In recent days, the Trump administration has removed all doubt about its desire to escalate a war on Americans of color while appealing to a cult of white victimhood.
As August began, word filtered out about a planned Justice Department attack on university affirmative action programs that supposedly discriminate against white applicants. The White House scrambled and argued that the story was overblown. But there was nothing surprising about it. Indeed, the president’s press secretary stressed the White House’s determination to “always review credible allegations of discrimination on the basis of any race.”
Let’s be clear: The limited use of race still allowed by the courts in college admissions at best barely makes up for the systemic advantages whites have because of America’s long history of discrimination and redlining.
African-Americans and other minorities are more likely to attend underfunded, struggling schools, are less likely to have a parent or other close relative who’s been to college, and on and on.
The idea that these programs discriminate against whites is ludicrous. But it’s par for the course from a race-baiting administration that wants to crack down on legal immigration and has assembled a “voting integrity” commission that seems mostly interested in suppressing the votes of people of color and the poor. Trump’s team also appears bent on reversing police reforms intended to curb racist practices, even as the president recently seemed to encourage police violence against suspects, who tend to be disproportionately black and Latino.
Clearly, our president has staked his political future on stoking racial divisions so that he can emerge as the hero of “victimized” whites. Words barely exist to describe how dangerous this is and how easily it could lead to more divisions in our country.
It’s also a complete fraud, an old trick long used by wealthy elites to keep working-class Americans fighting each other rather than taking on the big-business interests ripping them off.
It’s easy to forget now, but the South was not nearly as racially segregated right after the Civil War as it became in later decades. The race-baiting push for Jim Crow laws was consciously stirred by white business elites in reaction to populist movements in which working class whites and blacks began to come together for their own economic interests.
It worked, resulting in a South that was both racially segregated and economically backward, with severe poverty, low wages and a weak labor movement.
Now, Trump and his allies are again stoking racial tension, even as they seek to cut taxes on the rich by shredding health care for everyone else, dismantle protections for workers and consumers, and tear down environmental protections that stop wealthy corporations from poisoning our communities.
This is being done for a reason: to keep Americans distracted from the real causes of our nation’s wealth inequality.
Orson Aguilar is president of The Greenlining Institute. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.