Saturday, February 4, 2023

Was Abraham Lincoln right?

January 21, 2023 by  
Filed under Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( Abraham Lincoln was a complex and conflicted human being. By most accounts, he genuinely detested slavery. However, like many prominent white abolitionists, Lincoln was not committed to full equality for African Americans. In fact, at times he strongly argued that Blacks should emigrate to other countries — and openly encouraged them to do so. (Dr. Phillip Magness, a prominent historian, writes about this fact in his book, “Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement.”) Notably, Frederick Douglass was highly critical of Lincoln’s plan to expatriate tens of thousands of Blacks. Lincoln abandoned the plan only after realizing that it was not politically feasible, despite the fact that some Blacks were willing to flee this nation’s race-based domestic terrorism.

It is not surprising that, in the wake of Buffalo a few month back, platitudes freely escape the mouths of hypocritical politicians who oppose even the most sensible gun reform. Those same politicians barely condemn the spate of racist words and actions that are fueled by the right wing on television and social media. The only thing that is worse than the meaningless refrain of “We offer our thoughts and prayers” after mass shootings is the even more meaningless (and dangerous) refrain of “This is not who we are.” The fact is that this is very much who we are. In fact, it’s who we’ve always been. We are a nation in which there are too many violent people who have too easy access to too many guns.

I reflected on the little-known aspect of Lincoln after a young white nationalist murdered 10 human beings in Buffalo, New York, last weekend. Expressly motivated by what is often referred to as “replacement theory,” the gunman carefully chose a location that would allow him to easily target Blacks. Replacement theory, which is also known as “great replacement theory,” is the notion that a cabal of “elitists” (especially powerful Democrats) are intentionally attempting to displace white people as the dominant political, social and economic racial group in America. This formerly fringe conspiracy theory is now very much in the mainstream of Republican politics.

Replacement theory, which finds its antecedents in similar racist ideologies that began in Europe more than 100 years ago, has become a major rallying cry among white nationalists around the world. Buffalo is merely the latest in a string of targeted mass killings that stem from the ideology, including the 2015 white nationalist murders in Charleston, South Carolina, the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018, the El Paso Walmart shooting in 2019, and the two Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand the same year. Tragically, we should expect more of the same. (For the record, critical race theory has never inspired anyone to commit violence, much less murder.)

Fox News’ most important personality, Tucker Carlson, regularly pushes replacement theory, along with a host of other racist dog whistles. Appropriately, Carlson has frequently been highlighted in the days since the Buffalo shooting. While Republicans deny that he shares the ideology of the aforementioned murderers, self-identified white nationalists are very clear about who Carlson is. As The New York Times reported:

“Tucker is ultimately on our side,” Scott Greer, a former deputy editor at the Carlson-founded Daily Caller, who cut ties with the publication in 2018 after his past writings for a white nationalist site were unearthed, said on his podcast last spring. “He can get millions and millions of boomers to nod along with talking points that would have only been seen on VDare or American Renaissance a few years ago.”
While this racist theory is very common in the Republican Party, there are a few members who resist it. Among them is Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who tweeted “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.” Predictably, Republicans stripped Cheney of her leadership role in their party literally because she told the truth about Donald Trump losing the 2020 election.

In the end, I have often wondered whether Lincoln was correct in his judgment that African Americans would never fully be accepted in this country. To be clear, I don’t know whether Lincoln was motivated primarily by that concern or by racism. Either way, it often seems that he was right.

Written by Larry Smith

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