White Nationalism : Throughline The white nationalist ideas of Madison Grant influenced Congress in the 1920s, leaders in Nazi Germany, and members of the Trump administration. This week, we share an episode we loved from It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders that explores a throughline of white nationalism in American politics from the early 20th century to today.
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White Nationalism

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White Nationalism

White Nationalism

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RUND ABDELFATAH, HOST:

All right. This is really exciting. Sam Sanders from It's Been A Minute is in the studio...

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI, HOST:

Yes.

ABDELFATAH: ...With us.

ARABLOUEI: He's in the house.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Hi. How are y'all?

ARABLOUEI: Good.

ABDELFATAH: How are you?

SANDERS: I'm good. I'm joining y'all from sunny Los Angeles, so I'm doing great.

ARABLOUEI: Yeah. No, we're happy to...

ABDELFATAH: (Laughter) It's not sunny here.

ARABLOUEI: No, it's not sunny at all here. We're happy to have you because we recently both heard one of your episodes that was very historical and definitely drew a throughline. So...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ARABLOUEI: ...We wanted you to come on and talk to us about it. And also we wanted to share that episode with our listeners.

SANDERS: So this episode, which y'all are talking about, in it, I interview Adam Serwer. Adam Serwer is a staff writer at The Atlantic magazine. And we talk about this article he wrote all about the long history of white nationalism in the U.S. And so that alone would be good enough for a conversation, but what I really want to talk him about and why we talked right now is because if you look back far enough, there is a throughline, you could say, between America's history of white nationalism and a lot of our politics today.

ARABLOUEI: And so tell us, like, how that started for you in terms of your, like, interest.

SANDERS: So bear with me. We're going to go down a little path right now, but it's worth it. I promise. So Donald Trump, our current president, as we all know, since the beginning of his campaign for president, his signature issue has been immigration. And so the thing about Trump and immigration is that it's really easy to tell who his biggest influences are on this issue. It's three men. They are mostly credited with shaping the way that Donald Trump talks about immigration. They are Jeff Sessions, who used to be his attorney general, Steve Bannon, who used to be one of his top advisers, and Stephen Miller, who is still in the White House as one of his advisers. So those are, like, the three - right? - the three immigration musketeers for Donald Trump.

ARABLOUEI: Right.

SANDERS: So I have been obsessed for a while now with this old archive tape of Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE BANNON: Senator Sessions, thank you so much for taking time away from the family tonight to join us.

JEFF SESSIONS: Thank you, Steve.

SANDERS: And Steve Bannon's interviewing him, and they're talking about the immigration bill of 1924.

ABDELFATAH: All right. And what does that bill say?

SANDERS: So that bill set quotas on certain countries and limited how many folks could come in from those countries. And the whole thinking was that the U.S. should let in more people from European and Northern European nations than from other places like, say, China. So as they're talking about this, Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon both praised this bill. And they say, yeah, they were right back then when they said that there were too many folks coming in, and they're right when they say it now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SESSIONS: The numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly.

SANDERS: But here's the thing and here's where it gets really weird, y'all. The guy who was credited with the big ideas behind this bill from 1924 - his name was Madison Grant. So let me tell you Madison Grant's claim to fame.

ARABLOUEI: OK.

SANDERS: Madison Grant was the - one of the biggest white nationalists of his day, a prolific writer on the topic, and his ideas about white nationalism influenced the entire world to the extent that they influenced Adolf Hitler.

ARABLOUEI: So across the - so across the ocean...

SANDERS: Across the ocean.

ARABLOUEI: ...To Germany he influenced...

SANDERS: Yes.

ARABLOUEI: Wow.

SANDERS: And so what's really creepy or what's really weird is that when Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon talk about this a bill that they love, they don't acknowledge that the guy who played a big part in it was one of the leading white nationalists of his day. And so when you look at all of that, there is a direct line, y'all, between old, quote-unquote, "old" white nationalist views and the types of conversations we have about immigration today.

