Author’s note: To understand the immigration debate raging across America today one must understand Newt Gingrich’s use of the term “traditional classic American” when discussing immigration. In this essay we investigate the origins of the cultural war that drives the immigration policy debate today and continues to divide America into what an acceptable American is.
There are many facets to the immigration debate with many interest groups – both pro and con – fighting to frame the national discussion on immigration. They range from the simple fear of job losses to outright xenophobia and racism. As each side jockeys to penetrate the immigration debate noise the underlining driving force is often lost. The immigration debate is about fear. The fear of the unknown or the fear of losing one’s livelihood through job competition or rising taxes. But where does the fear rise from? Every debate on immigration can be traced back to the great replacement theory. To be clear, although clearly rising from racist views, the great replacement theory has morphed into a war of cultures. Importantly, the great replacement theory has brought colonialism back full circle.
The Great Replacement Theory
Recently the national news media has been focused on Newt Gingrich’s comments on Maria Bartiromo’s FOX Business news show on August 4.  Gingrich was quoted as stating on Bartiromo’s show that immigrants, in this case, Mexican immigrants do not represent “traditional, classic Americans.”  Gingrich, according to The Daily Beast added that the Left wants to “drown traditional, classic Americans with as many people as they can who know nothing of American history, nothing of American tradition, nothing of the rule of law.” 
Therein lies the underlining fear of immigrants in America. On the surface it may look like a racist view of immigrants and for some that may be true. However, it is a mistake to equate this underlining view of anti-immigrants as a racist rant because it is not. To do so allows the debate on immigration to devolve into simplistic accusations of racism that does not define many of those opposed to immigration.
For many, the debate against more immigrants to America is not a racist argument, but rather a simple fear of change. Trudging through all the rhetoric we eventually reach the underlining fear about cultural changes in America’s landscape. Right or wrong, the fear of change needs to be understood to get to a constructive debate on immigration.
Gingrich’s comments on Fox gives us both the underlining fear of cultural erasure and the talking points of fear used by anti-immigrants. It starts with the notion of “traditional classic Americans.” On the surface, the “traditional classic Americans” are apple pie eating July 4th celebrating Americans wrapped in red, white and blue. That is the view that many hold because it is simple and easy to digest.
But as one looks deeper into Newt Gingrich’s follow up comments of individuals “who know nothing of American history, nothing of American tradition,” and “nothing of the rule of law” it becomes apparent what is driving the fear of immigration and how that narrative is being framed.
Before we can discuss this further, one must understand the great replacement theory.
The great replacement theory has existed since 2012 and has been embraced by White supremacists. However, it didn’t become part of the general discussion on race relations until Patrick Crusius murdered 22 people, mostly Mexicans, at a Walmart store in El Paso on August 3, 2019. Crusius wrote a manifesto explaining his actions. In it he mentioned the “great replacement,” a conspiracy theory of White genocide.
French writer Renaud Camus is credited with creating the theory  in 2012 in his book, Le Grand Remplacement. According to journalist Thomas Chatterton Williams, the great replacement theory is “very simple,” arguing that it defines how “one people,” in a generation, “turn into different people.”  In essence, cultural displacement, in this case the White culture. Charles de Gaulle called it “reverse colonization,” which we will explore further down. However, the cultural displacement has been taken up by American white nationalists. Interestingly many of them do not know that the origin of the white replacement theory is French. 
Rather than outright calling for a White superior race, many current White nationalists are instead arguing against race mixing, suggesting that America can be divided into sections by race.  Gingrich, on the other hand, does not delve into race relations and instead focuses on “traditional” Americans, thus making the argument that the debate is about cultural assimilation which is often equated to acceptable immigrants as those that “assimilate” into America. What Gingrich is expressing is the fundamental argument in the debate about immigration for most.
The Renaud Camus Imbroglio
Although Renaud Camus is credited with the great replacement theory it is important to point out that Camus is better known for another type of literature – homosexuality. This is important to point out because many of the arguments made by adherents of “traditional” American values and individuals like Crusius espousing racist rants seem to borrow ideas and concepts without knowing or understanding their origins. Because of this, comments like Gingrich’s about immigrants “who know nothing of American history” are allowed to be made without challenge. One need not look further than the debate on “critical race theory” and The 1619 Project that rages nationally today. We will connect these together further down.
For now, it is sufficient to understand that without context, the immigration debate is fractured and incoherent because it is based on concepts without its important background. Camus makes this clear as his writings are not simple race theory about Whites versus other, but involve more complex issues like homosexual erotica in today’s context. In a 1994 interview, Camus says that although he finds it “annoying” to be labeled a homosexual writer, he nonetheless believes “homosexuality to be an essential part” of his writing. 
