Trump's Racial Firebombs Weaken U.S.


The issue of race has scarred the entirety of U.S. history. Although sometimes overshadowed by the arguably more deep-seated issue of class, the racial divide is a festering wound that decent Americans, including politicians, genuinely want to heal.

Decency and politics have a tenuous relationship, but this year, one candidate has exacerbated racial tensions in a way not seen since the days of segregationist George Wallace and Richard Nixon’s polarizing vice president, Spiro Agnew. Donald Trump, through his outbursts and incendiary rhetoric, opened the door to a new period of even greater racial antagonism.

Trump promises to “make America great again,” but his divisive approach leaves us both weaker and even more afflicted with racial identity politics. Just as neo-Nazis and old-style racists have rallied to his cause, Trump’s intemperance also has energized ethnic nationalists, particularly in Hispanic communities. Among America’s growing Muslim population, perhaps no one has served as a better recruiter for Islamists, who agree with him that their religion and culture is anathema to America. The triumph of Brexit -- in part driven by immigration -- may encourage this further.

Not all the blame for America’s racial discord falls to Trump, of course. Well before his rise to political prominence, Americans had grown pessimistic about race relations, which constitutes something of a failure by an administration that once promised greater racial unity. The president and Hillary Clinton, who have used racial politics to motivate minorities against the perceived racism of middle and working class whites, share responsibility for the deterioration. And liberal media, academics and elected officials can’t be particularly proud of their records of promoting tolerance and multiculturalism.

White America Betrayed?

In recent years, large swaths of working whites, like their British counterparts,have seen their jobs disappear and old social orders upended, fueling anger and a general sense of loss, reflected in rapidly rising morbidity and suicide rates. AsPittsburgh psychologist Kenneth Thompson puts it: “Their social habitat is strained, and the strain is showing up in a looming body count.”

Trump has exploited their anger by turning it on immigrants, characterizing Mexicans as rapists and calling for border walls, immigration bans and tougher trade deals. However cruel and misguided, Trump’s racial divisiveness resonates with these blue-collar whites, as well as among some more affluent middle-class whites.

In reality, Trump is not a classic racist, but rather an ugly opportunist willing to use ethnic divides for his own benefit. He’s been compared to Adolph Hitler, a monster whose philosophy revolved around race, but Trump has no real theory that extends beyond self-glorification, resentment, and attracting the fetching female; “The Art of the Deal” is not “Mein Kampf.”

Trump will play the race card as a way to satisfy his narcissistic need for enthusiastic admirers. This does not mean his approach does not echo the racism of the past. His claim of bias by a U.S.-born judge of Mexican descent, as well as his suggestions that Muslim jurists are incapable of ruling independently, recall the worst of the pre-Civil Rights South. His proposals to ban Muslim immigrants in general recall approaches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which targeted Chinese, Japanese and, ultimately eastern and southern Europeans.

Other Negative Forces

Progressives – including the media claque and academic elites -- have shown little sympathy for the white working class and have been dismissive of its embrace of Trump’s candidacy, as characterized by Salon’s recent description: “White America’s sad last stand.”

Instead of trying to understand the deep frustrations of the white middle class, it’s not unusual for progressives to express solidarity with racial minorities and condemn white privilege.

Clinton takes it a step further, stoking minority fear-mongers to generate badly need enthusiasm. Accused of using “dog whistles” to attract racists against candidate Obama in 2008, Clinton now courts racial nationalists, including some in the Black Lives Matter movement, race-baiter supremo Al Sharpton, and La Raza.

Interestingly, the fury against white “racism” is most fully throated and often mostviolent in white, deep-blue bastions such as Portland, Seattle, San Francisco andBoston. It’s in these cities, ironically, where minorities increasingly are victims of gentrification, forced out of their neighborhoods to make way for affluent whites.

At the same time, liberal cities’ planning, energy and environmental policies do not improve life for the working- and middle-class populations, including many minorities. Yet while more highly paid blue-collar jobs disappear, working-class communities frequently are the ones absorbing large numbers of undocumented immigrants. The affluent, “enlightened” liberals in places like Chicago’s Gold Coast, west Los Angeles and the upper east side of Manhattan may get their servants from these populations, but rarely are they neighbors or competitors in the job market.

These are fruits of America’s failed immigration system, an issue that even Latinos in this country are eager to resolve. Had Trump not crossed so many lines of decency, he might have seized the day and turned immigration policy into a huge plus, earning the support of the solid majority of Americans who agree that the border needs to be tightened.

But by painting Latinos as drug dealers and criminals and suggesting that Muslims, per se, represent a security danger, Trump has made himself the issue and squandered the opportunity.

Trump’s willingness to “tell it like it is” may have won over some segments of the population, but it’s fanciful to believe, as some right-wingers do, that it can carry him to the White House. His assaults on issues such as illegal immigration and the need to closely monitor potential terrorists may resonate, but his stridency, and lack of respect for basic decencies, have alienated much of the population.

