol) August 6, 2019
In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton, Ohio shootings, the latter somewhat less famously having been committed by someone calling himself a “leftist,” we are hearing calls to change laws to allow law enforcement to more aggressively fight white supremacist terrorism. Why, the argument goes, should association with a foreign terror group like ISIS be a criminal activity, when associating with white supremacists is not?
The answer can essentially be boiled down to one word, which is freedom. Associating with a foreign terrorist organization is essentially an act of treason. Being a white supremacist jerk, even a potentially violent one, is not. The difference really hinges on the foreign aspect. Foreign-based ISIS organizations do not have a constitutional right to form and operate within the United States. White supremacists do.
And if we think we are only talking about leftists targeting conservatives with overreach in combating the menace of white supremacy, let’s take a moment to consider Antifa. There are those on the right, some of whom I greatly respect, who believe that this “anti fascist” organization, itself no stranger to violence and murder, should be labeled terrorists and subject to enhanced law enforcement. This is equally wrongheaded.
Just like white supremacists, Antifa is a loosely organized group of unhinged head cases that use the Internet as a hiding ground to foment all manner of awfulness. Just like white supremacists, they are wrong about pretty much everything. And just like white supremacists, they have every right to congregate, assemble, publish, and make trouble.
It was Benjamin Franklin, a different kind of troublemaker, who wrote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” He was right back then, at a time when many think pernicious attitudes and actions were vastly more pervasive than they are now, and he’s still right.
Should we fight with all the vim and vigor we can muster to stop white supremacy? Of course. Should we stop fueling it by erroneously pretending that our demographic identities somehow demonstrate who we are? Yes. Should we suffer less liberty in an effort to protect ourselves from dangerous fools radicalized on Internet sites? No, never.
Mass shootings are a uniquely American problem. They are unique to our nation because, for better or worse, we value freedom over safety. We are very strange in this respect. Even conservatives in the rest of the English-speaking world find our love of liberty vexing and out of step. That may be so. But we are also the first English-speaking country with a majority white citizenry on the face of the earth that has ever elected a non-white person as president or prime minister.
The point here is that yes, white supremacy is a problem, it’s a scourge, it is a disgraceful stain on the country. But it isn’t a crisis. Mass shootings might be, but even they are fairly rare. Most Americans don’t walk around in fear of them. And they come in all kinds of demented flavors. The United States is not a white supremacist country, it does not have a white supremacist president, and the vast majority of her citizens are not white supremacists.
Ours is not a nation that bends to the arc of history, ours is a nation that bends the arc of history. We are not shuffling towards white supremacy; quite the opposite. We are still in the process of creating the most free and equal society that the world has ever known. Let’s stay the course, and not let mad men lead us astray.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the United States was the first English-speaking nation to elect a non-white president or prime minister. It is not: it is the first English-speaking nation with a majority-white citizenry to do so. The article has been changed to reflect this.