A once-obscure theory from the fringes of the far right has now become mainstream. The “Great Replacement Theory” is the idea that white people are in danger due to a deliberate effort by liberals to replace them with immigrants of color. This “theory” is a marker of a global pivot to the far-right, a disturbing trend that has been seen not just in the United States but all over the world.
In Hungary, a country where 97 percent of its residents are ethnically Hungarian, Viktor Orban claims that “Hungarians are an endangered species” and that “immigration means surrender.” The U.S. right wing has found inspiration from Hungary’s far-right president, with multiple members of the U.S. right attending the CPAC Hungary convention.
Far Right Fringe
One of the biggest issues with this ideology is that it threatens to shift the political debate. Instead of debating whether or not to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, liberals have to devote their energy to debunking a conspiracy theory that 6 in 10 Trump voters believe. The left has pandered enough to fringe far-right sentiments, letting the debate shift further and further right. Thus, this is emblematic of a broader trend.
In 2020, a crucial slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement was “Defund the Police.” In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Biden urged the nation to “Fund the Police,” despite the fact that law enforcement spending as a percentage of overall expenditures increased slightly from 2020 to 2021.
Replacement theory also obscures the fact that the Biden administration has actually kept and expanded certain Trump-era immigration policies. The administration has kept the controversial Title 42 policy, and expanded the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
This ideology is also symbolic of another disturbing trend in this country, the increasing acceptance of conspiracy theories as fact. Millions of people believe that the 2020 election was rigged and internalize false information about Covid-19 vaccines.
Unfortunately, this ideology has had real-life consequences. Several mass shooters have cited it as inspiration for committing their actions. The Buffalo shooter cited the Great Replacement theory in a 180-page manifesto posted online before committing the massacre. The Christchurch shooter also cited the ideology as an inspiration.
So where did this ideology come from? In its modern form, it comes from a 2011 book by French author Renaud Camus: Le Grand Remplacement. In this book, Camus argues that Muslim and other non-white immigrants will replace white Europeans due to their supposedly higher birth rates.
The Great Gatsby
However, the general ideas underlying this ideology have been around for quite some time. In the classic 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan states: “The idea is if we don’t look out, the white race will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff. It’s been proved. It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out, or these other races will have control of things.”
This ideology is based on the view that the greatness of the West comes from the inherent superiority of the white race, and that the West must be kept white in order to maintain its greatness. However, needless to say, this ideology is completely at odds with historical fact. Much of Europe’s wealth came not from European innovation, but from riches taken from other countries. Perhaps what this ideology really comes from is a lack of familiarity with the “other.” It is easy to spread broad generalizations about a community that one has barely interacted with.
So how has replacement theory spread? One chief vehicle is through the media. Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson has been one of the major proponents of this ideology. His variant of it states that Democrats are deliberately luring immigrants of color to the United States to replace white people and to gain their votes.
There are numerous issues with this ideology. One is that it assumes that immigrants will automatically vote Democrat. Immigrants are not weighing politics when deciding to immigrate but rather weighing important personal and family considerations. Further, immigrants must obtain their citizenship before voting, a process which can take several years.
Thus, replacement theory is not really about voting. It stems from a fear of the changing nature of the country. The U.S. is becoming a more diverse, more progressive nation. The 2016 election represented a pushback against this trend. Ultimately, the nation will continue this trajectory, and politicized attempts to keep out immigrants will only do so much.
Replacement theory is built on the belief that America’s greatness stems from its Judeo-Christian values, which make it the pillar of Western civilization. In other words, America’s greatness stems from its whiteness. Proponents of replacement theory see a perceived decline in American greatness, which they attribute to growing numbers of immigrants of color. Hence, the phrase “Make America Great Again” is really a euphemism for “Make America White Again.” These proponents seek to restore America to an imagined glorious past, one in which the country was far less diverse.
These proponents are right that the U.S. is indeed struggling. However, it’s not due to immigration. Quite the opposite, in fact. Due to a decrease in immigration in 2020, the labor force is approximately 1.6 million smaller than it would have been. Increased immigration could ease the current U.S. labor gap, which is one of the major issues facing the country today.