White Nationalism is on the Rise, and the Left is Failing to Provide a Viable Alternative

Asking someone whether they voted blue or red in the last presidential election is sure to get you in trouble these days. It’s all too easy for a discussion to degenerate into an ugly name-calling competition with Clinton supporters lambasted as elitists and Trump supporters labeled as automatic bigots. Mostly, the discussions end with those on either side doubly sure they are right and that their opponent has no idea what they are talking about.

America has recently witnessed a slew of racially motivated shootings and militant neo-Nazi marches that have shocked the nation. These are not isolated occurrences of fringe individuals -- they are symptomatic of deeper problems afflicting our country. The rise of white nationalism is a deeply disturbing trend.

In the last decade the Republican party has reemerged with a platform of fierce protectionism, cutting back funding for foreign aid, healthcare, and the environment, and increasing military spending. These austerity measures tend to appeal to low-income, white Americans who are angry at what they perceive as disenfranchisement by progressives and are nostalgic for bygone times of economic booms.

I know firsthand what it's like to grow up in a poor rural area in North Carolina where people are anti-government, gun-toting citizens who proudly fly Confederate flags. Communities like this are facing numerous problems; among them: trouble finding good jobs, stagnant wages, the opioid epidemic and an aging population. In the midst of this, the movement of immigrants into a community can add friction which makes them seem a threat to the existing American culture. Affirmative action and social justice movements are seen a zero-sum game where the success of minorities means that whites must lose by default. Thus blacks and Hispanics are scapegoated for the negative changes to the job market in recent years.

You would think that this failure of the economy to provide would push rural white Americans to reconsider their commitment to the capitalistic system, but in many cases it merely re-entrenches the same beliefs in their heads that liberal intellectual elites are destroying ‘true’ capitalism with restrictions on private property usage and income-based taxes. They rightly distrust both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, seeing both as privileged elites who only care about staying in power. However the right has done a much better job than the left of using this anger, fear and distrust of authority to their advantage. While the left pushes for equity for minorities vying for votes from urban areas, it ignores the plight of poor white communities in Appalachia, and treats white America as an invisible underclass. The right, on the other hand, has created a space for the anger and disorientation felt by many Americans without vilifying them as backward.

If you’re looking for an enemy, it is all too easy for the Republican party to convince you that liberals are just that. The Republican party is content in keeping its ideology vague, because they are not trying to convince you that they are right so much as they are trying to convince you to reject liberal ideology. If they have convinced you that liberals are the enemy, then they’ve already done their job of getting you to vote for the Republican candidate. For white Americans who have begun to feel like outsiders in their own country, the new right presents a compelling narrative -- and the left hardly even tries, so it seems. The political games that the left has been playing must stop, and the existence of a struggling white underclass must be acknowledged in order to take back our country from the grip of white nationalism.