White resentment put Donald Trump in the White House. And there is every indication that it will keep him there, especially as he continues to transform that seething, irrational fear about an increasingly diverse America into policies that feed his supporters’ worst racial anxieties.
If there is one consistent thread through Mr. Trump’s political career, it is his overt connection to white resentment and white nationalism. Mr. Trump’s fixation on Barack Obama’s birth certificate gave him the white nationalist street cred that no other Republican candidate could match, and that credibility has sustained him in office — no amount of scandal or evidence of incompetence will undermine his followers’ belief that he, and he alone, could Make America White Again.
The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration. No wonder that, even while his White House sinks deeper into chaos, scandal and legislative mismanagement, Mr. Trump’s approval rating among whites (and only whites) has remained unnaturally high. Washington may obsess over Obamacare repeal, Russian sanctions and the debt ceiling, but Mr. Trump’s base sees something different — and, to them, inspiring.
Like on Christmas morning, every day brings his supporters presents: travel bans against Muslims, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Hispanic communities and brutal, family-gutting deportations, a crackdown on sanctuary cities, an Election Integrity Commission stacked with notorious vote suppressors, announcements of a ban on transgender personnel in the military, approval of police brutality against “thugs,” a denial of citizenship to immigrants who serve in the armed forces and a renewed war on drugs that, if it is anything like the last one, will single out African-Americans and Latinos although they are not the primary drug users in this country. Last week, Mr. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions put the latest package under the tree: a staffing call for a case on reverse discrimination in college admissions, likely the first step in a federal assault on affirmative action and a determination to hunt for colleges and universities that discriminate against white applicants.
That so many of these policies are based on perception and lies rather than reality is nothing new. White resentment has long thrived on the fantasy of being under siege and having to fight back, as the mass lynchings and destruction of thriving, politically active black communities in Colfax, La. (1873), Wilmington, N.C. (1898), Ocoee, Fla. (1920), and Tulsa, Okla. (1921), attest. White resentment needs the boogeyman of job-taking, maiden-ravaging, tax-evading, criminally inclined others to justify the policies that thwart the upward mobility and success of people of color.
The last half-century hasn’t changed that. The war on drugs, for example, branded African-Americans and Latinos as felons, which stripped them of voting rights and access to housing and education just when the civil rights movement had pushed open the doors to those opportunities in the United States.
Similarly, the intensified war on immigrants comes, not coincidentally, at the moment when Latinos have gained visible political power, asserted their place in American society and achieved greater access to schools and colleges. The ICE raids have terrorized these communities, led to attendance drop-offs in schools and silenced many from even seeking their legal rights when abused.