ABDELFATAH: And that's where your conversation with Adam Serwer picks up.

SANDERS: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SANDERS: Adam, hello. How are you?

ADAM SERWER: I'm good. Thank you for having me. How are you doing?

SANDERS: Yeah. I'm good. Thanks for being here, and thanks for your work over the last several months on a topic that is pretty dark and depressing. And that is white nationalism. And it's - I don't know. Would you call it a resurgence? Not a resurgence, but it's kind of really hot right now, no?

SERWER: Well, I would say there are certain ideas that were popular at the turn of the century during the last great immigration scare in America that have become more popular as they've been championed by Donald Trump, and he's reshaped the Republican Party in his image.

SANDERS: And what were those ideas?

SERWER: The idea was that immigrants - largely Jews and Italians, Greeks - were diluting the original Nordic stock that had settled the United States, and the result was going to be a deterioration in American society. And what you see today is less of that pseudoscience per se, but what you do see is people arguing that immigration is fundamentally changing the nature of the country for the worse because these people are culturally alien in a way that makes them not belong here.

SANDERS: Yeah. And so, you know, white nationalists use the phrase white genocide today to talk about their belief that this influx of immigrants - that it is, like, going to diminish the pure white race. But you write that in the early 20th century, white elites were using the phrase race suicide to kind of get at the same idea.

SERWER: Right. So race suicide was the term - and genocide had not yet been coined because the Holocaust hadn't happened yet - but when you talk about white genocide, it's important to emphasize that when people say white genocide, they are not actually talking about ethnic cleansing or displacement by violence. What they're talking about is, essentially, the loss of white political...

SANDERS: Dominance.

SERWER: ...White political dominance. Or I like to use the phrase hegemony - white political and cultural hegemony. Numerically, there are actually more white people on planet Earth than ever before. And it's not as though...

SANDERS: Really?

SERWER: Yes - simply because we have gotten better technologically at making sure that people survive. But what they mean - and you can see this in the manifesto of the New Zealand shooter. You can see it sometimes on Fox News on programs like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson - what they mean is this influx of people who are not white are going to alter the country that belongs to white people in a way that we don't like.

SANDERS: I want to talk more about the guy you wrote about in your article who was kind of - I don't know - like, the white nationalist of note back in the day in the early 20th century, this guy Madison Grant. He wrote a book called "The Passing Of The Great Race." It was published in 1916, and that book, like, informed presidents, right? Tell me about this guy and this book and how big of a deal he was.

SERWER: So Madison Grant was old money. And he sort of came up on the Upper East Side. And as he is coming into adulthood, he's seeing all these Jewish immigrants. And he is just threatened and disgusted. And he concludes that America is being taken away from the people who it rightfully belongs to because of immigration. And he's not the first person to come up with what is called scientific racism, which is a kind of pseudoscience that purports to elevate one arbitrarily designated group of people over another. And I say arbitrarily because, in his time, Madison Grant, when he said white people, he wasn't - you know, he excluded lots of people today we consider white from that definition. There were white races. There wasn't a white race. He divided the white race into sort of three sections of varying intelligence and capability, with the people who he called the Nordics at the top.

SANDERS: And the other two categories were who?

SERWER: The Alpines and the Mediterraneans.

SANDERS: God, that's hilarious.

SERWER: And it's just - it's - there's all this stuff about, like, head size. And it's just garbage. It's pseudoscience.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

SERWER: But at the time, there was this belief that European populations were distinct races. And his great theory was that people of Nordic descent were responsible for every human accomplishment of note, to the point where he would look at ancient Rome, which, you know, obviously, you know, was based in the Italian peninsula. And he argued that the original Romans were Nordic in origin, but they imported all these slaves from other areas of the world. And those slaves overpopulated them. And that's why the Roman empire fell. And today's Italians are actually descendants of these inferior races, rather than the Nordics. It's just completely made up.

