The headline on today’s NYTimes lead story is U.S. Rights Unit Shifts To Study Antiwhite Bias. That’s right, boys and girls, the United States Justice Department’s civil rights division is going to “redirect resources . . . toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants “ (italics/bold, mine). Anyone familiar with the Trump candidacy (and the man’s history) knows that one of the “red meat” planks in his presidential platform was unvarnished racism. What we should not forget, however, is that this has been a primary plank of Republican politics since the Nixon Administration in the late 1960’s, when the Southern Democrats (“Dixiecrats”) like Strom Thurmond (South Carolina) and Jesse Helms (North Carolina) joined the Republican Party to defend “the Silent Majority” (code for “white people”). Since the start of the “culture wars” in the late 1960’s, with the emergence of “rights” movements for African-Americans, women, gays, and Native Americans, a certain segment of white America has felt besieged by all those “others.” Trump’s anti-immigration policies are simply a foreign policy extension of his domestic racism. But, again, this is one of the reasons Trump won the vote in rural/suburban Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan (the “solid South” and Upper Rockies go without saying).
If you are not familiar with the history of this basic tenet of the Republican Party, let’s quickly review it. The notion of white (male) privilege is deeply ingrained in the Republican Party and one of its first manifestations was the famous Bakke case in the 1970’s. Like most Supreme Court cases, the litigation began in 1973 but the Court’s ruling was announced in 1978. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. It upheld affirmative action, allowing race to be one of several factors in college admission policy. However, the court ruled that specific racial quotas, such as the 16 out of 100 seats set aside for minority students by the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, were impermissible.
Although the Supreme Court had outlawed segregation in schools, and had even ordered school districts to take steps to assure integration, the question of the legality of voluntary affirmative action programs initiated by universities was unresolved. Proponents deemed such programs necessary to make up for past discrimination, while opponents believed they were illegal and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
So, the Bakke case did away with quotas but it did not eliminate the notion that race could be considered a factor in university admissions policies. This, of course, did not sit well with those who inherently believe in white supremacy (like our current Attorney General). While various cases were roiling around in the courts, the 1980 Republican Presidential candidate let his party know where he stood:
In 1980 the coded language that matched welfare with undeserving minorities was revealed as Ronald Reagan spoke of “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks.”
Just as our current President is clear about whom “they” are (African Americans, Latinos, immigrants), during Reagan’s tenure, on the heels of the Bakke case, the term “reverse discrimination” --- originally raised in the 1970’s --- gained serious momentum:
Reverse discrimination can be defined as the unequal treatment of members of the majority groups resulting from preferential policies, as in college admissions or employment, intended to remedy earlier discrimination against minorities
Conceptualizing affirmative action efforts as reverse discrimination began to become popular in the early- to mid-1970s, a time period that focused on underrepresentation and action policies intended to remedy the effects of past discrimination in both government and the business world (wiki)
We know, of course, that our current President “settled” an antidiscrimination housing lawsuit in the 1970’s and, in the late 1980’s, took out a full-page ad in all the New York City newspapers about the “Central Park Jogger” case.
Trump helped fan the flames of racial resentment when black and Latino teens were arrested in the infamous “Central Park jogger” attack. Trump alone chose to pay for $85,000 worth of full-page newspaper ads trumpeting, in capital letters, “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”
ALL of those charged were later exonerated, yet Trump did not take out any full-page ads to apologize. In fact:
In 1989, he told Bryant Gumbel in an interview, “A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market...if I was starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black, because I really do believe they have the actual advantage today. “ In fact, all the serious studies refuted that. However his statement did serve as a kind of shout-out to those who were ignorant about the racial dynamics in the U.S. economy. (Fortune, June 17, 2016 Michael d’Antonio)
And that’s where Trump’s “base” lives --- in that world of us(white) vs. them (nonwhites). It’s why the launch pad for his political “career” began with his assault on Obama’s nativity, speaking for so many who would not, and still cannot, accept that a Black Man was actually elected President of the United States --- twice!
So now we have the Trump Justice Department beginning its assault on affirmative action. In 1975, commenting on the disproportionate number of African Americans in prison (a statistic that continues), the brilliant Richard Pryor said: “You go down there looking for justice and that’s what you find: just us.” In the Trump/Sessions view of the world, “just us” is the system they want to maintain and, if possible, increase the scope of. And don’t doubt that VP Pence, House Republicans and U.S. Senators aren’t on board with this policy. There are many divides in our society that require skilled and thoughtful engagement to resolve but none is greater than the racial divide --- and this Administration very clearly is far more interested in increasing the schism between its white constituents and all of “them.” Period.