August 24, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Vivek Ramaswamy is trying to outsmart white power
His moment won’t last.
Editor’s note: Hi! I took a little time off this week. I needed it! Now I’m back with today’s edition. I hope you like it. Thanks. –JS
Republican Vivek Ramaswamy is having a moment. After last night’s first debate among GOP hopefuls, an Associated Press headline said he’s taken “center stage.”
The tech entrepreneur and presidential candidate, the AP reported, “has crept up in recent polls, leading to his position next to [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis at center stage. And he quickly showed why when he showcased his ready-for-video, on-message approach — talking about how his poor parents moved to the US and gave him the chance to found billion-dollar companies.”
His moment won’t last, though, and he will guarantee its end.
He’s playing a familiar role in a very old American story – that of the nonwhite man who says things that white men are not supposed to say, making it OK for them to say them, thus ensuring his irrelevance – until the next time white men need a nonwhite man to repeat the pattern.
Despite his best efforts to sound like Donald Trump, he’ll always remind these “white Christian inhabitants of the promised land” that people like him are denying their rightful divine inheritance when they “were meant to be subservient.”
You can hear Ramaswamy trying to sound like Donald Trump. His rhetoric involves conspiracy theories, stupendously false claims, and winks to racists and revanchists. It’s in the hope that GOP voters who are concerned about Trump’s baggage might come over to his side. But in the end, they won’t need him. They have what they want.
Last night featured the clearest example of what I’m talking about. At one point, Ramaswamy said that “the climate change agenda is a hoax. … More people are dying from bad climate change policy than they are of climate change.” Trump said the same thing during the 2016 cycle without the debate-club polish that Ramaswamy brings to it.
But that was only the clearest example. Like Trump’s rhetoric, Ramaswamy’s usually features elements of anti-Black dog whistling and conspiratorial innuendo. These flatter the listener into believing that they’re both too sophisticated to accept the conventional wisdom of a democracy that’s growing more diverse. While everyone else speaks in terms of “political correctness,” they are free to speak the plain truth.
That works for Trump, because he now speaks as “the symbol of white Christian entitlement and power in a rapidly changing country,” said Robert Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of the new book, The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy. Jones told CNN that “MAGA, with its siren song of loss and nostalgia in that final word ‘again’, was crafted as a rallying cry for this sentiment.” He added:
“Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of elections he lost, a federal government that is persecuting him and his followers, and racist Black prosecutors all derive power from this world view, where the white Christian inhabitants of the promised land are being denied their rightful divine inheritance by those who were meant to be subservient” (my italics).
Ramaswamy can’t do that.
He’s not white. (He was born in Cincinnati to south Indian immigrants). And he’s not Christian. (The Times reported on a white evangelical voter who “looked up his religion and saw he’s Hindu.” He said, “I was going to vote for him until that came up.”) Despite his best efforts to sound like Donald Trump, he’ll always remind these “white Christian inhabitants of the promised land” that people like him are denying their rightful divine inheritance when they “were meant to be subservient.”
Ramaswamy can sense the deep desire among “white Christian inhabitants” – or, as I have called them, “Realamericans” – for the “subservient” to adopt their way of thinking. He can sense their desire to hear someone who looks like him tell them what they want to hear.
So he’s giving it to them.
But in the process of telling Realamericans that they are right, and that non-Realamericans like him are wrong, he’s making it OK for Trump to continue being “the symbol of white Christian entitlement and power.” And the more he validates that, the less these Realamericans are going to need Ramaswamy. He’s served his function. He’ll soon be done.
As I said, this is an old American story. Many ambitious nonwhite men have tried doing what Ramaswamy is attempting. Like him, they believed they could outdo white power. In the end, it outdid them.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.