Camus has written over a hundred books. Only one has been translated into English, Tricks, a book on a “new urban homosexual.” However, it is his 2012 Le Grand Remplacement, that has become the great replacement theory. In his book Camus argues that European Whites “are being reverse-colonized by black and brown immigrants.” 
“Mass-migrants are viewed as such only from the point of view of their native compatriots. Too often, for us, by their number, by their behavior, by their growing attachment to their cultures, manners and religion of origin, they have become, with a few exceptions, invaders, conquerors, and colonizers.” (Renaud Camus, 2018 interview) 
Camus pointed to “the increasing prevalence of Spanish” in America “as evidence of the displacement of White culture. 
Camus is quoted in The New Yorker that his writings aren’t about “genetic conception of races,” but rather his theory is about cultural displacement, adding that he would feel the same if “Japanese culture” were “to disappear because of immigration.” 
The French author points directly to the underlining debate, that of cultural displacement for most, instead of racism as the driving force behind the anti-immigration proponents. This is important to understand because every time racism becomes part of the debate it distracts away from the fundamental argument. It also explains why some African-Americans and Latinos also argue against further immigration.
But how does the great replacement theory and colonialism become one in the debate on immigration?
An aspect of the great replacement theory marginally understood is that the individuals marginalized by the fear of supplanting the White culture is that many of the targeted populations were themselves supplanted by the same individuals fearing immigration today. Colonialism attempted to eradicate the cultures they conquered.
In many ways, the global debates on immigration are about the conquered revolting against their oppressors to reclaim their cultures and their identity – and Camus agrees.
The displacement of culture, or a people’s identity, was started by immigrants but not the immigrants that many are arguing about today. The individuals arguing about border security, “assimilation” and “legal immigration” are the ones whose culture displaced the culture of the land, as immigrants coming to America. The Pilgrims and those that followed were immigrants themselves. This is uniquely an American phenomenon, in that the displacement of the European culture in Europe is not about reclaiming native identity, but rather about displacing native identity, or culture. The European debate on immigration is different from the American debate on immigration.
Both have valid arguments, but our topic is about immigration reform in America and thus we must focus on the American reality. Unlike Europe, immigrants from Latin America coming to America are not “invaders” as anti-immigrants like to portray them, but rather, they are reestablishing their cultural identity on land from which they were displaced from.
Camus explains it as “Europe persists in expiating, (atoning for sins) or believing they are expiating, the horrors inflicted on Jews during the last war by importing onto its territory millions of people, who, as soon as they are here, have nothing more urgent than to inflict horrors on Jews. Racism turned Europe into a field of ruins; anti-racism is making it a hate-filled slum.” (Renaud Camus, 2018 interview) 
In Europe, colonialism can be part of the debate, but it cannot be the same debate as America needs to have because geographically colonialism is different in both places. Although colonialism is defined various ways, for the purposes of this essay we will ask readers to accept that colonialism is a state of mind. Generally, colonialism is defined as an economic or political state between the colonizer and the colonized, usually two countries or even between two groups of people, one superior to the other politically or economically.
Regardless, colonialism can be boiled down to a state of mind, fairly or not, where personal identity is influenced by outside forces. As an example, we will use the often-misused term of “Mexican” in the United States. A “Mexican” should be understood as a citizen of México. However, in America, a Mexican can define an American citizen of Mexican descent or even all Latinos regardless of their ethnic origins. For some Americans, all Latinos are “Mexican”. Thus, for Mexicans, the term defines a state of mind because of how it is used in America, and in many instances that state of mind is different among individuals depending on their worldview and their national origins.
More traditionally, colonial rule is intermixed with the term colonialism because there are territories, like Puerto Rico who are under colonial rule to this day. Many Americans do not realize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. nationals while many Puerto Ricans predominantly speak Spanish and live a Latino culture although, subconsciously they understand they are part of America. Some Puerto Ricans even argue for independence.
Even this state of mind fits into our definition of colonialism as it is defined by how an individual feels instead of what the word is defined as. By defining colonialism as a state of mind down to its barest element, we can then understand that the state of mind can, and often is, a cultural identity of self-identity.
