Trump has made Republicans complicit in his revolt against American principles

by Michael Gerson

President Trump dissembles with great frequency, but he generally lacks the sharpness and subtlety to successfully deceive. He will lie to your face, but he has trouble concealing his intentions.

Take this recent Trump tweet: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”

As a policy matter, Trump is referring to a change in fair-housing rules. During the Barack Obama era, localities that received federal housing funding were required to address any biased practices that concentrated low-income housing in small geographic areas. The Trump administration has lifted that requirement.

But Trump did not merely declare this revision. His language laid bare his motivating biases. He was “happy” to make the announcement. Rather than being a distressing duty, exclusion seems to gladden his dreary day. The president then embraced the capitalized, perhaps trademarked “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” — which I assume is like the American Dream, but with nicer lawns and fewer minority neighbors. These suburban dreamers will no longer be “bothered” by fellow citizens they consider unsightly. As if this pledge weren’t crass enough, Trump assured the suburbanites they will no longer be “financially hurt” by sharing their parks and neighborhoods with, you know, those people. The president may have ruined the economy through pandemic negligence, but his urgent priority seems to be the protection of suburban property values from predatory diversity.

We can be confident this tweet was racist rather than classist because it came in a certain context. Trump was fresh from refusing to attend John Lewis’s memorial events, and tweeting a supporter yelling “White power!”, and passing along videos of Black people assaulting White people, and playing down police violence against African Americans, and defending Confederate monuments and place names, and supporting right-wing groups carrying Confederate flags as they marched on state capitals, and observing that “people love” the Confederate flag.

Jefferson Davis always wanted to see a Confederate battle flag raised over the White House. At least in spirit, he has finally gotten his wish.

In Trump’s approach to politics, all is flexible, all is negotiable, except the driving instinct of us vs. them. And it is not just a coincidence that the us is overwhelmingly White. Trump’s most consistent, defining goal has been the preservation of white supremacy against growing diversity. As we now see fully, he holds out the promise of a suburban, segregated promised land.

Those who dismiss this criticism as “playing the race card” must ignore Trump’s constant employment of the racism card. Those who dismiss these concerns as “identity politics” must somehow overlook the White identity politics that drives his public appeal. Trump’s approach is apostasy from the American ideal. It is the kind of thing that can lead to the breaking of nations.

Trumpism involves not only the failure of moral sensibility but also the failure of historical consciousness. The president seems entirely ignorant of the American narrative. It is a story of high ideals and hypocritical compromises. Of heroes offended by the gulf between our democratic aspirations and the reality around them, who pushed our country to resolve its deepest internal contradictions. Of halting, stumbling, continuing progress toward a political system that honors the value and dignity of every human life.

Playing even a small part in this unfolding story is one of history’s great honors. It is the reason to serve in government. The reason to write about politics. The reason to vote and participate.

We can be confident this tweet was racist rather than classist because it came in a certain context. Trump was fresh from refusing to attend John Lewis’s memorial events, and tweeting a supporter yelling “White power!”, and passing along videos of Black people assaulting White people, and playing down police violence against African Americans, and defending Confederate monuments and place names, and supporting right-wing groups carrying Confederate flags as they marched on state capitals, and observing that “people love” the Confederate flag.

Jefferson Davis always wanted to see a Confederate battle flag raised over the White House. At least in spirit, he has finally gotten his wish.

In Trump’s approach to politics, all is flexible, all is negotiable, except the driving instinct of us vs. them. And it is not just a coincidence that the us is overwhelmingly White. Trump’s most consistent, defining goal has been the preservation of white supremacy against growing diversity. As we now see fully, he holds out the promise of a suburban, segregated promised land.

Those who dismiss this criticism as “playing the race card” must ignore Trump’s constant employment of the racism card. Those who dismiss these concerns as “identity politics” must somehow overlook the White identity politics that drives his public appeal. Trump’s approach is apostasy from the American ideal. It is the kind of thing that can lead to the breaking of nations.

Trumpism involves not only the failure of moral sensibility but also the failure of historical consciousness. The president seems entirely ignorant of the American narrative. It is a story of high ideals and hypocritical compromises. Of heroes offended by the gulf between our democratic aspirations and the reality around them, who pushed our country to resolve its deepest internal contradictions. Of halting, stumbling, continuing progress toward a political system that honors the value and dignity of every human life.

Playing even a small part in this unfolding story is one of history’s great honors. It is the reason to serve in government. The reason to write about politics. The reason to vote and participate.

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Michael Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post.

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