In Trump’s World, Whites Are the Only Disadvantaged Class (New Yorker)

In Trump’s World, Whites Are the Only Disadvantaged Class

In 2011, the year Donald Trump became the standard-bearer for the racist
campaign to challenge Barack Obama’s citizenship, he didn’t just lob
conspiracies about the President’s birthplace; he also questioned how
Obama gained admission to two Ivy League universities. “I heard he was a
terrible student, terrible,” Trump remarked, to the Associated Press. “How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard? I’m thinking
about it. I’m certainly looking into it. Let him show his records.”
Coming just two days before Obama released his long-form birth
certificate, the attack on the President’s educational background tipped
Trump’s hand. He was not simply intent on delegitimizing the first black
Presidency but also the processes that made one possible in the first

This broader theme was easy to miss in the scrum of last year’s
campaign, as duelling perspectives debated whether “economic anxiety” or
populist racism was the more active ingredient in Trumpism. Trump likely understood that this was always a false dichotomy. The dominant theme in
the history of American populism, from the days of Tom Watson through
those of George Wallace, is that resentful whites understand their
economic status not in absolute terms but relative to the blacks whom
they perceive as the true barometer of their standing. The question is
not whether C.E.O.s have salaries hundreds of times larger than their
own but whether black people have salaries comparable to theirs. The
forces that have ravaged the American working classes were set loose
four decades ago and were turbocharged by the end of the Cold War, but
it took two terms of a black Presidency for much of this public to
recognize that its fortunes were in a tailspin. Until 2008, this group
had lacked a static landmark against which to measure whether it was
moving backward or forward. Obama became that.

Thus Barack Obama and Donald Trump don’t simply represent successive
Presidencies; they personify rival genealogies of our current moment,
warring claims to history. Where Obama built a movement to shake off the
dead hand of history, Trump was hoping to reanimate that hand and clench
it into a fist.

These are the tea leaves that foretold Tuesday night’s leak of the
Department of Justice memo announcing its plan to mount a legal
challenge to affirmative action in university admissions. Politically,
the leak of the memo has the possibly intentional effect of reminding
conservatives why they should defend Jeff Sessions from Trump’s attempts
to replace him as Attorney General. But its significance extends beyond
the factional G.O.P. infighting. The memo became public one day before
Trump’s endorsement of a Senate bill that would curb legal immigration
to the United States. (At a press briefing, Stephen Miller explained the
move in terms that recalled the language of the racialist Immigration
Act of 1924.) These two initiatives, along with the constant talk of
building a border wall and the Administration’s fulminations about trade
deficits, point to an over-all endeavor to create a kind of racial
protectionism, to socially engineer a world in which whites—the
unheralded disadvantaged class in America—once again have a deck stacked
in their own favor. The logical yield of this week’s news is fewer
students who are the children of immigrants and fewer black students,
whose presence deprives whites of warranted opportunities.

Fisher v. University of Texas, the most recent challenge to affirmative
action in higher education to reach the Supreme Court, provides
significant context for this week’s developments. By 2013, when the
Court first ruled on Fisher’s legal challenge to the University of Texas
at Austin’s admissions process, sizable minorities of whites had begun
to describe themselves, in public-opinion polls, as the most
disadvantaged group in American society. African-Americans constituted
more than eleven per cent of the population of Texas but just 4.5 per
cent of the university population. Fisher’s suit relied on the fact that
African-Americans with lower grades than hers had been admitted to U.T.
while she had not. But this grievance overlooked the university’s broad
formula of factors for admission; in fact, of the forty-seven students
admitted to U.T. with lower grades and test scores than Fisher’s,
forty-two were white. Last year, after taking up the Fisher case again,
the Supreme Court narrowly upheld universities’ right to use race as one
factor among many in their admissions processes.

As Sherrilyn Ifill, the director-counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense
and Educational Fund, pointed out, officials at the Justice Department are “attempting
to use the resources of the executive branch to achieve what they have
not been able to do at the Supreme Court.” Although Trump questioned the
basis for Obama’s presence at two Ivy League schools, in absolute terms,
blacks remain a marginal presence at the nation’s flagship institutions.
Last year, African-Americans constituted just five per cent of the
students at élite universities, with a large portion of that minority
coming from abroad. In the hands of the Trump Administration, that
number could, conceivably, grow smaller, not just at élite universities
but across higher education. (Incidentally, Trump suggested earlier this
year that historically black colleges might be discriminatory against
white students.)

Trump has never possessed any capacity for discretion. But this is the
week that the relationship between seemingly disparate pieces of his
resentment agenda became clearer. Barring additional retirements at the
Supreme Court, the Justice Department’s affirmative-action initiative
will face obstacles, and any plan to cut immigration in half stands
little chance of gaining momentum in Congress. But this week was not
about practicalities. It was about throwing red meat to a restless base
that has already witnessed the debacle of the failed Obamacare repeal and the internecine brawling in the executive branch. Trump and his
allies can’t deliver on their promises yet. They’re requesting patience
until they figure out the politics that will.


via New Yorker

August 4, 2017 at 03:02AM