In a 1994 New York Times op-ed, the famed linguist Steven Pinker introduced the “euphemism treadmill,” the idea that as much as we keep replacing more benign-sounding terms for those that have acquired a negative valence, ultimately, “concepts, not words, are in charge,” so when we “give a concept a new name, … the name becomes colored by” our underlying negative associations once more over time. Eventually a new name has to be invented, and the game starts all over again.
Thus, we introduced the “mentally retarded” classification to replace “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot,” and then the new term took on the character of a slur, so we moved on to “mentally handicapped” or “developmentally disabled,” and then on to “person with intellectual disabilities.” Or take the term “colored,” succeeded by “negro,” then “black,” then “African American,” back to “black” again or maybe, now, “Black” or “person of color,” and so on.
There is another kind of treadmill, one I would dub the “outrage treadmill,” pushed by the same subset of individuals who send us running on the euphemism treadmill. The idea is simple enough: some people — certain media professionals, diversity-equity-and-inclusion consultants, various politicians, and Twitter hacktivists — make a living or bolster their profiles drumming up outrage.
But outrage inherently peters out, especially when the call to arms was hollow from the outset. When the same note ceases to resonate with its intended audience, the time is ripe to move on to the next cause célèbre.
From Real Racism to Fake Racism
Today one such new chapter has opened in the drawn-out saga of contrived racial offenses. That saga began just as the longer, sadder story of real American racism finally seemed to be coming to a glorious close with the election of our first black president and what should have been the triumphant inception of a post-racial America.
Just as — after centuries of hard-won progress — real racism was, at last, dying its natural death, a development threatening to deprive newly minted Racism, Inc. professionals of their raison d’être and livelihoods, they were laboring to push fake racism out the nation’s birth canal. Suddenly, and with increasing frequency, we started seeing that same familiar, loaded label — “racism” — re-baptized and re-deployed in ways it had never been used before, describing all sorts of marginal and neutral behaviors we were now being called upon to notice.
At the very moment racism was dying a natural death, “racism” seemed to be popping up everywhere: to describe the ways we spoke and the books we read, surfacing in schools and in universities, in workplaces and in police departments all over the United States.
Nor did it come alone. Rather, it went on the warpath with curiously named comrades-in-arms with names like “implicit bias,” “white privilege,” and “microaggressions.” Even it was no longer content to be the plain-spoken “racism” of old. It put on airs and demanded formalities; it claimed it was now “institutional,” “structural” and “systemic.”
Benefit of the Doubt: Over
Many of us fell for the trick at first. Racism had been with us so long that we’d grown used to its ugly little visage peering out the windows of pristine suburban homes and glaring at us from porches on back-country roads, raving away on city stoops and rousing us on political stumps. U.S. history had primed most Americans to believe that if someone cried “racism” on these shores, the charge was likely real.
Social media gave the proponents of the new race-craze an added urgency, feeding into humans’ herd mentality. Meanwhile, the video camera in everyone’s pockets allowed the race-baiters to employ the availability heuristic to systematically inflate the significance of well-told anecdotes, complete with audiovisual displays that played on our emotions, leading us to eschew dispassionate analysis of data showing, for example, that no epidemic of race-based police shootings of unarmed blacks exists.
In time, more got wise to the ruse. Maybe Racism, Inc. overplayed its hand, infusing race and charges of “racism” into everything in sight. So, gradually, the r-word ceased to summon quite the same stigma. The outrage treadmill was taking hold. “Racism” had left us benumbed, rolling our eyes and even daring to chime in with rejoinders.
Summoning the Spectre of Racism to Get Trump
The countercurrent carried Donald Trump to the Oval Office but brought with him the still more histrionic charges of “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” to displace “racism” as the readiest hammer. True white supremacy and white nationalism, of course, had been about the likes of the guys in white hoods, with their burning crosses. Now, we were being asked to make the leap of finding these accusations credible as applied to Trump’s America—itself, ironically, in large part a reaction against Racism Inc.’s overreach.
