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The racism of Donald Trump’s “go back to where you came from” tweet of July 7, 2019 was unequivocal and undeniable. And while it was repulsive and shocking, it should have surprised nobody, given the incontrovertible fact that throughout his adult life, Donald Trump has been an unabashed racist. Indeed, Donald Trump is the most racist and bigoted president since arch-segregationist Woodrow Wilson.
Trump’s personal record of blatant and shameful racism against African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native-Americans long predated his political career. Only a self-deluding political lunatic could deny this. As Ronald Reagan was wont to say, facts are stubborn things, and the facts prove that Donald Trump is a despicable racist, not only beyond any reasonable doubt, but beyond even a scintilla of a doubt.
Examples of Trump racism abound: His leadership in the “birther” movement, which alleged that our first African-American president, Barack Obama was not a natural born American citizen; his campaign for the death penalty against the Central Park Five even after their innocence was proven; his discrimination against African-Americans in the rental of his housing units in Brooklyn in the 1970s; his attempts to bar a distinguished American jurist, Gonzalo Curiel from presiding over the Trump University fraud case on the basis of his Mexican ancestry; and his racially tinged rhetoric in his aggressive war on the expanding Native American casino industry during the 1990s.
Accordingly, it is not a mystery as to why Trump received the enthusiastic endorsement of KKK leader David Duke in the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump has at times issued profoundly unconvincing denials of his racism. Simultaneously, he sends out “dog whistle” racist messages to his base, which is overwhelmingly white nationalistic.
But get ready for a Trump 2020 reelection campaign which will be the most frighteningly racist, xenophobic campaign in modern American history, even more nakedly bigoted than the George Wallace American Independent Party campaign of 1968. Trump’s denials of racism will be more perfunctory, and his racism will be even more overt. The “go back to where you come from” tweet is a quintessential example of what we can expect.
The reason: Take a look at the Washington Post -ABC News poll published on July 7, 2019. An examination of the internals in the poll shows that it is highly unlikely for Trump to be reelected on the issues.
Trump has actually gained a few points in terms of job approval. But he still is registering net negative numbers. His approval rating, among voting-age Americans stands at 44 percent, edging up from 39 percent in April, with 53 percent saying they disapprove of him. Among registered voters, 47 percent say they approve of his performance, while 50 percent disapprove.
It is on the issues in the internals where the high likelihood of a Trump defeat is most evident. He registers large net negative approval numbers on taxes, foreign policy, immigration, health care, gun violence, abortion, issues of special concern to women, and climate change.
The only issue on which Trump registers positive numbers is the economy, with 51 percent saying they approve of the way he has dealt with economic issues, and 42 percent disapprove of his handling of it, down slightly from 46 percent last October. Yet when asked how much credit Trump deserves for the state of the economy, 47 percent say a “great deal” or a “good amount,” while 48 percent say he deserves “only some” or “hardly any.” This is a reflection of the fact that Trump inherited from Obama an economy in a state of beginning a robust recovery.
And it is highly likely that as we approach the election campaign in 2020, the economy will be in a state of decline, given 1) the inverted yield curve on interest rates; and 2) Trump’s trade wars. At that point, Trump will have lost all advantage he could derive from the economy as an issue.
Accordingly, in order for Trump to be reelected, it will take an overwhelming turnout of Trump’s base, far in excess of its 2016 turnout, given the fact that the Democratic base, which was asleep in 2016, turned out as a blue wave in 2018, resulting in the midterm Democratic landslide. There is virtually no doubt that the Democratic base turnout in 2020 will be at least as large as that of 2018.
The segment of the base on which Trump is focusing is white working-class males. MSNBC’s Joy Reid, author of the newly published book, The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story, described this constituency in 2015 as follows:
…….white Americans who feel left out of Obama’s America, who are peeved with the fact that their preferred party can’t seem to beat Obama and who want to hear a guy be able to stand up and be as politically incorrect as they can’t be……..
Four years later, this description still fits.
The best way Donald Trump can motivate this constituency to turn out and vote in the numbers he needs is for him to make blatantly racist appeals to them, virtually identical to his already infamous “go back to where you came from” tweet. Trump will have no issues on which he can appeal to them, and vile and offensive racism is the only tool he will have.
So get ready. The Trump campaign in 2020 will be all about race and ONLY about race. And it will be the ugliest presidential campaign of the past century.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.