Still believe Trump's racism won't get him re-elected? That's what you thought the last time too

There's zero downside for Trump in his hateful rhetoric. Don't underestimate the depth of racism in America

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published July 30, 2019 7:00AM (EDT)

 (AP/Gerry Broome)
(AP/Gerry Broome)

It must be all that "economic anxiety."

In a series of tweets last weekend Donald Trump ramped up his racist attacks on black and brown people, demanding why "so much money" was sent to the Maryland district of Rep. Elijah Cummings, the black Democrat who chairs the House Oversight Committee. He claimed Cummings' district was "the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States."

 No human being would want to live there. Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately!

....As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded. Cumming District [sic] is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place

Trump also described Cummings as a "brutal bully,"

... shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA ...

Of course Donald Trump believes that black men are scary giant brutes, even when talking about a 68-year-old member of Congress known for his courtly demeanor, even with political opponents. This is the racial logic of lynch law, slavery and Jim Crow. It lives on in "post-racial" America and the Age of Trump.

So Trump's brief lull in launching racist attacks against black and brown people is now over. Yet somehow the narrative that Trump's appeal is based on "economic anxiety" still persists among the mainstream news media and what is a mostly white commentariat.

Similarly, almost three years into Trump's presidency there is still a fear among many in the news media of labeling him a racist and a fascist, despite the supporting evidence he offers on a daily basis Trump offers an abundance of evidence in support of such conclusions.

Instead, Donald Trump is orbited by phrases such as "racially charged," "racially insensitive," "racially provocative," "racially inflammatory" or other nonsensical terms built upon evasion and moral cowardice.

Ego and laziness means that many narratives about the Age of Trump and other matters of public concern continue to be given life, even when manifestly untrue because people who should know better refuse to do the research and other work necessary to dispel them.

There is also a reluctance by both individuals and institutions, especially the powerful and influential, to admit they were wrong.

There is a persistent and apparently unshakable belief in the inherent goodness and innocence of whiteness. To state plainly that many millions of white Americans are racists and white supremacists (and yes, some are also indeed fascists) is treated by many journalists and other opinion leaders as verboten.

Trump's advisers know the power of racism and white supremacy. Moreover, unlike most  reporters and commentators, Trump's minions are willing to publicly state that racism (which they pretty up as "nativism") holds great appeal for Republican voters. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Trump's inner circle had concluded that "the overall message" of his racist tweets "was good for the president among  his political base— resonating strongly with the white working-class voters he needs to win reelection in 2020."

This has prompted them to find ways to fuse Trump’s nativist rhetoric with a love-it-or-leave-it appeal to patriotism ahead of the 2020 election, while seeking to avoid the overtly racist language the president used in his tweets about the four congresswomen ....

Bryan Lanza, an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign and transition, said that although he did not like the “Send her back!” chants, he hoped Republicans would double down rather than back down from their attacks on the four lawmakers.

“Usually, when they are faced with charges of racism, Republicans hide a little bit. And the president’s not hiding,” he said. “And I think that’s what the Republican voters like about him.”

Because they are afraid to speak in clear and direct terms about the persistence of racism and white supremacy in America, many analysts will try to make this more complicated than it really is.

Donald Trump is a racist. There are many millions of white people in America who are also racists. The Republican Party is the country's (and probably the world's) leading white identity organization. Conservatism and racism are functionally one and the same thing in America. Social scientists have shown that Republicans are more likely to be racists than are Democrats. Donald Trump is giving his voters what they want. In that regard he is a good salesman and sound marketer.

Despite hand-wringing to the contrary and claims that Trump's brand of overt unapologetic racism will supposedly hurt him at the polls with "suburban white women" or "traditional college-educated Republicans in the suburbs" (or with the almost-mythical "Obama to Trump voters") there is much evidence to suggest that racism will again be the key to the White House in 2020.

Overall, the electorate is not much different from the one that put Trump in the White House in 2016. White racial resentment lifted him to the White House, with the very likely help of Russian interference. While there are projections of record voter turnout and a highly energized public (both against and in favor of Trump) there are few reasons to believe that what happened in 2016 will not happen again in 2020. Yes, the 2020 presidential election is a referendum on this president, who is now a known quantity. But Trump was a highly divisive and controversial figure when he ran for president in 2016. That too has not changed.