Trump said some impolitic things, to be sure, all of which the racial grievance industry inflated and distorted as much as it could. But to believe that either Trump himself or the roughly half of American voters who gave him their support were outright “white supremacists” was a stretch too far for most fair-minded folks, and soon we began to catch on that “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” were now being thrown around as recklessly as “racism” before them. This game, too, was up.
The latest replacement for “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” is now being trotted out for its run on the outrage treadmill. In a bit of fitting nomenclature, that replacement is the “Great Replacement Theory.”
The Great Replacement Theory
It is an idea, most closely associated with a 2012 book by the French writer Renaud Camus, arguing that, at the behest of global elites, the European population is being substituted for non-white, non-Christian peoples imported from Europe’s former colonies. The idea spread and found a foothold on the European and American far-right. The “Jews will not replace us” chants at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and a manifesto touting the Great Replacement by the perpetrator of the 2019 mass shooting in a Walmart in El Paso are the most notorious American installments in this unsavory genre.
Now here comes the devious bait-and-switch. The media is now trying to convince us that the white nationalist Great Replacement Theory is becoming Republican orthodoxy. The most frequent target of their ire has been Tucker Carlson, whose undeniable and abiding popularity has clearly galled many on the left for some time and has, accordingly, been the object of Antifa activists and repeated left de-platforming pressure campaigns.
Carlson had initially discussed the “replacement” idea in an April 8, 2021, Fox News “Primetime” appearance in which he took special care to distinguish his point — that Democrats were deliberately displacing American voters in favor of a different demographic of new arrivals who would become loyal Democratic voters — from the race-based great replacement theory: “Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it. Ooh … the … ‘White Replacement Theory.’ No, no, no. This is a voting rights question,” he said.
Carlson’s explicit disclaimer did not stop the Anti-Defamation League from initiating a he-must-be-fired campaign based on the falsehood that Carlson had openly embraced the Great Replacement Theory. When, in a Sept. 22 segment on his show, Carlson mentioned the theory again as a description of President Biden’s own explicitly race-based expostulation of the effect of mass immigration, the media’s hysteria machine went into overdrive.
How Dare You Quote What Biden Said
Multiple left- and center-left-leaning media outlets — see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here — have begun to spout off copycat talking points contending that the racist Great Replacement Theory has now entered the Republican mainstream.
There is, of course, a world of difference between an incendiary conspiracy theory that a Jew-led cabal is trying to mongrelize the West and the above and similar comments by Carlson and Republican members of Congress voicing concern that Democrats are bending over backwards to let in an unabated flow of illegal immigrants because such immigrants, inherently lacking any strong attachment to or knowledge of America and its history and cultural heritage, overwhelmingly vote for the party that panders to them.
More than worthy of discussion, as well, is the idea — argued eloquently by, for example, the eminent late philosopher Sir Roger Scruton in his “England and the Need for Nations” (2006) — that a democratic nation cannot survive without a citizenry that shares bonds of trust based on a common cultural and historical identity and a core of common values. That sense of heritage, Scruton contends, is undermined — and, what is more, gives way to zero-sum racial, ethnic, and other tribal affiliations — when a flood of individuals who neither know nor care about the nation they are entering is admitted and left unintegrated.
Racism, Inc., works to stigmatize nearly all legitimate criticism of Democratic immigration policies by equating the idea that Republican voters and people with a long-standing stake in America are being replaced with the very different idea that the white race is being replaced. This new run on the outrage treadmill projects the contemporary left’s obsession with race and racism onto the right.
This too will pass. Like “racism,” “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” before it, the “Great Replacement Theory” meme will prove hollow in the end. But before that happens, we can all expect to hear those words drummed into us — ironically, not by the theory’s ostensible proponents but by its avowed enemies. We must also send a clear message that the days of Racism, Inc. and all its manufactured outrages are numbered.