Here's how Trump’s racist outreach to white suburban voters could backfire big time

Here's how Trump’s racist outreach to white suburban voters could backfire big time

In the hope of winning more votes in suburban areas, President Donald Trump has posted a series of overtly racist tweets vowing to fight “low-income housing” in the suburbs and claiming that former Vice President Joe Biden, if elected, will destroy the quality of life in suburbia. Journalist Eric Levitz analyzes Trump’s suburban outreach in an article published in New York Magazine on July 31, arguing that Trump’s overt racism could have an unintended consequence: making suburbia even more racially diverse.


“For decades now, college-educated white suburbanites have been drifting leftward,” Levitz explains. “And the white professional class’s realignment has only accelerated during Donald Trump’s time in the national spotlight. In recent polls, Joe Biden’s margin over the president among college-educated white voters is nearly twice as high as Hillary Clinton’s was four years ago. And as the New York Times illustrates, Trump’s already low support among suburban-dwelling Americans of all colors has dwindled since 2016.”

Suburbia, Levitz notes, is already full of whites who are posting Black Lives Matters signs, and he argues that suburbia might end up with even more of those signs if Trump continues to say overtly racist things to suburban voters.

Levitz acknowledges that suburbia has its share of white “NIMBY liberals” — that is, whites who will claim to support diversity only to say “not in my back yard” behind closed doors. But overt, in-your-face racism, Levitz argues, is not the way to win them over. Overt racism, according to Levitz, “has no appeal to this voting bloc. NIMBY liberals want racially exclusionary zoning policies wrapped up in rhetoric about historical preservation, not Trump’s garish branding.”

“Affluent white liberals are more apt to put ideology above privilege on national issues than on those that hit closer to home,” Levitz observes. “But even before Trump’s intervention into the NIMBY debate, the movement for inclusive zoning was already gathering momentum.”

One thing that Levitz’ article doesn’t get into but is quite relevant to a discussion of race and suburbia is gentrification, which has been chasing many African-American families out of urban areas that they were a part of for generations. When New York City’s Harlem or areas of Brooklyn, South Philly or West Philly become increasingly unaffordable, one of the results is more African-Americans moving to suburbia. Blacks who can no longer afford West Philly have been moving to Delaware County or Montgomery County in the Philly suburbs; blacks who used to live within 125th Street and Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem have moved to North Jersey.

The term “inner-city” was used to describe African-American areas in the 1970s and 1980s; in 2020, many working class African-Americans are finding suburban areas to be more affordable. The Rev. Al Sharpton, during a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” stressed that in light of the effects of gentrification, Trump’s comments on suburbia are not only racist — they are also painfully dated.

Levitz writes, “The president’s remarks are unlikely to change the hearts of the minority of suburban liberals who attend zoning meetings to actively oppose affordable housing developments. But they could serve to nudge more passive supporters of discriminatory housing policy toward a ‘come to density’ moment.”

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