Much has been made of the struggle to control bigotry and extremism on both the left and right. Liam Glen analyzes the lingering differences between Democrats and Republicans.
No one would argue against the fact that bigotry and extremism can exist on the right, left, or any other position on the political spectrum. What matters is how widespread it is, and what steps are taken to counteract it.
This was the stance taken by conservative commentator Larry Elder in a column comparing the case studies of Democrat Ilhan Omar and Republican Steve King.
Omar has made a series of controversial statements, including some that have been interpreted as anti-Semitic, yet she is still one of the most prominent Democrats in Congress. Meanwhile, King was embroiled in a comparable row over racism, but he was eventually stripped of his committee assignments and made a pariah in Washington.
The takeaway, according to Elder, is that Democrats are in fact the more bigoted party. His analysis is unabashedly partisan, but it does open up an interesting question: how do the parties differ when it comes to extremism in their ranks?
The decision to compare Omar and King is problematic for two major reasons. The first is the differences between their cases.
Omar is controversial for several reasons, but most notable are her statements against the Israeli government, which have been accused of mirroring anti-Semitic tropes.
The most-cited examples include tweets from 2012 claiming that “Israel has hypnotized the world” and from 2019 alleging that US support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.” Her defenders point out that her comments contain no evidence of deliberative anti-Semitism, but even at best they do show an extreme carelessness about the attitudes that her words may promote.
A charitable interpretation, however, is not possible with King. His political program is one of explicit ethno-nationalism. Praising Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders in 2017, he tweeted “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” He latter doubled down on this with the statement, “I’d like to see an America that’s just so homogenous that we look a lot the same.”
It was only after he explicitly said “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” that mainstream Republicans finally cut ties.
Aside from this, a simple comparison of Omar and King ignores the fact that there are another 277 Democrats and 250 Republicans in the US Congress, giving plenty more examples to choose from. If someone wanted to accuse Democrats of bigotry, Omar would be their main example. If someone wanted to do the same for Republicans, however, there are many more.
King’s stances are not too different from many of his peers. In the wake of criticism of Omar, for instance, it was pointed out the many Republicans have face comparable allegations of promoting anti-Semitism, either through ties to white supremacists or through conspiracy theories about Jewish Democratic donors like George Soros.
One could dwell on case studies like Louie Gohmert or Paul Gosar, but there is little point focusing on them so long as the Republican Party is rallied around President Donald Trump, whose disqualifying words and actions are nearly too many to count.
In nearly all cases, bigotry is much more pronounced on the far-right than the far-left. The reasons are obvious: conservatism is based on the promotion of tradition, which can often include institutionalized racism, misogyny, and homophobia.
Still, there are major reasons that those on the left should not get too self-confident. For one, any side of the political spectrum is still capable of making disastrous policy decisions.
Moreover, just because bigotry has historically been much less common on the left does not mean that it is completely absent. Anti-Semitism, while still far from the mainstream, is on the rise on both sides of the political spectrum. It is the duty of everyone to ensure that it is stopped in its tracks.
No one should be immune from scrutiny, but false equivalences are pointless. As long as Trump is president and the attitudes he embodies remain widespread through the Republican Party, it will be hard to argue that American conservatives do not have the greater problem.