By Michael Covin
Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign nearly three years ago in a blunt fashion which set the tone for his campaign and thus far his presidency. He used immigration to help launch his campaign and has used immigration and race in many ways to connect himself to his supporters and drive parts of his agenda. An agenda which has brought himself much criticism.
And if one thought he would be different in 2018, he has started the new year and his second year in office much the same as what we have seen from him.
As many have analyzed the president’s first year in office, they were constantly reminded of his nature to tweet his thoughts and often go off script. Those moments of doing so regarding race and immigration have often led to much debate, especially when blunt comments are put out for the public to digest. The president’s success among his most avid supporters has been driven many times by his rhetoric about race, immigration, and our national identity.
While 2016 was not the first election where race and immigration were major issues, there is a growing connection between one’s view on race and immigration and their likelihood to their partisan leanings. These two issues and elements connected to them have intensified our political discourse and have created divisions.
These divisions stem from some of the president’s supporters: those who are White without a college degree and those who are White overall. There are conversations led by the president at rallies and other venues targeted at those groups which present an idea about race and immigration to divide people and enable one group of people to look down at another. It becomes an “us versus them” instead of a “we” conversation and it appears to serve the president’s agenda and ignites those behind him based on the regularly of incidents and comments.
George Washington University professor John Sides wrote in the Washington Post, “The shifts among white people overall and white people without a college degree occurred mostly among white people with less favorable attitudes toward black people. No other factor predicted changes in white partisanship during [President Barack] Obama’s presidency as powerfully and as consistently as racial attitudes.”
Adding to the distress and instability of attitudes towards race and immigration has been economic stress and often times Trump looked to connect those issues together during the campaign and as president still aims to do so to further enhance his arguments to his supporters.
While the economy has improved over the last decade and there are other factors beyond race and immigration which impact the labor market, it is a simple enough message which works in appealing to supporters and drive that support, as the president has set to create an agenda around these areas.
Those who support this agenda and the president’s agenda on these areas have been labeled by some, like the Cato Institute’s Emily Ekins, as “American Preservationists.” That ideal connects with the president’s slogan of “Make America Great Again.” These voters have nativist immigration views and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of an American identity.
Thinking about that group in particular, the president’s agenda and aspects of race and immigration were as heated to end 2017 as they were to start the year. Matters were further escalated recently as a government shutdown loomed and the issue of immigration and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals sat the heart of that potential shutdown.
In a meeting with senators from both parties on the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend, the president, as he has done at times during his short presidency, escalated an already tense situation. He referred to many countries largely those in Africa in a derogatory fashion. The language would further speak to the president’s views on race and immigration and again serve as part of governing style and appeal to his supporters. What it accomplished was not solving a situation that was under tough time constraints and two parties divided on a solution.
The words and actions by the president opened a continuing discussion intertwined with executive order travel bans and rallies. It brings up an ongoing conversation about where the president stands on race and immigration and if he is a racist and anti-immigration. His words and actions like these don’t help to tamp down anyone who says he is neither.
It forces many within his own party to balance how they respond each time the president says and does something like this. It adds to a growing narrative that leads one to wonder where their president stands on these issues and if he is a divider instead of being a uniter. It reminds voters of the person who ran for president and the feelings felt in November 2016 by those who opposed him.
Trump’s presidency has been a constant reminder of those feelings and instead of showing his commitment to all in this country; this latest example further shows a president that prefers to focus on the attitudes of those who largely support him and a narrower mindset. There are members of his inner circle that only serve to further push the president in this direction and cause divisions between him and Democrats as well as Republicans.
These latest comments also lead one to think back before Trump announced his presidential candidacy and his ongoing attack on Obama and the birtherism movement he largely led even after he announced he was running for president. It brings many back to nearly 30 years ago and the now-president’s involvement with the Central Park Five, who were acquitted but not before Trump called for their deaths.
Going further back, it brings up memories for many of his role with discriminatory practices with housing in New York City. And, also added with these moments is that Trump has been vocal against athletes in the National Football League, most of whom are Black. Trump’s actions and words are that much more amplified now that he is president. His actions and words again pose one to question the motives and views of the president if he is and has exemplified questionable behavior and actions related to race and immigration.
If one is wondering if the president has gotten better with his language since being sworn in, Harvard sociology professor Michele Lamont has examined the president’s speeches, tracing to his campaign. Her studies have shown Trump’s rhetoric only getting more explicit since being sworn in to office a year ago and his comments recently are one example of that.
All of this sets up 2018 much like 2017 and leads one to wonder whether the president’s agenda is racially driven and anti-immigrant driven and, if so, how that impacts our country and beyond. In an election year, these types of conversations will only be boosted up and become louder as both parties struggle for control in November and into 2019. For now, we are left once again analyzing unpresidential comments by Trump and dealing with problematic divisions in our country.