Earlier this year, I wrote a series of posts about how Washington in the Trump era had effectively declared war on people of color, albeit mostly hidden under a veil of populism and pretending to stand up for “forgotten Americans.” Now, as year one of the Trump presidency nears its end, we can say with certainty that this administration’s racism is a feature, not a bug – even as the president and his spokespeople continuing to try to hide it by talking in code.
In an era when even Trump, Steve Bannon and their ilk don’t dare say the n-word in public, they still manage to crank their racist dog-whistles up as loud as an air raid siren.
When NFL players kneeled during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans, Trump went on a tirade, tweeting angrily about “the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country” and telling an Alabama rally that “when somebody disrespects our flag,” team owners should “get that son-of-a-bitch off the field now!”
Or course, no one was disrespecting the flag, as Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests, as well as current players who continued them, have made clear. In fact, they specifically chose kneeling because it was respectful.
But none of that matters to a president whose purpose is to arouse and exploit racial hatred. After all, this is the guy who kept stumping for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore even after Moore said America was better off under slavery.
In a Dec. 15 speech to the FBI, Trump again made a big show of deporting members of MS-13, a loose gang network whose threat, in the view of most experts, has been wildly exaggerated, but which may actually be made worse by Trump’s posturing. As with the NFL players, this is a cheap shot aimed at sowing hatred – this time aimed at Latino immigrants.
Of course, sometimes Trump can’t resist an actual racial slur like his repeated references to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” – most recently (and appallingly) at an event honoring the Navajo “code talkers” who literally helped save this country during World War II.
Behind Trump’s thinly veiled racist language we continue to see policies that disproportionately hurt communities of color, communities that still live at the wrong end of America’s growing racial wealth gap. Trump’s FCC is not only killing net neutrality – itself an attack on anyone who’s not a wealthy corporation. It’s also dismantling crucial elements of the Lifeline program that guarantees affordable telephone and broadband services to low income Americans and rolling back protections for those who still depend on the old copper phone networks for voice and internet services.
The administration’s recent move to drastically shrink Bear’s Ears National Monument is, among other things, a direct assault on Native American sacred sites.
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Department of Justice has been systematically rolling back civil rights enforcement.
And don’t forget the continuing attacks on Obamacare, which has dramatically shrunk the disproportionately high uninsured rates among African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. One such attack is buried in the just-passed tax bill that will be terrible for Americans of color in a variety of ways. But even without legislation, Trump has done his best to sabotage the Affordable Care Act by cutting the enrollment period in half and slashing funding for advertising and outreach.
But a funny thing happens when you attack people again and again: They start to fight back. Politicians who think they can get ahead by exploiting racial hatred might want to take a long, hard look at the recent Senate race in Alabama, where Black voters turned out in massive numbers and made Doug Jones the first Democratic senator from this deep-red state in a generation.
Race-baiting may have helped get Donald Trump into the White House, but it has already begun to backfire spectacularly. That said, we’re in for a lot more ugliness before this is over.