Trump goes all-in with his message of division and anger as the election draws near

Trump goes all-in with his message of division and anger as the election draws near
Credit: Gage Skidmore

That all three of these stories about how we are handling racism were on the same New York front page yesterday should underscore where we find ourselves on the 244th birthday of the nation:

    • Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History detailed how 15 to 26 million souls have turned out for public protests in 550 cities in recent weeks. Having spent many years in protests over war, violence, Civil Rights, climate and education changes, it is refreshing to hear.
    • Another reflected concern among Latinos, who also feel the brunt of disproportionate adverse treatment at the hands of police and institutions, are pushing to have the generalities of abuses against black and brown communities spelled out. That we are talking about equality means we need to think about the experiences forced by societal laws and practices on a variety of ethnicities, of course.
    • It was the third, an opinion piece by columnist Michelle Goldberg, that laid out that, despite criticism that his re-election campaign has no central theme, the Donald Trump message is “White Grievance”—almost in reaction to the push for equality.  Given the progression of events, news, and discussions about how American values are up for grabs, this piece struck a devastating, if familiar, smack in the face of voters.

OK, this day’s news was almost arbitrary. Similar stories are appearing in all sorts of publications on most days now, even if looked at from an opposite political view from my own. We even discussed American responses to institutional racism in a family Zoom call this week.

It is something to behold that the demand for rights and respect is being supported by well over 65% of Americans in multiple polls even as Trump continues his campaign of subtle and outwardly offensive insults for the substance of Black Lives Matter – and the rest of us continue to countenance a million daily injustices meant or not.

White Grievance

Republicans who complain that Trump lacks goals for a second term (he gave a rambling answer about “experience” to Fox’s Sean Hannity last week to this question) “are truly naïve or if they’re just pretending so they don’t have to admit what a foul enterprise they’re part of. Because Trump does indeed have a re-election message, a stark and obvious one. It is “white power,” argued Goldberg.

It’s a message that seems at odds with the times, with the word on the streets, with demographic change already happening. Whites are a minority in a growing number of counties. But even in his Fourth of July speech, Trump promised a friendly rally crowd to deepen the divides, not repair the rift.

There are simply too many Trump quotes; tweets and retweets; and actual policies to sidestep what has become clear. Whether retweeting a guy shouting “White Power” or praising both sides of Charlottesville, attacking immigrants and countries that are not Norway, recasting all protests for racial justice in the name of Antifa hooliganism, Trump indicates repeatedly he has an affinity for those wishing for a happier time when being white was sufficient for success.

“Now Trump’s poll numbers are cratering, we have double-digit unemployment and our pandemic-ravaged nation has been rendered an international pariah. America is faring exactly as well under Trump’s leadership as did his casinos, airline and scam university. It’s not surprising he’s returning to what he knows and what seemed to work for him before. In fact, Trump appears to think his problem is that he hasn’t been racist enough,” argued Goldberg, who clearly likes nothing at all about the Trump presidency.

For his part, we see Trump repeatedly insisting that his emphasis on economic growth, now in ruins, was lifting black and brown employment rates, though always less than that for whites. He does not see a persistent policy bias unduly affecting black experience not only in policing and criminal justice, but in health, education, housing, environmental concerns and development in urban areas.

Well, for once, Trump isn’t claiming that he alone can fix racism. He just dismisses it.

We Resist Change

Throughout history, we see that when economics tighten, there always is a scapegoat, and too often it becomes described by a racial or ethnic group – blacks, Jews, Muslim Croats, Palestinians, Islamic militants, gypsies. The list is practically endless.

Still, what distinguishes America is its history of slavery and an insistence on individualism that requires black success be based on overcoming twice the obstacles whites face – the oversimplified explanation for white privilege and the reason behind years of need for and resistance to affirmative actions to force an equalization of treatment and experience.

But Trump, and basically most of conservative white America, sees none of this as clearly as they do the success of individuals. So, admission of a black college student over a white student forces lawsuit after lawsuit until affirmative action thinking is eliminated, government policies allow for redlining of loans and votes, health statistics are allowed to reflect real and measurable racial difference. That list, too, is nearly endless.

Now Trump says he wants to withdraw from the baby steps his administration has taken about criminalization and imprisonment policies that have 1 of every 3 black men in America in jail at some point in their lives, and that has made even routine stops of black men by police into a potential death or injurious confrontation. Trump wants to scrap an Obama-era housing regulation requiring cities to address illegal patterns of residential segregation. Trump wants to eliminate the Affordable Care Act affecting low-income people first. He has limited food stamps. And then, there are his actions and inaction on the pandemic.

It’s quite a record. Ousting Trump won’t fix all of it. But it would be a start.


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