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Trump aims to be a fearless warrior for White advantage

One way Donald Trump insists he was disadvantaged during the 2020 election was that it was simply too easy for people to vote.

There are a host of claims he makes about his loss that year, certainly, all of them disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. But his opposition to third-party efforts to ensure that election officials had sufficient resources to conduct the election — and, therefore, to ensure that registered voters could cast ballots — is particularly informative. There exist structural obstacles to voting in many places, including limited hours to do so or insufficient voting machines, leading to long wait times. But those obstacles often disadvantage poorer Americans, voters who tend to lean left. So the efforts to reduce those obstacles have become part of Trump’s complaints since 2020.

There’s a more useful way to consider this. The system offered Trump a marginal advantage in some places. Trump and his allies objected to that advantage being reduced. So he framed that reduction as itself being an effort to fix the race in favor of Joe Biden. He framed an effort to reduce his advantage as an effort to introduce a disadvantage against him.

It is precisely what Trump and his allies hope to do at a much larger scale when considering efforts to address systemic racial disadvantages.

On Monday, Axios reported on the extent to which a second Trump term would seek to unwind rules and processes meant to address historic racial disadvantages faced by Black Americans in particular. A quote from Trump spokesman Steven Cheung summarizes the intent: The former president “is committed to weeding out discriminatory programs and racist ideology across the federal government.”

Here, “discriminatory programs” refers to those that attempt to address systemic racial disadvantages. It is an evolution of the idea that affirmative-action policies meant to eliminate those imbalances are, in effect, racist against White people.

In recent years, this view — one long embedded on the right — has burst into public view. In 2013, well before Trump’s emergence as a national political figure, only a fifth of Republicans indicated that they supported laws aimed at protecting members of racial minorities against discrimination.

In the same poll, a plurality of Republicans said White Americans were losing more in the workplace because of efforts to address racial inequality than minorities were losing because of discrimination in the first place. In fact, Republicans were 14 times as likely to say that Whites were more disadvantaged.

This was the state of play when Trump announced his candidacy in 2015. A Washington Post-ABC News poll the following March found that views that Whites were losing out were a better predictor of support for Trump than economic insecurity. YouGov polling in February 2016 found that two-thirds of Republicans thought White people faced more discrimination than minorities do.

That continues to be the case. YouGov polling from December conducted for the Economist found that Republicans were more likely to say that Whites faced a “great deal” of discrimination than they were to say the same of Black or Arab Americans. They were also more likely to say that hate crimes against White people were a very serious problem compared with hate crimes against Black or Arab Americans.

Over the past eight years, of course, this sentiment has become mainstream. The Republican Party was once careful to couch its rhetoric on race with winking phrases, but Trump has obliterated that nuance. The pushback against “critical race theory” and then “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) initiatives that followed his 2020 loss (and the racial justice protests that year) have blossomed into explicit disparagements of non-White — and, specifically, Black — people in positions of power and influence. Or even imagined positions of power that right-wing voices insist were gained only because of affirmative-action policies.

The mayor of Baltimore, disparaged bizarrely as a product of DEI efforts following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge last week — as though a Black man might otherwise not win election in that city — peeled back one aspect of the criticism.

“We know what they want to say,” he said last week, “but they don’t have the courage to say the n-word.”

These attacks work, though, in part because many White Americans — particularly less wealthy ones or ones who don’t have a college degree — don’t feel as though they are benefiting from racial advantages. That’s fair, but it is also to some extent analogous to our voting analogy: Being able to vote relatively quickly and easily doesn’t always seem like an advantage.

One reason that Trump has made this a focus at the moment is that the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 drew new attention to ways in which systems of power quietly advantage White Americans — unevenly, certainly, but demonstrably. Americans became much more likely to attribute inequalities in jobs and housing between Black and White Americans to discriminatory policies in the wake of the initial BLM push.

The biennial General Social Survey (GSS) still finds that the most common reason cited by White Republicans when asked to consider those disadvantages is that Black Americans lack the motivation or willpower to escape poverty.

This is the flip side to all of the pushback against efforts to level the playing field: Not only do White Republicans not see the playing field as uneven, they think Black Americans are just bad at the game.

There’s no question that Black Americans face real disadvantages that are rooted either immediately or historically in race. Polling from KFF conducted last year made the former point explicitly: Black people with darker skin tones were more likely to report facing negative or discriminatory behavior.

If there were no widespread disadvantages centered on skin color (and, by extension, perceived race), there would be no reason for these numbers to diverge. And that’s just the explicit response. There exist documented disadvantages for Black Americans in employment, housing and other things, as well.

Republicans generally don’t accept that to be the case. In the 2022 GSS, only about a quarter of White Republicans said that economic differences were rooted in discrimination. So it would stand to reason those same people would see no need for policies aimed at addressing that discrimination and, therefore, would see those policies as instead disadvantaging Whites.

Trump — whose first appearance in the New York Times centered on allegations that his real estate business had discriminated against Black people — aims to elevate and address those complaints. He hopes to be empowered to do so by winning in November, in part by fighting against efforts to make it equally easy for everyone to vote. It’s all of a piece.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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