Individuals like Newt Gingrich view “traditional classic Americans” as a White-ethnocentric culture while Latinos see culture is a rainbow of cultural identity. Spanish is one aspect of the cultural identity while food and even family are other aspects of it. This seems to make the cultural mindset more difficult, but if we focus on the reality that before Manifest Destiny; many parts of America were multiculturally integrated with French, Spanish and other languages intermixed with centuries-old indigenous populations coexisting, sometimes violently together, but nonetheless culturally dominant over the Anglo-Protestant culture that forcefully displaced the existing identities with the White “traditional” American, we can then accept that the White “traditional” culture supplanted the existing one in America.
At this point, we can continue our discussion from the point of view of the “traditional” American feeling displaced by the culture of immigrants, including language. In other words, reverse colonialism as Camus argued for Europe.
Opposition To American’s Education
Americans value their intellect and “American exceptionalism” but fear educating Americans about their past. Debates on what is acceptable to teach in schools often rises to book banning and setting curriculum that is acceptable to the community. Topics that do not support “American exceptionalism” and an acceptable view of America’s past is considered radical or extreme and often banned from schools, even universities. Consider the two most recent debates on education in America, The 1619 Project and critical race theory.
Both challenge the notion that America can do no wrong and to say that it has, or does, is “un-American”. Never mind that education requires critically challenging the status quo to discover new meanings to concepts. For many Americans, teaching that America was founded on slavery, or that the Texas Revolution was about slavery is unamerican and has no place in schools. Ignoring the historical record distorts the context in national debates, especially around immigration and national security.
Arguments against The 1619 Project and critical race theory betrays the underlining fear of cultural displacement in American Whites. So fearful are many Americans of the un-American theories arising in America’s dialog, that in September 2020 Donald J. Trump established the 1776 Commission to create “patriotic education” to forestall the rising discussion of the place slavery played in America’s history. Before we can understand the 1776 Commission, we need to look at its catalyst, The 1619 Project.
The 1619 Project
In 2019, The York Times published a series of articles on the part slavery played in America’s history. The articles challenged the American notion that slavery was tangential to America’s founding and establishment as a country. For many Americans slavery is a topic, often short, covered in the history books at school but rarely discussed as a significant part of America’s history. Making the case that slavery played a significant part of America’s history forces many Americans to rethink their cultural identity. For many, it is better to ignore the issue of slavery and instead focus on the “exceptionalism” of the country because to accept slavery as important to America’s identity brings forth many inconvenient questions that few Americans want to have an answer for.
Instead of America’s birth being July 4, 1776, as many Americans believe, the true date for America’s birth was August 1619, according to the argument put forth by The 1619 Project. According to the argument put forth, America’s “very origin” is the day “20 to 30 enslaved Africans” arrived at the British colony of Virginia. 
“Out of slavery – and the anti-black racism it required – grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: It’s economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequalities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day.” 
In essence, America became America because of slavery, argues The New York Times series. Furthermore, and important is that the “United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie.” 
The “ideal” being that there are no limits as to how high one can aspire to be while the “lie” is that not all “are created equal.”
That this discussion entered the national narrative unsettled many Americans as truth threatened to derail the centuries old carefully crafted national narrative about “American exceptionalism”. America’s fundamental culture, the “traditional” one that Newt Gingrich was alluding to, was being challenged.
The moment that America’s acceptable historical record was being challenged is the moment that most of the debates about immigrants, especially “assimilated” ones were being exposed for what they are – the fear of the cultural displacement of the “traditional classic American”.
Poignantly and almost never discussed in history lessons is that while Thomas Jefferson wrote “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” Robert Hemings, a half-black teenage boy and Jefferson’s slave patiently waited for his master to summon him for some chore that needed to be done.  Hemings was Jefferson’s slave.
In a series of essays, The New York Times challenges the acceptable national narrative of America’s history with the corrected version, a version that dismantles America’s “traditional classic American.” The essays point to common things Americans accept today, such as financial balance sheets used by companies today but introduced by slave owners to account for the productivity of their slaves. Today’s “greenbacks,” or the Dollar came about as the result of slavery via the Civil War. 
Essay after essay, the project weaves an intricate story line connecting slavery to today’s America. For many the stories are new, and horrific. And, most troublesome, the essays demonstrate how engrained racist views exist in America even today. “A 2016 survey of 222 white medial students and residents published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that half of them endorsed at least one myth about physiological differences between black people and white people, including that black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s.” 
The essays connect America’s history to today’s controversies like universal health care back to slavery. Most important is that the essays convincingly explain how America’s economic prowess was made possible by its use of the free labor provided by the slaves. For most businesses, their largest expense is labor. Takeaway the labor costs but keep production as is and the product becomes cheaper to make and thus more competitive globally, and profitable.
