On Tuesday night, Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly held a segment on his show that came off as a little … white supremacist.
In the segment, O’Reilly accused liberals of wanting to abolish the Electoral College because “the left thinks white working-class voters must be marginalized.” He claimed that ending the Electoral College would allow presidential candidates to focus their campaigns on big states and cities filled with minority voters, while letting them ignore rural areas with white voters.
“Talking Points believes this is all about race,” O’Reilly claimed. “The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with.” He later added, “The left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. Taking voting power away from the white precincts is the quickest way to do that.”
Along the way, you might expect some sort of “to be sure” paragraph to clarify that of course O’Reilly believes the votes of minority voters in California are equal to white rural voters in the Midwest.
But it never comes. He instead mocked the idea of fighting against white privilege. “Very few commentators will tell you that the heart of liberalism in America today is based on race. It permeates almost every issue,” O’Reilly said. “The liberal media tries to sell that all day long — so-called white privilege bad, diversity good.” He never elaborates on this point, leading one to draw the conclusion that he doesn’t buy what he argued the liberal media is selling.
The segment ends with O’Reilly’s message loud and clear: White privilege and the white establishment are fine, and it’s good that our Electoral College props up white rural voters over minority voters in urban centers. As it turns out, O’Reilly does have a point that the Electoral College is a tool for maintaining a white-dominated status quo. But that he apparently sees that as an argument for keeping the Electoral College is terrifying.
White nationalist rhetoric is being normalized
O’Reilly’s comments are just another example of the normalization of white nationalist rhetoric over the past couple years.
One of the key culprits here is, of course, Donald Trump. Trump launched his political career on the idea that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US — an idea that aligns, according to studies, with people’s levels of racial resentment. He then ran his campaign while spouting all sorts of racist rhetoric — about how Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, about how Muslims should be banned from the US, about how a judge’s Mexican heritage should disqualify him from a Trump University case, and so on.
White nationalists and supremacists ate this up. The alt-right, a fringe white nationalist movement, supported Trump. The Ku Klux Klan’s newspaper basically endorsed Trump. White supremacists openly acknowledged that Trump had made them feel welcome in American politics.
“The success of the Trump campaign just proves that our views resonate with millions,” said Rachel Pendergraft, a national organizer for the Knights Party, which succeeded David Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. “They may not be ready for the Ku Klux Klan yet, but as anti-white hatred escalates, they will.”
Now we have a Fox News segment on primetime television that suggests that a white establishment dominating our electoral politics is good for America.
Racial equality is a good argument for taking down the Electoral College
O’Reilly’s comments here — that the left wants to overturn the white establishment — are right, despite his bizarre framing that balancing the scale is unfair to white voters. After centuries of racist policies like slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining, and mass incarceration, people on the left, and especially people of color, are fed up with white supremacy.
And as far as the Electoral College goes, race really is a reason to abolish the system. But it’s not about marginalizing white voters. It’s about giving minority people’s votes equal weight — something that the Electoral College does not currently do.
The Electoral College really does give less power to certain areas around the country. It magnifies the importance of crucial swing states like Ohio and Iowa, which are disproportionately white compared to the rest of the US. It dilutes the importance of states like California, where a disproportionate number of Latino people live. And it also dilutes black voters in Southern areas, which are practically guaranteed to go to Republicans instead of the Democratic candidates who black voters are much more likely to support.
The result: As researchers Andrew Gelman and Pierre-Antoine Kremp explained for Vox, a white American’s vote is worth more through the Electoral College than their black or Latino counterparts’ votes. “After running the numbers, we estimate that, per voter, whites have 16 percent more power than blacks once the Electoral College is taken into consideration, 28 percent more power than Latinos, and 57 percent more power than those who fall into the other category,” they wrote.
Gelman and Kremp ran the numbers another way, instead looking at the estimated nationwide voting population versus the estimated voting population in swing states. They found that white voters are disproportionately empowered through the Electoral College, as this chart shows:
So O’Reilly is right that abolishing the Electoral College is partially about race. But it’s not about marginalizing white people. It’s about stopping the marginalization of minority voters.