SANDERS: Wow.

SERWER: And what you saw was that actual members of Congress, when arguing for restriction laws, would make points based on the things that he wrote in his book. One of the sponsors of the eventual immigration restriction bill that got passed, Senator Reed from Pennsylvania, talked about the ancient Rome thing all the time.

SANDERS: So what about him and his book make it so ascendant? What was he doing right that other racists weren't doing right?

SERWER: Well, according to the immigration historian John Higham, what Grant did was he synthesized all the various strands of scientific racism into a grand theory that explained the world. And this grand theory was very appealing to, you know, a certain class of American elites who thought of themselves as Americans first and who were very suspicious of these quote-unquote, "hyphenated Americans" coming from other countries. And it was not only a convenient narrative for people who wanted to keep these people out. It also helped explain why the people at the top were at the top. So, you know, if you are a patrician, like Madison Grant, the idea that you were at the top because you are genetically superior is appealing because it helps explain the caste system in the United States even, you know, apart from immigration as one of simple social evolution.

SANDERS: He's also a New Yorker, which is just a moment for me to pause and say, Americans have to stop convincing themselves that racism was just a thing of the South. It was everywhere, and everyone was a part of the system.

SERWER: Yeah. So I think, you know, one of the more interesting things about the immigration restriction movement is that while, certainly, Democrats in the South were very much opposed to immigration, and they were also opposed to American imperialism because they believe these territories that America was acquiring abroad were going to lead to an influx of brown people - but instead of the energy for immigration restriction coming from that, you know, former Confederate, Democratic South, it actually comes from the patricians of the Northeast, people like Grant. And it also comes from the West Coast, where there are Asian workers who are coming in who are subject to vilification from both capital and labor.

In fact, the - Albert Johnson, who was the Republican who wrote and sponsored the immigration restriction bill in 1924 with significant input from Grant, he was from Washington state. And he had basic - he was both anti-union and anti-immigration. So it was like this sort of perfect storm of American racism where this bipartisan consensus about America being a white man's country had just come together to produce this set of immigration laws which, you know, I may add, have been explicitly praised by members of the Trump administration when you think about...

SANDERS: Like Jeff Sessions.

SERWER: ...Jeff Sessions.

SANDERS: He mentions that 1924 bill all the time.

SERWER: Yeah. In a conversation with Steve Bannon, he talks about how great the 1924 bill was. And he does it unqualified. He never says, you know, but the racism and the anti-Semitism was really bad, but we should restrict immigration. He praises it without qualification. So this is - you know, whether people understand or have heard of Grant or not, he has had a profound influence on the way that Western countries think of themselves.

SANDERS: Yeah. Just a sidebar, it's like you mentioned how the West Coast itself was also a part in this preservation of whiteness and anti-immigration. Like, I always tell people, and they always are baffled by it. Like, the reason a city like Portland is so white is because Oregon was founded as a whites-only state. And they didn't let...

SERWER: Yes. That's right.

SANDERS: ...Anyone else in for decades.

SERWER: It was in their constitution.

SANDERS: Yes. People forget this. Anyways, I just - I always point that out. Tell us briefly what all was in that 1924 immigration bill that was informed so much by Madison Grant in his book.

SERWER: Well, it completely shut down immigration from Asia and Africa, and it largely shut down immigration from eastern and southern Europe. It, in other words, did what Donald Trump suggested doing in that meeting that was widely reported on, where he said, we shouldn't take anybody from [expletive]hole countries. We should take people from Sweden and Norway. That's - I mean, that is literally, like, what Grant believed. And I don't think that Donald Trump has ever read "The Passing Of The Great Race," but these ideas are part of the American political bloodstream. And, you know, one of the things that I think you hear a lot in the United States in the Trump era from people on the left is, oh, you know, this isn't who we are. This is not who America is - and it actually is. This is part of what America is and always has been.