Today’s Texas children are taught a glamorized, even Hollywood version of the Texas rebellion against México, based on mythical heroes rebelling against an oppressive government. However, the truth about Texas’ history is simply that México opposed slavery and the White Tejanos depended on slavery.
So devastating is the historical account of slavery to the mythical version of America’s history that many Americans are fighting between those that want to keep the mythical lie of America alive against those that want to allow history to explain today’s America.
In response to The 1619 Project, the Trump administration commissioned the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission to reject the historical truth and bring back the “traditional classic American” lie about America’s history.
The 1776 Report
In January 2021, Trump’s 1776 Commission released a 45-page report. The 1776 Report’s “declared purpose” was designed to “enable a rising generation to understand history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.” The report goes on to declare that American education must be “grounded on a history” that is “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling”. 
Trump’s commission was in response to The 1619 Project’s attempt to pierce through the mystic of America’s history which largely ignores slavery as an important facet of America. Obliquely Trump’s report addresses slavery as America “has perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality, liberty, justice, and government by consent.” 
The Trump report argues that America’s birth was in 1776, instead of 1619 when slaves were first brought to Virginia, as The 1619 Project argues. The Trump report then lays out the central principal that distorts the historical record while empowering the idea that Americans “must share a large measure of commonality in manners, customs, language, and dedication to the common good,”  thus bringing full circle the notion that to be an American one must be a “traditional classic American”.
The phrase “manners, customs, language” clearly lays out the argument that English is the common language, that “assimilated” immigrants are the acceptable kind and that White customs are the American way. The language serves to marginalize people of color, especially immigrants, by defining them as not “traditional classic American”.
It is this language that allows, and often encourages, the use of the term “illegal” to refer to undocumented immigrants, even though they may not be in violation of the law under the current immigration laws. “Illegal” demonizes undocumented immigrants as dangerous to America.
The Trump report goes on to divide the American people along skin color by proclaiming that “all men are created equal” must be “properly understood” to mean that not all “human beings are equal in wisdom, courage, or any of the other virtues and talents that God and nature” provides.  Thus, it again, tries to cement the idea that only certain people have the “wisdom” and even “courage” to define what an American is. If it does not fit the “traditional classic American,” as defined by individuals like Newt Gingrich, than they cannot be an American.
Trump’s report makes this clear when it asserts that America’s “principals apply to all men, but the founders acted to secure only Americans’ rights, not those of all mankind,” further marginalizing those deemed not to fit the stereotypical “traditional classic American” as defined by Gingrich and those who argue marginalizing immigrants.
The Trump report attempts to address the question of slavery by arguing that slavery was not unique to America at the time.  The 1776 report argues that compromises needed to be made to keep building the nation as diversity required slavery to be compromised with the equality promises built into the founding documents. Trump’s report proclaims that the end of slavery was enshrined in the Constitution and that the movement “to abolish slavery … first begun in the United States.”  (emphasis in original)
The Trump report goes on to argue that America’s narrative has been threatened throughout America’s history by fascism, communism and “identity politics” to weaken America by divisive debate about its history. The American ideal “depends upon true education,” apparently alluding to the “traditional classic American” that the distorted history teaches American children. The Trump report makes this clear with Americans “must stand up to the petty tyrants in every sphere who demand that we speak only of America’s sins” and that “only the people” have the “power to stand up for America and defend our way of life.” 
Although not stated, “defend our way of life” likely means the “traditional classic American” way of life.
The Trump report proposes educating American children via the belief that America is a union where the federal government has limited powers and it is up to the states to set their own standards. This is the same doctrine, as pointed out by the Trump report, that allowed the founding fathers to proclaim “all men are equal” while keeping slavery intact because the union allowed for states rights that empowered the southern states to keep slavery under compromises made by the founding fathers.
By empowering parents to choose what is taught in schools, the “traditional classic American” remains intact as the definition of what is an acceptable American in the country today. The inherent biases of the “traditional classic American” does not leave room for a complete historical record nor space for people of color to live their traditions in their languages.
Both the competing arguments of The 1619 Report and The 1776 Project have brought forth a 1980’s academic theory that for most is something new – critical race theory.
Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory (CRT) theorizes that racism is not prejudice but, rather, it is embedded in America’s legal system. The theory argues that racial disparities in America persist because they are engrained into America’s structure.  A good example of this is the use of the word “alien” in immigration law. Although America, theoretically, views all “men are created equal,” legally one group of people – immigrants – are marginalized by the official use of the term “alien” in official documents.
