What do we know about the philosophy of the Trump presidency after having witnessed two campaigns? Do you teach us something about the country that chose you? The Trump campaign in 2016 paid almost obsessive attention to immigration and borders. The 2020 campaign it has focused on race riots. How to interpret this apparent departure from a strategy that gave him the victory? The answer is to identify the common element between the two campaigns and the time elapsed between the two. And that factor is white nationalism, the idea that the United States is a country defined by the numerical and social dominance of its white population. The white nationalism that fueled the Trump campaign in 2016 was a battle to secure the borders against invading immigrants. Now those attacks are directed against the Americans.
In 2016, Trump announced his candidacy with a xenophobic tirade. He started by insulting China and then said these famous words: “When Mexico sends its people to us, it doesn’t send the best. Send people with a lot of problems. They bring drugs. They bring crime. They are rapists. Some, I suppose, will be good people. ” Xenophobia wrapped in the language of public order was an important part of his campaign. And then it was the fundamental principle on which his first years in office were based.
Since he arrived at the White House, Trump has ended asylum applications at the southern border, in clear violation of international law, lowered the limits established for the admission of refugees to historic levels and reestablished police practices that are reflected in indiscriminate abuses against the undocumented. It has managed to almost completely seal the US border, resorting to immigration services with a long history of violence and behavior full of legal privileges and used them in an alleged “law and order” campaign against immigrants. those he links, without reason, with criminal gangs. Additionally, he has spearheaded attempts to cut off legal immigration and the legal entry of temporary workers, contradicting his claims that the people he represents want to end undocumented immigration.
Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson, among other researchers, have provided strong evidence for the attractiveness of nativism in the circumstances of the 2016 election campaign. Given that it was surely a crucial factor in Trump’s victory on that occasion, It is surprising that immigration is not occupying such a prominent place in 2020. Although the Government has continued its heavy-handed policy against immigrants all these months, Trump is not talking about it as obsessively as in 2016. Why what?
After George Floyd was killed by a policeman in late May, el movimiento Black Lives Matter inspired demonstrations across America for brutality against black Americans. Trump’s response was support for counter-demonstrations and an unprecedented use of his Department of Homeland Security. As in the campaign against immigration, Trump wraps the crackdown on the Black Lives Matter in the language of public order. It is just following the example of Nixon and the success of his “Law and Order” campaign in 1968, also in the face of protests of police brutality against blacks. Nixon explicitly confessed his racist motivation, as has been demonstrated on several occasions, most recently by historian Elizabeth Hinton. Trump’s white nationalism is just as damaging as Nixon’s and a critical factor in his attractiveness as a candidate.
During the campaign, Trump has also paid unexpected attention to critical race theory, in particular attempts by researchers to refer anti-black racism to America’s interpretation of itself. On September 22, Trump announced a decree to ban awareness courses on race, gender and sexual orientation in all institutions that receive federal money. The order expressly prohibits saying that the US is fundamentally racist or sexist and other forms of “indoctrination,” the language used to designate programs designed to raise awareness of unconscious biases and blatant discrimination. It also apparently prohibits the teaching of cases of sexism, racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Apparently, what prompted Trump to take this action was a series of reports from The New York Times, Proyecto 1619, an attempt to approach US history from the perspective of what slavery did to the national project. Trump has decided to attack the Project 1619 and it has promised to eliminate federal funding for school districts that use it. In September, during an unusual White House Conference on American History, Trump summarized these lines of attack as follows: “Critical race theory, Project 1619 and the crusade against American history is noxious propaganda, an ideological poison that, if not eliminated, will dissolve the civic ties that bind us together. They will destroy our country. ” In that same speech, Trump announced “a national commission to promote patriotic education,” an idea that fits with a long history of teaching the racist legacy.
The last chapter of WEB Du Bois’s masterpiece Black Reconstruction, from 1935, is entitled “The historical propaganda.” In it, Du Bois denounces attempts to submerge the truth under stories that seek to absolve the United States of its historical sins. The Trump campaign is fulfilling its “Make America Great Again” problem by returning to the “historic propaganda” condemned by Du Bois, a story that hides the fundamental importance of racism and slavery in the American one.
How can we understand Trump’s decision not to use in his campaign the anti-immigration measures that have given him his greatest political successes? For the people to whom he addresses his messages, the closing of the border was only the first phase of a long process. With immigration cut short and immigrants still forced to live in terror, Trump has decided to embark on the next phase of his war, targeting US citizens who have long been marginalized in their own country. Both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns are celebrations to the greater glory of white nationalism. Race has been the central theme of both. The mere fact that Trump wants to eliminate critical race theory is proof of his ability to unmask white nationalism. Trump’s campaigns confirm a central claim of this theory: that America’s history has always been a matter of race.
Jason Stanley is Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and the author of Look. How fascism works and how it has entered your life (Blackie Books). Elizabeth F. Cohen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University and a Rockefeller Visiting Fellow at Princeton University Center for Human Values. Translation by María Luisa Rodríguez Tapia.