South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg condemned the Trump administration’s embrace of “peak white identity politics” in a speech Saturday, warning of a brewing “crisis of belonging” across the nation.
Speaking at a fundraiser in Las Vegas for the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, the Democrat said such politics are “designed to drive apart people with common interests.” He urged Americans instead to find unity in knowing that each of them is unique.
Buttigieg pointed to the potential for “the beginning of a new form of American solidarity” in which the country realizes “that the one thing we do have in common may be the challenge of belonging in a society that sees us for what makes us all different.”
“I’m not talking about pretending that there are equivalencies between the different patterns of exclusion in this country,” he added. “I may be a part of the LGBTQ community, but being a gay man doesn’t even tell me what it’s like to be a trans woman of color in that same community let alone an undocumented mother of four or a disabled veteran or a displaced auto worker.”
Emphasizing the differences between minorities and white populations in access to health care, employment and citizenship, Buttigieg added, “When you do not belong, it doesn’t just put you in a bad mood, it puts you in a different country.”
If elected, Buttigieg stands to become the United States’ first openly gay president, a part of his identity he has used in calls for tolerance and acceptance among a politically fractured public.
His invocation of immigrants and communities of color during his speech pushes further his efforts to overcome what critics say is his image as a white male who can only be distinguished from other white male candidates by his sexuality.
Buttigieg has also faced questions over his mayoral record, having demoted South Bend’s first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, in 2012. However, Buttigieg’s press secretary has said Boykins’ demotion was a result of his having been the subject of a federal probe.
Though President Donald Trump initially held off on bashing Buttigieg despite the mayor’s criticisms of his administration, last week, he dubbed him Alfred E. Neuman, the fictitious freckled-faced boy on the cover of Mad Magazine.
“Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States,” Trump told Politico in a phone interview on Friday.
On Wednesday, Trump questioned Buttigieg’s ability to handle international relations during a Panama City, Florida, rally, taking another jab at his potential challenger.
“He’ll be great representing us against President Xi [Jinping] of China,” Trump joked. “That’ll be great. I want to be in that room, I wanna watch that one.”
In a response mirroring the sentiment of his Saturday speech, Buttigieg cited a Chinese proverb.
“When the wind changes, some people build walls, some people build windmills,” he said. “You got to recognize we need something completely different than what we have in this White House.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated the event at which Buttigieg spoke was in Houston. It was in Las Vegas.