Formerly omnipresent television Republican Pat Buchanan played an outsized role in turning the Republican Party toward overt, panicked white nationalism. He was once a staple of pundit programming, using shows like Crossfire as a perch for the now-formulaic prescription of reducing every political argument to two sides, to be argued over and decided by two political hacks with no knowledge of or interest in each issue other than as partisan club. Now Buchanan's rhetoric has begun to decay steadily toward the white cultural panic commonly known as the Great Replacement theory.
White folks were being outbred by other races, he warned in essays and in books. Immigration was an "invasion" that would doom our white national culture. He had praise for the "courage" of Hitler, had sympathy for segregation, for interracial dating bans, and for theories of white genetic superiority. But as his writing and his speeches began to focus more and more exclusively on white nationalist arguments and conspiracy theories, the various networks could no longer stomach his presence. Republicans began to dodge him. He ended up a Reform Party presidential candidate in 2000, and then mostly disappeared—at long last—entirely.
Now Maryland Public Television is putting the racist conspiracy theorist back on television, granting him a seat on a rebooted McLaughlin Group so that he can pipe up with his Theories on America Today, New and Enhanced Version. And this, right here, is how the Republican Party decayed into a white nationalist movement. And this, right here, is how the nation’s media outlets and pundit class helped it every step of the way.
It is because of Pat Buchanan and other pundits who discovered that there was a new appetite for the racism of their youth, before the troubles, and that not only was their audience hungry for their racist claims to be spelled out more explicitly, but it turned out there were not, after all, any significant party consequences for doing so. It was not until you began to crunch your hull against the rocks of Well, maybe Hitler had a few good points that you would begin to see pushback—everything up to that point was, it turned out, fair game. Not only did conservatives begin to realize that nobody truly cared about the old boundaries, but the executives that hosted them began to realize that ignoring the old boundaries made for "Good Television." Shock value was what punditry needed, the thing that would turn news networks into entertainment machines. Shock value, making claims appalling enough or dishonest enough to make the other side wince and sputter, was what would turn punditry from an excruciating wonk-fest to a camera-friendly blood sport.
It didn't take long for Fox News to turn the premise of saying the quiet things out loud into an entire network. It didn't take long for the Pat Buchanans of the airwaves to turn into Ann Coulters. And eventually the whole sodding thing collapsed, with previous would-be intellectuals like Tucker Carlson ditching their bowtie personas to follow the screaming right wherever it wanted to go.
Television hacks, even the public television variety, have long been willing to give absolutely anyone a second and third turn before the cameras, no matter how far they have fallen, and even calling Hitler a man of "courage" has an apparent shelf-life after which it is no longer considered taboo. There's no evidence Buchanan has deviated a stitch from his white nationalist obsessions. He gets to be on television anyway, because The McLaughlin Group needs to be rebuilt over the bones of its now extremely dead host, and Pat Buchanan was one of the faces its audience used to see.
It's not that white nationalism is "on the rise" or that Trump emerged from a pumpkin on one 2015 evening to bring racist bleating to all the good conservative boys and girls. It's that would-be punditry shows adopted white supremacy as a legitimate, perhaps even key, component of conservative debate, something titillating to get the hosts and audiences worked up. Buchanan will use his new post to introduce himself as expert to a new audience, one that might perhaps be interested in another book or two on the dangers being faced by the White Race. The media, and his fellow "pundits," will eagerly help him do it. And white nationalism will burrow itself more deeply into the common rhetoric of the day.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.