Trump is still remarkably popular among his base. In fact, he enjoys the most consistent level of support among his voters of any president in the history of modern public opinion polling.

There may be some Republicans and other Trump voters who experience temporary feelings of discomfort with the president's racism, but this is not likely to be a disqualifying factor in their vote for him in 2020. Their discomfort is with Trump's style, not with the "substance" of what he is saying.

The public is highly polarized. Racists have found their natural home in the post-civil rights era Republican Party. Racism has a "spillover" effect across a range of public policy matters that on the surface appear to be "race-neutral."

Political scientist Michael Tesler convincingly demonstrates in his book "Post-Racial? or Most-Racial?" that these dynamics are all connected to one another. The outcome? There are few electoral penalties for Donald Trump and the Republican Party if they continue to use white racial grievance politics and overt racism as their dominant political strategy.

Trump and his supporters are racial authoritarians. His racist attacks on nonwhite people are widely popular among Republican voters and right-leaning independents.

Moreover, many such Americans are living vicariously through his regime's cruelty towards nonwhites. As such, Donald Trump's concentration camps are a thrilling spectacle for his voters and other supporters.

Across the right-wing echo chamber, white people have been repeatedly told that they are "losing their country" to nonwhites. This is absurd nonsense, but white racial logic is not built upon reason. All that matters is that Republicans and right-leaning independents believe this. They will support Trump and the Republican Party in order to "defend" their notion of America from this nonexistent enemy Other.

A recent poll from Pew provides additional insight into the Trump strategy of using naked racism and white supremacy to win the 2020 election. The Associated Press summarizes these findings:

Polls show stark differences in assessments of the state of race relations and Trump’s impact by party identification, along with racial and ethnic identity and educational attainment.

In Pew’s poll, fully 84% of Democrats said Trump has worsened race relations, while only about 2 in 10 Republicans agreed. About a third of Republicans said Trump has made progress toward improving race relations, while a quarter said he has tried but failed. [Emphasis added.]

Majorities of Americans who are black, Hispanic and Asian said Trump has made race relations worse, compared with about half of white Americans. Among white Americans, views diverged by education — 64% of whites with a college degree think Trump has worsened race relations, compared with 41% of those without.

These results largely reflect the way that partisanship drives support for Trump — as well as well-deserved hostility toward him.

Some plain facts. Donald Trump has said some white supremacists are "very fine people," he is heralded by white supremacists and other members of the New Right as a hero and a symbol of white power. He slurs entire "races" of nonwhite people as natural born rapists, murderers, and thieves, human vermin and snakes; he has tried to ban Muslims from entering America and repeatedly attacks nonwhite people as ungrateful traitors who should leave the country. For 30 percent of Republicans to conclude that Trump has "improved race relations" requires that a person suspend all reason — unless they are actually defining "race relations" in some other way.

For Trump's white voters, perhaps, "race relations" is taken to mean dominating and abusing black and brown people (a more polite phrasing might concern a "respect for tradition" or for "what is normal," or the sentiment that some people are "not comfortable with change"). From this point of view, "race relations" are "good" when nonwhites are compliant, obedient and remain silent about demands for justice, equality or fairness.

One cannot overlook how white America's understanding of "race relations" is also highly suspect in other ways as well: during the height of the civil rights movement against Jim Crow in the 1960s and 1950s, a large proportion of white Americans actually believed that "race relations" were good and that black Americans had fair and equal opportunities in America.

Ultimately, "race relations" is not just a measure of action but also of symbolism. To wit, the election of Barack Obama, and then his re-election, caused a white rage temper tantrum that helped to elect an overtly racist president.

Political scientists and others have shown that Barack Obama spoke less about racial matters than previous presidents. He also did little in terms of public policy to address the specific needs of nonwhites. Obama's actions did not matter to the white gaze and imperiled whiteness: his blackness and the humanity, dignity, intelligence and grace of his black family were taken as an insult.

The better angels among us would like to believe that Trump's strategy of racial grievance-mongering, white victimology, and racist attacks against black and brown people will be a net negative, alienating more potential white voters than it wins him.

Then again many of these same hopeful voices also believed, until the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016, that Donald Trump would never be elected president of the United States in the first place.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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