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Trump's repulsive message

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on Thursday. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

Perhaps we should have known that flagging polling numbers and sagging reelection prospects would cause President Donald Trump to embrace an old ugly playbook of fear and division in the places he is hurting the most — the nation's suburbs, like Long Island.

Trump's target is housing, specifically multifamily housing, and his exploitation of stereotypical suburban fears of people of color or lower incomes moving into neighborhoods is reprehensible. The suburbs of Trump's youth, when they were a refuge for people fleeing big-city problems, have changed. They are more diverse both racially and economically, and their residents more educated, than when Trump was living in Queens. Vestiges of old attitudes are fading; a nextLI survey found that 82% of Long Islanders aged 18-34 feel good about the region’s growing diversity. And Trump's direct appeal to "Suburban Housewives" is based on fantasy; many are working now, not waiting for husbands to come home each night, and more likely to reject appeals to fear based on race and crime.

Trump, to supporters during a tele-rally, July 28:

"People have gone to the suburbs, they want their beautiful homes, they don't have to have a low-income housing development built in their community, which is going to reduce, which has reduced the prices of their homes, and also increased crime substantially."

Long Island does have a housing crisis. Trump's not addressing that. People of all age groups and incomes cannot find enough apartments to rent or starter homes to buy. There is also another housing problem documented in Newsday's Long Island Divided project, published in 2019, which found unequal treatment of minority homebuyers and showed how housing segregation is a vehicle to school segregation. But that disgraceful practice was Trump's first business model. In 1973, he and his father were accused by the Justice Department of refusing to rent apartments to Blacks. Trump's defense: the government wanted to force them to rent to "welfare recipients."

Trump's attacks come as Long Island housing advocates are requesting that Attorney General Letitia James tackle housing segregation, in a letter to James that notes Long Island's need for more multifamily housing and the opposition to zoning changes that would enable it to be built, with some noting that such developments have not lowered property values.

Trump's reference is to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which essentially required local governments to consider segregation patterns in their communities when doing planning. Shredding it accomplishes nothing except exploiting racial animus. It does nothing to address the intractable problem of housing policy. The policy he is criticizing has not achieved its goals after six decades on the books, as it is thwarted at every turn.

Trump does not understand modern suburbs. Their dynamism depends on their diversity. Staying the same ensures stagnancy and decay. And many people living the suburban dream he invokes are not white. That dream of a safe and welcoming community, with good schools and quality of life, is shared by people of all colors. Turning neighbor against neighbor, and neighbor against newcomer, to win an election is corrosive and morally offensive. Long Island must be better than that. 

— The editorial board

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial said that Long Island Divided was published in 2020. It has been updated to note that the project was published in 2019.