Conservatives, Nostalgia, and Racism

by Isaac Chotiner | August 19, 2011

[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]

Reihan Salam, in a column today:

One thing that is undeniably true is that American conservatives are overwhelmingly white in a country that is increasingly less so. As the number of Latinos and Asian-Americans has increased in coastal states like California, New York and New Jersey, many white Americans from these regions have moved inland or to the South. For at least some whites, particularly those over the age of 50, there is a sense that the country they grew up in is fading away, and that Americans with ancestors from Mexico or, as in my case, Bangladesh don’t share their religious, cultural and economic values. These white voters are looking for champions, for people who are unafraid to fight for the America they remember and love. It’s unfair to call this sentiment racist. But it does help explain at least some of our political divide. [Emphasis Mine]

Matt Yglesias, noting the higher tax rates and unionization of the 50s and 60s (which presumably conservatives do not miss), adds, "It’s difficult for me to evade the conclusion that on an emotional level, conservative nostalgics like Boehner are primarily driven by regret at the loss of social privilege by white men."

I would phrase it a little differently. Let's be generous and say that nostalgic conservatives are not driven by the regret Yglesias notes, but are rather longing for other, less problematic aspects of the past. My question for Salam is this: how racially insensitive does one have to be to prefer an America with segregation because he or she saw other advantages to 1950s society? What possibly could outweigh the disgusting racial status quo of the 1950s (I am leaving out the status of women and gays)? To wish for a return to that America, I would argue, one has to be so racially insensitive that bigoted seems like an apt descriptor. The alternative answer, of course, is complete solipsism.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/93967/conservatives-nostalgia-and-racism