Anti-Irish cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1871 (Wikimedia)

Fascinating profile of Tucker Carlson today on the Washington Post website by Michael Kranish, a national political investigative reporter for the Post who has written bios of Trump, Mitt Romney and Thomas Jefferson. Quotes sources who know the man, ranging from Al Sharpton to Bill Kristol, to make the case that he has evolved into a savvy, dangerous demogogue.

So what’s Tucker Carlson doing in my spirituality blog? Well, in a very direct way he’s articulating something that affected the Swedish Lutheran immigrants I’m studying as they adjusted to America in the 1850s.

I don’t have a handy catchall phrase for it, but it’s the kind of nativism that shows up in the white Christian nationalist movement that figured so heavily on Jan. 6 and the great replacement theory (grand remplacement in French) that inspired American neo-Nazis to chant “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville in 2017. But it goes back at least to the nativist and anti-Catholic hysteria of the 1850s. Carlson refused to be interviewed for Kranish’s story, but in his 2018 book Ship of Fools he used language eerily reminiscent of remplacement theory:

“If you grew up in America, suddenly nothing looks the same,” he wrote. “Your neighbors are different. So is the landscape and the customs and very often the languages you hear on the street. You may not recognize your hometown. Human beings aren’t wired for that. They can’t digest change at this pace.”

Then Carlson was even more direct. He objected to the idea that “we must celebrate the fact that a nation that was overwhelmingly European, Christian, and English-speaking fifty years ago” is now a mix of cultures.

He rejected the idea that diversity is to be valued, saying that “mass immigration” has destabilized the country. While such views are similar to those expressed by white supremacists, he said it was unfair that expressing them meant “you’ll be shouted down as a bigot, as if demanding representation in a democracy were immoral.”

The “great replacement” conspiracy theory, by way of contrast, holds “the white French population — as well as white European populations at large — is being demographically and culturally replaced with non-European peoples […] through mass migration, demographic growth and a European drop in the birth rate.” First proposed by French author Renaud Camus, it has circulated widely in far-right circles, and it feeds directly into long-standing anti-immigrant or nativist feeling in America. And nativist conspiracy theories feed into the white Christian nationalism that was so dramatically brought to the public’s attention in the Jan. 6 riots, thus completing the circle.

According to Wikipedia, Christian nationalists believe “the US is meant to be a Christian nation and want to ‘take back’ the US for God.” Normally they strive to do this by passing blue laws and advocating for various right-wing political and cultural causes, including the crackdown on immigration by the previous administration. They have a lot in common with the nativism of the 1850s, and I’ve been reevaluating the context for my research on Swedish immigration in light of it.

The Swedes were white, of course, but in the early days of mass immigration from Sweden they ran afoul of several contemporary “English” or Anglo-American Protestant cultural norms. So their experience showed some of the limits inherent in the cultural and/or religious pluralism of their day — and perhaps of ours as well.

While white Americans of European heritage have always looked down on more recent immigrants — witness Benjamin Franklin’s animus toward “swarthy” Germans (and Swedes!) in 1751 — it came to a head in the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s, which Wikipedia succinctly identifies as “an an anti-Catholic, Anti-Irish, anti-immigration, populist and xenophobic movement.” As Protestants, the Swedes weren’t in its direct line of fire. And they soon found a political home in the emerging Republican Party, but the 1850s were a time of rapid cultural transition, and the times demanded a measure of conformity with other Protestants — including “Americanized” fellow Lutherans — the Swedes didn’t feel like they were able to give. Their pastors tended to be ecumenically minded, having cooperated with American and English evangelical Protestants in Sweden, but retreated into Swedish enclaves after squabbling with the Americans over doctrinal and cultural issues.

There’s a lot more in the WaPo profile — including a hilarious fact-check by Carlson’s first-grade teacher — but this stood out because it has so much bearing on my historical research. So I’ll quote that part further length in case I want to use it later.

Citation: Michael Kranish, “How Tucker Carlson became the voice of White grievance,” Washington Post, July 14, 2021 https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/tucker-carlson/2021/07/13/398fa720-dd9f-11eb-a501-0e69b5d012e5_story.html.

Verbatim excerpt:

As Carlson’s influence grows, his racial views are gaining more notice.

In a chapter of “Ship of Fools” titled “The Diversity Diversion,” Carlson maintained that White men are accused of causing “poor nutrition, asthma, and broken families in black neighborhoods,” of destroying “entire cities very few of them have ever been to,” and “in their spare time exacerbat[ing] global warming.”

Carlson catalogued what he called a series of efforts by Black people to blame Whites for their economic and social conditions. He insisted that “elites no longer oppose segregation. They no longer insist on treating all races equally. Many instead call for segregation.”

As Carlson told it: “You no longer hear much from our leaders about the importance of racial harmony. Almost nobody claims we’re really all the same beneath the skin. The emphasis is on our differences. That’s the essence of the diversity agenda.” He wrote that “the narrative was clear: buried in the heart of every white person is a vial of deadly poison called racism. There is no remedy for this. Whites are born with hate built in.”

Carlson, who grew up about 30 miles from the Mexican border, also described in his book his own discomfort with how the country was changing.

“If you grew up in America, suddenly nothing looks the same,” he wrote. “Your neighbors are different. So is the landscape and the customs and very often the languages you hear on the street. You may not recognize your hometown. Human beings aren’t wired for that. They can’t digest change at this pace.”

Then Carlson was even more direct. He objected to the idea that “we must celebrate the fact that a nation that was overwhelmingly European, Christian, and English-speaking fifty years ago” is now a mix of cultures.

He rejected the idea that diversity is to be valued, saying that “mass immigration” has destabilized the country. While such views are similar to those expressed by white supremacists, he said it was unfair that expressing them meant “you’ll be shouted down as a bigot, as if demanding representation in a democracy were immoral.”

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