“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
With that promise—the centerpiece of his inaugural address—Donald Trump committed to a populist presidency. In his first year, President Trump has delivered the opposite.
Trump promised generous health care reform. Instead, he delivered a monthslong effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and end a Medicaid expansion that brought insurance and health services to millions of people, many of them his supporters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia. He promised to bring in the “best people” to staff his administration and—upon taking office—promptly staffed his White House and the larger bureaucracy with a cadre of sycophants, opportunists, and ideologues hostile to the missions and values of the departments they lead. Trump promised tax reform that wouldn’t benefit the rich and delivered just the opposite. And, most famously, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and wash corruption from Washington. What that has meant, in practice, is an open effort to enrich himself and his family at the expense of taxpayers, directing public funds to his private clubs and resorts.
But there’s another way to read Trump’s promise—not as a commitment to economic populism but as a statement of racial solidarity. Far from acting as a president for all Americans, he’s governed explicitly as a president for white Americans and the racial reactionaries among them. He’s spoken to their fear and fanned their anger, making his office a rallying point for those who see decline in multiracial democracy and his administration a tool for those who would turn the clock back on racial progress. If those Americans are the “forgotten men and women” of President Trump’s inaugural address, then he’s been a man of his word. That simmering pursuit of racial grievance has been its defining characteristic and threatens to be its most enduring achievement.
Within a week of taking the oath of office, President Trump moved to deliver on white resentment. His “travel ban” targeted refugees and visitors from predominantly Muslim countries, regardless of their actual threat to the United States. And it had clear roots in the anti-Muslim bigotry of Trump’s bid for president. Trump claimed that “Islam hates us.” He praised the idea—drawn from a debunked story about Gen. John Pershing during the Philippine–American War—of murdering Muslim prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood as a desecration of their bodies. He falsely claimed that “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims cheered the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He proposed ethnic profiling of Muslims and called for surveillance of U.S. mosques. He falsely accused the “Muslim community” of not turning in the San Bernardino, California, shooters.
The travel ban was just the first step for a proudly anti-immigrant and anti-refugee administration, whose ideas were rooted in racialized conceptions of citizenship and belonging. President Trump issued executive orders prioritizing deportation for a wider array of immigrants. With this authorization, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had license to essentially terrorize immigrant communities, uprooting families and deporting otherwise law-abiding residents. Trump has since announced plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and to remove similar protections for immigrants who work and reside in the United States under a program that grants status to refugees fleeing war or natural disaster.
Read the whole etc.