Recently I read an article by Adam Serwer titled, “Just Say It’s Racist,” that has continued to roll around in the back of my mind. It is Serwer’s take on an article in the New York Times by John Eligon and Richard Faust that the paper promoted by tweeting, “Obama offered balm. Trump drops verbal bombs. But both were accused, in a polarized country, of making racial tensions worse.” That might be the worst case of bothsiderism we’ve ever seen.
Serwer’s point is that “American discourse concerning racism remains largely about hurt feelings, rather than discriminatory policy.” He concludes with this:
One might think that in a piece contrasting two presidents’ approaches to racism, their actual policies might come into play. But they don’t—instead the piece only contrasts their rhetorical approaches, as if they could be separated, and as if the way Americans discuss racism is more important than how it affects people. This is a common editorial decision that, in aiming to grant equal moral and factual weight to two sides of an argument, takes a side without realizing it has done so.
It is true that Trump called Mexicans “criminals and rapists,” said that black and brown immigrants come from “shithole” countries and suggested that white supremacists are good people—to name just a few examples. Almost no one, other than Trump loyalists, had any trouble calling those statements racist. But how about the administration’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico? Or their efforts to indefinitely detain asylum seekers who cross our southern border? Or the attorney general’s decision to forego oversight of law enforcement abuses? Those are all examples of actual racist policies. But we rarely hear them described that way.
Today, the Times’ Max Fisher made a similar point in a column titled, “This Is What White Nationalist Rule Looks Like.” He starts by defining white nationalism as “the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity, and that white people should therefore maintain both a demographic majority and dominance of the nation’s culture and public life.”
The Trump administration’s practice of forcibly separating undocumented parents from their children at the border, though shocking to much of the world, should, if we look back, perhaps not be so surprising.
Perhaps this is simply what governance by an administration with strong ideological ties to white nationalism looks like…
There is a tendency to portray Mr. Trump’s most racially charged comments as offhand utterances or, at most, expressions of crude racial animus. But he has consistently expressed those comments as articulations of policy.
And those policies frequently have the effect of reducing specifically nonwhite immigration on a scale sufficient to show up in the country’s overall demographics.
I may be stating what seems obvious, but the issue isn’t simply that Donald Trump says racist things. The real problem is that the federal government is being infused with white nationalist policy. Look no further than this report from ProPublica on how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pretty much ending civil rights enforcement in our schools. Or this recent article from Vann Newkirk about how Attorney General Sessions is ending the enforcement of civil rights in general.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, we have a crisis on our hands, folks. When I can bear to truly contemplate the weight of what is happening in our country, I think about those who have advised us that, if you ever wondered what you would have done during slavery or the Jim Crow era, take a look at how you are reacting right now.