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The Trump Show And American Racism


This is a good piece that serves as a good companion to the Serwer piece Paul discusses below. The Republican Party is will be committed to Trump’s racism, whether in its explicit or genteel forms, because while this racism isn’t popular with a national population, it’s more popular than their economic polices, which have nothing to offer anybody but the very wealthy:

On Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump traveled to North Carolina to arouse the faithful by reiterating his racist crusade of the moment — a campaign to drive Rep. Ilhan Omar out of the country and back to Somalia, a country she left when she was 6 years old. 

The rally was disgusting and shocking, but not surprising to those who’d read the weekend volley of racist tweets that initiated this particular news cycle nor to those who recall the 2016 campaign’s Muslim ban, the blood libels about “the caravan” that stalked the 2018 midterms, or anything else from Trump’s long and sordid history of racial demagoguery

But if you want to really understand American politics in the summer of 2019, it makes sense to tune out the carnival barker’s antics for a moment and consider a plaintive memo issued earlier on Wednesday by Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz — one of America’s top business law firms. 

The memo made the case to clients that Wachtell’s expertise in regulatory compliance and white-collar defense is still important, even though many buyers of legal services may be inclined to think that rich companies don’t much need lawyers anymore. That’s because under Trump there’s been a “significant drop over the past two years in both the number of white-collar prosecutions and the scale of corporate fines and penalties.”

Nonetheless, it’s promising that Democrats of all factions seem to broadly recognize that an electoral message of dwelling on symbolic racism is less promising than one that highlights concrete concerns. The larger challenge is to actually make that happen in the face of a media landscape that is heavily tilted in favor of the Trump Show. It’s much easier to play and replay clips of Trump saying something outrageous than to try to explain the details of a regulatory action. 

Earlier this week, the White House formally stated its plan to veto Democrats’ proposed increase in the federal minimum wage. And the New York Times reported that Trump’s newly installed acting secretary of labor is expected to “push through a sweeping anti-union agenda and coordinate his actions with the president’s political team.”

It’s wrong to characterize the racist incitement as a “distraction” since it is important on its own terms. But it is worth understanding that there is a controversial aspect of the Trump administration that he is happy to talk about — the racist aspect — and then there is a whole other set of controversies lurking hidden below the water line that Trump doesn’t like to talk about.


And it’s easy for a dialogue on racism to swiftly descend into intramural sniping between liberals and leftists and NeverTrumpers about exactly who objected to what when and in the right ways. By contrast, virtually nobody is going to stand up and publicly defend the idea that it’s good that under Trump’s watch the air is becoming more toxic and that corporate criminals are getting off so easily that their lawyers may be facing unemployment. 

But racism’s function in American politics has been in part to serve as a kind of scam. The Jim Crow South had the lowest living standards for white people of any American region alongside the even lower standards for African Americans. And Trump is nothing if not a connoisseur of cons and scams.

The racism scam doesn’t always win, but it’s potent, and it’s a fantasy to think that it can be fought on “class not race” grounds. But Democrats need to both stand up to Trump’s racism and lawlessness and do what they can to highlight his exceptionally unpopular economic agenda.

But the broader point is that there’s not going to be some kind of some kind of quick realignment where the Republican Party becomes “normal” again after Trump. Racism and racially motivated vote suppression are the only hope they’ve got of remaining a viable national coalition.

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