ABDELFATAH: When we come back, Sam finds out how Madison Grant influenced leaders not just in the U.S. but also in Nazi Germany.

SANDERS: One of the most interesting parts of your article is that you talk at length about how Madison Grant and this idea of race suicide in his book, "The Passing Of The Great Race" - it's not just informing the U.S. Congress, and it's not just informing bills in America and presidents in America. It informs Hitler, and it inspires some of the very things that Hitler comes to do and espouse during the Holocaust. Talk about that link and how that came to be.

SERWER: So I would say, you know, there's a book called "Hitler's American Model" by James Q. Whitman. And he goes at length into the extent to which the Nazi attorneys very carefully studied American immigration and race-based laws to look at - now, they didn't take everything from us. But they looked at it because America, in their view, was the first society that had recognized the importance of protecting its inherent genetic stock, or what Hitler called the Volk.

Now, you know, Europe has centuries of anti-Semitism under its belt at this point. You know, Madison Grant didn't teach the Nazis to hate the Jews. But what he did do was he provided a pseudo-scientific explanation for what the Nazis wanted to do. And the laws based on his ideas were laws that the Nazis studied when they were looking to create a race-based society and exclude and restrict citizenship to people who had the correct genetic heritage.

SANDERS: Yeah.

SERWER: And Grant didn't live to see the logic of his ideas be extended to the point of the Holocaust. He died before that happened. But I think it's important to remember the American historical contribution to that atrocity because America is a powerful, influential country. And the ideas - the arguments that we have here affect those arguments elsewhere.

SANDERS: Yeah. What I found most interesting is you point out that, like, Nazism borrowed liberally from America's politics of race, but there were some things that were, like, too hot even for them. Like, the Nazis refused to implement our one-drop rule. Like, that was too harsh for the Nazis.

SERWER: Yeah, I mean, it...

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness.

SERWER: It's pretty extraordinary that that went too far for the Nazis.

SANDERS: We should clarify for those who don't know. The one-drop rule basically was used here in America for a long time to basically say, even if you're a very light-skinned black person, if there's one drop of black in you that we can trace through your bloodline, you're all the way black.

SERWER: Yeah.

SANDERS: That's it - legally, at least.

SERWER: But, you know, what's interesting about the Nazis is that they recognized sort of the dual nature of American democracy. On the one hand, all men are created equal. On the other hand, actually, white men are more equal than everyone else. And they - in their view, they saw democracy as weak. And they saw the American Constitution, with its universal ideals, as a kind of weakness. But ultimately, those ideals changed the country for the better, and they also contribute greatly to the defeat of the Nazis. So they've sort of underestimated the extent to which Americans were committed to those principles and willing to fight, die and change the country on their behalf.

SANDERS: So then we know that these ideas of race are very popular in the States. They inform Nazi Germany. But then the U.S. goes on to fight and defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. What caused the schism, and what made the U.S. say, something they're doing means we have to fight against them? What was it?

SERWER: So in the words of Peter Spiro, who wrote "Defending The Master Race," which is the - a very good biography of Madison Grant - in his view, the Nazis reflected these American ideas back in grotesque form. And the response was that it caused the United States to completely disavow them and not only disavow those ideas, but sort of memory-hole the knowledge of the fact that we had had anything to do with inspiring them. I mean, you can go back, and you can read The New York Times coverage. You can read Hitler saying, it was America who taught us we should not open our arms equally to other nations. Now, he was trolling. Like, he was trying to say, we're not doing anything America wasn't - isn't doing, which isn't true. But there is a bit of truth in it in the sense that he wrote admiringly of American immigration laws in "Mein Kampf" and specifically of wanting to imitate the American model, but go even farther than the Americans had gone.