The use of “alien” divides immigrants, even naturalized ones, between the “traditional classic American” and the immigrant, or, in other words, them versus us. Another example is the often-used language of “American-” and whatever other national origin wants to ascribe to an individual. For example, “Mexican-American” or “Irish-American”. It is a way of clustering people into different subsets of America. Instead of a unified America, Americans tend to cluster Americans into fragments based on their national origins. Many do not even comprehend how this is divisive to the American ideal. It also allows for the weakening of cultures other than the “traditional classic American” because it weakens Americans into smaller more manageable clusters. This division makes its way into the legal structures of America. For example, the frequent use of selecting ethnicity in legal documents across the country. Thus, CRT studies show how America’s legal framework encourages racism in America.
Proponents of CRT “tend to understand race as a creation of society, not a biological reality.” 
UCLA professor, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who is credited with creating the term, defines CRT as “more a verb than a noun,” adding that “it is a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analyzing the ways that race is produced.” 
Today CRT dominates the national dialog on education. School boards across the nation are dealing with politicians enacting laws against using it in American school curriculums. Entering the national debate on education, CRT has devolved away from academic theorizing to embodying the fear of the changing face of America. It has come to symbolize the fear of the “traditional classic American” giving way to the conquered reconquering their identity.
As Mike Gonzalez wrote in The Heritage Foundation recently, “critical race theory (CRT) makes race the prism through which its proponents analyze all aspects of American life, categorizing individuals into groups of oppressors and victims.” 
Accepting History Forces Rethinking The Status Quo
The underlining driving force behind the debates on critical race theory are The 1776 Report and The 1619 Project which came about because of the need for personal identity. Colonialism attempted to eradicate cultures but failed to do so. Now the conquered want their identity back thus forcing the discussions about culture that are masked as a debate on immigration and social issues.
When Renaud Camus was asked about Steve Bannon and the rise of nationalism, Camus, the architect of the great replacement theory, argued that Bannon misunderstood the forces of nationalism on the global stage and that much of it was “the forces of resistance to colonization and to the change of people.” (Renaud Camus, 2018 interview) 
In other words, the colonized were now reasserting themselves as part of the national dialog of what it is to be an American and the place that personal identity, beyond the “traditional classic American,” has in America today. Therein lies the friction that is occupying much of the country on debates about education and history. America’s mythical tradition is being challenged by correcting the historical record. It makes many uncomfortable. The reason that it makes many uncomfortable is because the status quo is being challenged. Accepting history forces Americans to rethink how they view immigrants and people of color.
It is one thing to argue that to be an “assimilated” immigrant requires English when the foundation is that America is made up of “traditional classic” Americans, but it is vastly different when the reality that Spanish was the dominant language in much of America’s history is acknowledged. Fundamentally the national debate revolves around culture – the “traditional classic American” culture versus the diverse culture of incoming and resident Americans who call America home. Some call it the great replacement while others simply see it as being uncomfortable in an American store where English is the minority language.
The face of America is changing, the colonized have now come back to their land to reconquer their identity, not as an “invader” but as a people who have historically occupied this space called America. Renaud Camus said it best (although he was arguing for defending White culture) when he told listeners “Revolt, rise up, unite, regroup, go down the street, seize power. Stop letting yourself be led passively into the depths, and calling the few unfortunates who try to warn you nerds or paranoids or tin-foil hat guys.” (Renaud Camus, 2018 interview) 
Camus’ call to arms in defense of the great replacement is precisely what America’s people of color – the conquered – need to be doing to reclaim their American identity.
- Grégoire Canlorbe, “A Conversation with French Writer Renaud Camus,” Gatestone Institute, International Policy Council, July 5, 2018. (English translation from original French)
- Vercier, Bruno, Charles A. Porter, and Ralph Sarkonak. “An Interview With Renaud Camus,” Yale French Studies, no. 90, 1996.
- Corbin Bolies, “Newt Gingrich Goes Gull ‘Great Replacement Theory’ on Fox,” The Daily Beast, August 5, 2021.
- Lauretta Charlton, “What Is the Great Replacement?,” The New York Times, August 6, 2019.
- Thomas Chatterton Williams, “The French Origins ‘You Will Not Replace Us’,” The New Yorker, December 4, 2017.
- “The 1619 Project,” The New York Times, August 18, 2019.
- “The 1776 Report,” The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission, January 2021.
- Jacey Fortin, “Critical Race Theory: A Brief History,” The New York Times, July 27, 2021.
- Mike Gonzalez, “Critical Race Theory,” The Heritage Foundation, July 7, 2021.
Categories: border politics