Multiculturalism of the Streets

The good news is that while race seems to have paralyzed politics, society is becoming more integrated. Once lily-white suburbs are increasingly multi-racial, even as some core cities become less diverse. What the Mexican journalist Sergio Munoz once called “the multiculturalism of the streets” is thriving, even as politicians promote division.

A key indicator is the rising rate of racial intermarriage. Pew surveys show that mixed-race couples account for 15 percent of marriages, including nearly 10 percent of white marriages, 17 percent of black, 26 percent of Hispanic and 28 percent of Asian marriages. This is sure to blur racial distinctions in the decades ahead. If you live in a diverse region like Southern California, you see this mixed-race reality all the time -- at grade school graduations, Angels games, in restaurants and Fourth of July parades. This is the new America.

This 21st century nation-of-immigrants picture is unlikely to stir the soul of the celebrity billionaire with a taste for 24-karat gold plating on everything from his seat belts to his sinks. Trump is in it only to win, because winning is everything to him. The problem is Trump’s vanity campaign will probably cost Republicans the White House, leaving America bluer, more regulated and less responsive to the needs of white workers. In this sense, Trumpism represents something akin to Marx’s “opium of the masses,” an emotional balm that only provides temporary relief.

Clinton’s embrace of racial nationalists, on the other hand, forces her to lead from a position that is fundamentally partisan and mean-spirited. But it is Trump who threatens racial progress more directly, in a more irresponsible and inflammatory fashion. In this case, at least, the despicable is far preferable to the dangerous.

The best hope here is that, once this awful and dangerous lout is dismissed from the national scene, our racial wounds will be allowed again to heal. The spark for this will not come from the venal political and media class, but through day-to-day interactions in the communities we increasingly share.

This piece first appeared at Real Clear Politics.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Trump protest photo by i threw a guitar at him. ( [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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Ends up being just another pro-Tump article

It is always interesting how right-wing analysts start off criticizing Trump's racism, but by the fourth paragraph in, they have switched to blame to Obama, or Clinton, or Jerry Brown, or whomever is the right-wing's boogie man of choice.

The idea that Obama is the one who failed to work with Republicans on racial and political issues (rather than the other way around) is a contrarian argument. It is generally accepted as true in the echo-chamber of Fox News and talk radio, but everyone else in the world considers it obviously and blatantly false. Obama has many faults, but the idea that he uses intolerance of whites to bolster his base is silly.

By saying that Trump really isn't all that racist, you are making an apology for behavior that is really much worse than racism. If he is not racist, then he is using the language of loathing and violence (against minorities) for the sole purpose of acquiring political power. It is disingenuous to suggest that someone could get elected using a tidal wave of hate speech, and then simply turn the hatred off like a water faucet.

To illustrate the point, look at how you are framing the same argument against Hillary Clinton. By simply talking to Al Sharpton and Black Lives Matter, you are saying that the candidate has given up all hope of moderation, and is incapable of doing anything besides race-baiting for the rest of the election. Yet when Trump makes obvious overtures to the neo-Nazi movement, including even recruiting them as delegates, you see that as simple "self-glorification".

Trump's overtures to the middle class on issues of trade are a completely different issue in one important respect: In this case, he is actually describing the problem (somewhat) correctly. He still can't articulate a solution, but at least he understands that there is a problem.

His suggested solutions are a combination of wishful thinking, egotism, and outright lies, but millions of people believe in him because they want to believe. He tells them that the solutions are "simple", and this is what they desperately want to hear.

This actually makes him more dangerous. In trade negotiations, military conflicts, (and mostly every other problem since 1949), the person with the simplistic view of the issues is always the loser.

We "got tough" with China (over patents and copyrights) a few years ago, at the cost of reduced barriers for manufactured goods. If we decide to go back now and "get tough" over manufactured goods, then odds are that we will lose hard-fought concessions over patents and copyrights, in order to "win back" manufacturing jobs that may already be gone forever.

The point is not to disparage free trade negotiations, merely to point out that you need specific goals for thousands of laws, regulations, banking practices, goods, and services just to get started. And when someone with a third-grade understanding of international trade promises to "tear up" the agreements, that person has doomed the negotiations to failure.

And what did he gain by giving away our negotiation capability? A surge in popularity among people who are even less informed.

Yes, we could arguably say that he is a "populist" because he hates the intellectual elite of the county. But that is not a good thing. People who are smart are frequently (not always, but frequently) right. If you fire them all and replace them with lobbyists, you are locking in a decade of failure, and possibly making it permanent.

Similarly, our immigration system is a complex tapestry of good intentions, inadequate enforcement, mass deportations, success and failures. To imply that the whole thing is a failure is to ignore the fact that some parts are working extremely well on a small budget.

If the next President decides to just toss the whole immigration system out on day one, which parts do you think will re-create themselves and survive? Do you think it will be the overworked and underpaid judges who work extra hours each day trying to keep children out of central American gangs? Or do you think it will be overpaid DHS bureaucrats who spend their days fighting meaningless turf wars with local law enforcement?