But what was different was that even the white supremacists in the South - they didn't want to live under a fascist government. They wanted a democracy but for white people only. And that ideological distinction is really important because what ends up happening, if you read Ira Katznelson's "Fear Itself" - the South is consistently the most hawkish, anti-Nazi region of the United States. And it's something that completely baffles the Nazis because they don't understand - they don't appreciate the ideological distinction between fascism and a sort of white man's democracy.

SANDERS: That is so fascinating. How much do you know of, like, the psyche of the average American in the midst of all this? Like, on the one hand, America is beginning to say, we got to fight Nazism. This is going too far. But on the other hand, you still have all of white America and the rest of America living with the reality of American apartheid at that time against blacks and other folks.

SERWER: Well, look; I think there's no question, but that the sacrifice of Jewish, Italian, Native American, Asian, black - all these people who are not full American citizens who go on to fight for this universal ideal against the Nazis - when they come back, they fundamentally change the country. I mean, it's not a coincidence that the civil rights movement begins in earnest in the 1950s and then, you know, blooms in the 1960s.

SANDERS: When those black soldiers come home from war.

SERWER: When those black soldiers come home from war.

SANDERS: And then that movement - that informs every other movement after that.

SERWER: Right.

SANDERS: For women's rights, for gay rights - it's all linked to folks coming back from the war saying, hold up. This is not fair.

SERWER: And it moved elites, too. I mean, someone like Truman - I mean, he goes far to the left on race after World War II, in part because he's so moved by these black soldiers who are fighting for an American ideal that does not yet include them. And that's why he makes the decision to start desegregating the military, and he endorses civil rights at the Democratic Convention.

So I think there are two things that happen here. One is, like, seeing the Nazis take these grotesque ideas to a terrifying conclusion, and the other is all these people who are being denied the privileges of full American citizenship nevertheless fighting and dying for those ideals as they think they should be realized. And I think it moves a lot of people and changes a lot of minds.

SANDERS: Yeah. I mean, also, you know, like - also, we made them go. Like, you made the black guys go. And, like, there is a certain kind of, like, nobility in everyone who fought that war, but...

SERWER: Yeah, but, I mean, look; once you - like, I don't want to understate the extent to which serving in the military historically has altered the masses' perception of minority groups. It - I mean, people - I mean, there's a reason why people fought so hard to keep Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military. There's a reason why there are people fighting so hard to enforce the Trump administration's transgender ban now, which is that once you see people, you know...

SANDERS: Serving in that way.

SERWER: ...Serving in that way, it is really hard to make the argument that they should be denied the benefits of full citizenship.

SANDERS: Yeah. So we see these soldiers come home from war. We see America denounce Nazism. And then there is this moment in time for, it seems a few decades, where there are strides in racial progress. We see laws happen that, like, enfranchise people of color more and more. And I suppose it'd be really easy to forget about the harshness of racial science and politics that came before the war. But then you fast-forward to the last several years, and all of these ideas of white genocide and race suicide - they're ascendant again. Is it a re-ascension of these ideas, or have they just always been there, even though we tried to forget about them?

SERWER: I think that they were not in the conversation in the same way. I mean, it's another Democratic president who passes and signs a big immigration restriction law. That's Bill Clinton and IIRIRA. George W. Bush - you know, the two things in his second term that really, you know, destroy his approval rating is his attempt to privatize Social Security in his attempt to legalize the undocumented population in the United States. But even so, these past conversations about immigration - they didn't have this focus on the immigrants as somehow intrinsically dangerous to the American way of life, not because of even their beliefs but because they represent a demographic that is going to alter the country in a way that is a kind of theft.

SANDERS: And so, like, that current depiction of these immigrants right now - is there a modern root of that that you can, like, pinpoint? Is it just because America is becoming browner and more people are just afraid of that, or is it something else going on?

SERWER: I mean, I think that's part of it. I actually think that the whole brown America thing is extremely overstated, but there's a lot of social surveys that shows that it causes white people to feel anxious, I guess is the politically correct term of art. But I actually think that those surveys are incorrect. I mean, what you've seen...

