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Trump’s naked race card play

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Trump has only one card left to play to stay in the White House. That’s his old favorite, the race card. He’ll play it with a vengeance in the run-up to Nov. 3 that might even make the unreconstructed George Wallace blush. Trump kicked it off with his flat refusal to attend civil rights legend John Lewis’s funeral. He followed that with a tweet that assured white suburban homeowners that he’ll do whatever he can to keep low-income housing out of their backyard. This is naked code talk for keeping supposedly poor Blacks and Hispanics tucked far away in crumbling inner city neighborhoods.

None of this should surprise anyone. Polls have consistently shown that he will be trounced by Joe Biden. Polls have just as consistently shown that his post-COVID approval ratings are deep in the tank. And with the economy showing a pronounced sign of inching toward a major recession or worse, his fallacious boast that he single-handedly brought prosperity back to America is beyond laughable.

Still, there are other polls that give a clue, beyond his desperate reelection gambit, of why he shamelessly race-baits every chance he gets. They repeatedly show that the great majority of Trump supporters still do not see racial bias as a major problem. A significant number go further and bait, taunt and demean those who protest police abuse.

There’s more. Numerous polls have found that GOP voters are far more likely to say that whites, not Blacks and Latinos, are more likely to face racial discrimination. No matter how many studies confirm rampant discrimination against Blacks in hiring and promotions, gaping racial disparities in the criminal justice system, education, health care and the number of police killings of Blacks, GOP voters are unshakable in their belief that whites are the prime victims of discrimination.

The message that race-baiting won’t offend many was never lost on Trump. A week before the 2018 midterms, he reached deep into the GOP’s racist playbook and tore out the Willie Horton page. That is, show the picture of a non-white lawbreaker, blame his lawbreaking on the Democrats and thereby scare the bejesus out of white voters enough to drive them to the polls. There’s evidence the ploy worked in Florida and Georgia, where the GOP governor contenders got enough white voters out to apparently beat back two Black Democratic challengers for the governorship.

The record of Trump’s naked bigotry has been unbroken. He was ripped by the Justice Department for blatant racial discrimination in his apartment rentals and when cornered on his racist exclusion blithely said that if he didn’t, his other tenants (meaning white tenants) would flee from his units and the city.

Even before Trump tossed his hat in the presidential ring in 2016, his well-timed racist digs, quips and slurs were carefully and calculatedly designed to get the tongues wagging, get another round of invitations on the talk show circuit and position himself for a presidential run.

His cynical but well-calculated race-baiting ploy worked to masterful perfection with the “birther” issue. Trump knew that while the issue had been thoroughly discredited and disavowed by every leading GOP presidential candidate in 2012, a significant number of, if not most, Republicans actually believed or wanted to believe that Obama’s birth was a legitimate issue to dump back on the political table. The payoff was that he conned enough newsrooms, talk show hosts and the GOP’s inveterate Obama bashers to chat up a Trump presidential candidacy. Even now, many still cling to Trump’s Birther poppycock.

Trump got what he wanted. Tons of fresh media attention, a momentary seat at the GOP presidential candidate’s chat table, and starry-eyed idolization from legions of ultra-conservatives and untold numbers of unreconstructed bigots.

In the White House, it’s been more of the same. A racist dig or tweet, a Willie Horton reprise, with the not-so subtle scare of Black crime coming to the suburbs by sending in federal marshals in Chicago. The aim is always to tug at the emotional strings of the GOP’s core constituency — white conservative, rural, and blue-collar workers. This guarantees lots of headline coverage, public chatter and more distraction. Those are pretty good reasons for Trump’s racism, beyond just that of a president in dire peril of going down in electoral flames.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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