SANDERS: Why?

SERWER: You go back and you look at, like, Grant's stuff about race suicide. And what happened? We didn't have race suicide. What happened was that those immigrant groups that were despised were assimilated into the sort of greater blob of whiteness. And now nobody - you know, nobody would say that Italians aren't white anymore - you know what I'm saying? - in the same way that people used to argue that in the 1910s and the 1920s. And so I think that what's likely to happen is you're going to have another sort of wave of absorption where there are other groups who were once not considered white who become, quote-unquote, "white" in a political sense because that's the only sense in which race really has any meaning.

ARABLOUEI: After the break, Sam discusses if and how President Trump factors in to the current state of white nationalism.

SANDERS: I think there are a lot of people who don't like Donald Trump who would like to say that the entire reason for this recent uptick in white nationalism right now is just because of him, but I don't think that's true.

SERWER: I don't think it's true, either. I think Trump is a symptom of a larger phenomenon. And the larger phenomenon, of course, is this argument that we've been having about what the nature of the country is, which I think - you're right - is prompted, in part, by this belief that the demographic nature of the country is changing in a way that will forever make it no longer America. But, you know, America is - today is not what it was in 1790. It's not what it was in 1860, and it's not what it was in 1930. It's a little weird to argue that, you know, America has always been one thing or that it was impervious to change until now.

The other thing I'd say is that, you know, this assumption that these people - you know, one of the arguments that you hear on Fox News a lot is that Democrats are importing voters to replace you. And...

SANDERS: Well, they're sure doing a bad job of it because they couldn't win in 2016 (laughter).

SERWER: Right. So I think that that's a really racist argument because what it says is that these people's political preferences are genetically encoded. And that's absolutely not true. That old base of immigrants who were once hated is now a reliable Republican vote. I mean, that's one of the reasons why Donald Trump won the Midwest. So this idea that somehow these people who are new - they could never be Republican voters is just false. But it certainly is the case that if you keep talking about them as a kind of threat to your way of life - that they're going to be less inclined to vote for you.

SANDERS: So then there is this weird reality right now in which the official line from the White House is, no, none of these things are about race. It's about jobs. It's about culture. It's about XYZ. Is this a new thing, or is this ability to kind of do both of these song and dances at the same time - is that a constant in American politics?

SERWER: Yeah, I would say it is. And it's a kind of insincerity that I think we've seen deployed by the Trump administration as though, you know, they would be shocked-shocked if the president made any decisions based on race whatsoever and when we know - and we can see him making them all the time. And we can see things like the president and his aides referring to Puerto Rico as that country and suggesting that Puerto Ricans are less worthy of aid than farmers of the Midwest or people who are affected by hurricanes in Texas. And, you know, it's obvious for everyone to see. But for the people who are making these arguments, they need that sort of fig leaf in order to make themselves feel better about what they're really arguing.

SANDERS: Well, and then there's also this reality in some of the resistance to Donald Trump. A lot of people are very reluctant to use the R-word - race, racism, racist - in describing those policies.

SERWER: Well, you know, I understand that. I think that, you know, if you're a Democrat, you probably don't want to - you're trying to win over some Trump people, so you don't want to imply that they're all racist. But, you know, my job isn't to win votes. It's to write the truth as best I see it. So I'm not going to use those euphemisms.

SANDERS: Have you talked with Trump supporters about the history that informs some of these policies and how they feel about that history?

SERWER: Well, I have not. I did in 2016. I spent a lot of time at Trump rallies, you know, asking them what they thought about the president's statements about Latinos and Muslims and black people. And what I found was that they were all-in on this sort of cognitive dissonance. They'd say that the president loves everybody, that he's absolutely not a racist, that he - you know, he doesn't have a racist bone in his body. But then when you ask them, you know, so what do you think about him saying that, you know, Muslims shouldn't be allowed to come here? It's like, well - people would be like, well, you know, I think we've got a terrorism problem, and we've got - you know. They would always rationalize it. And that kind of cognitive dissonance is - again, this is an - is very American thing because we're supposed to be a country where everyone's created equal. But then, you know, you have to figure out a way to treat some people better than you treat others.

SANDERS: Well, and, like, this dissonance is, like, baked into the very founding documents of the country. Like, the Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal, and the Constitution says, but those ones are three-fifths. Like, it's just - it's been there from the start.

SERWER: That's exactly what I'm saying. It's been there from the beginning.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. And, I mean, not to belabor conversations with voters back in 2016, but I'll never forget - I was in Iowa a lot covering the campaign in 2016 and before. And I'll never forget talking with this guy who had a big, old Trump photo blown up in his backyard. And within five or 10 minutes of talking, he said right in front of me on a hot mic to a black man - myself - he said, oh, well, do you know America is a country built for white Europeans? And he said it with no pause.

SERWER: I mean, what I found is that - I met a few of those people, but I think they're in the minority....

SANDERS: But they're not all of the majority, yeah.

SERWER: ...Compared to the people who try to convince themselves that they, quote-unquote, "don't see color" or they love everyone or - you know what I'm saying? - or the people who try to tell themselves that they're not doing what they're doing, I think, are probably more numerous than the - this is a country from white - for white Europeans type.

SANDERS: Yeah.

SERWER: Although, I would say that, you know, I think there are certainly people around the - who have been around the president who hold that view.

SANDERS: Also, the thing I notice about folks that say, I don't see color - they only say, I don't see color to people of color. So they're seeing something.

SERWER: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Anyway, anyway...

SERWER: It's a wonderful observation.

SANDERS: What is the fix for this, sir? Like, how do we get away from this moment of peak white nationalism? Like, there have been moments where it ebbs and flows and goes up and then goes down. Is there a historical precedent to see how this stuff kind of goes away or diminishes?

SERWER: I don't know the answer to that, but I would point out that it's actually far less popular than it was a hundred years ago.

SANDERS: Good (laughter).

SERWER: The majority of the country is actually on the right side of this question in a way that it was not, say, in 1924 or, you know, in 1870 at the end of Reconstruction. I think in some ways, the country is actually in a better place and better equipped to deal with this resurgence of nativist sentiment than it has been in the past.

SANDERS: So then maybe what I hear you saying is that mainstream media maybe should stop hyping up these white nationalists who are just clamoring for attention.

SERWER: Well, I think that there are examples of the media doing a really bad job covering white nationalism.

SANDERS: Like, a...

SERWER: I think that...

SANDERS: I mean, like all of the profiles of Richard Spencer.

SERWER: Yes, the - he's the dapper, cool Nazi.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

SERWER: Yeah, but I would say that the press and not the press entirely - I would say that the white press has begun to grasp how dangerous this stuff is in a way that I think they did not understand in 2016. You saw it in a way that the New Zealand shooter manifesto was handled, in which people were careful not to try and disseminate racist propaganda. And I think treating it a little bit more like the media treated the execution of James Foley by ISIS, recognizing that this - these people are dangerous and that the last thing you want to do is amplify, is let these people use you as a bullhorn.

And I think the press has gotten better at that. But I'm not of the school of thought that thinks we should ignore these people because they're a fringe because the truth is that, you know, an ideological vanguard can be small and still profoundly affect the political conversation. It's not as though, you know, everybody in the United States had read Madison Grant's "The Passing Of The Great Race." But those ideas can be translated in a way for the masses that makes them palatable. And I think it's part of the media's job to tell the story of how these ideas came to be, where they come from and what they might do.

ABDELFATAH: That's Sam Sanders in conversation with Adam Serwer from The Atlantic.

ARABLOUEI: And if you liked the conversation as much as we did, check out his podcast - It's Been A Minute With Sam Sanders - on npr.

ABDELFATAH: Thanks for listening.

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