Why white grievance remains Trump's fallback

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Story highlights

  • Issac Bailey: Everything Trump proposes that hints at race will receive heightened, and sometimes even unfair, scrutiny
  • That's the price for putting a man in charge who stokes white grievance to distract voters from his own failures, writes Bailey

Issac Bailey is an interim member of The Charlotte Observer editorial board and the James K. Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Conservatives busy defending the Trump administration's plans to reform the immigration system and delve into affirmative action policy need to understand something that simply won't change during the Trump era: Everything the administration proposes that even hints at race or ethnicity will receive heightened, and sometimes even unfair, scrutiny.

Issac Bailey
That's the price the GOP will pay for the foreseeable future because Republicans put a man in office who advocated for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslim immigration, deemed a federal judge unqualified because of his ethnicity, and rose to national political prominence on the bigotry of birtherism. No matter the merits of the Raise Act or the intent of the Justice Department's foray into the affirmative action debate -- whether designed, as The New York Times initially reported, to potentially sue schools for supposed discrimination against white people, or according to DOJ, simply taking a look at a 2015 complaint brought by Asian-American groups who felt discriminated against -- the stench of Donald Trump's use of bigotry throughout the campaign and earlier will overwhelm everything else.
There are legitimate reasons to oppose the Raise Act. It purports to want to turn the immigration system into a merit-based one to increase the skill level of those we let in, but immigrants are already more skilled than native born Americans. And, as Sen. Lindsey Graham said, it is too focused on shoring up the tech economy, which could hurt other important segments of the market. Those criticisms, and others, would be worthy of debate, no matter who was in office. But because Donald Trump is President and one of his top advisers once bragged about providing an online platform for the so-called alt-right (read white supremacists and nationalists), it's hard to believe the administration's most recent rationale for the policy proposal.
    The same goes for affirmative action. Maybe the DOJ really just wants to give a fair hearing to an issue raised by dozens of Asian-American groups. Are too many Asian-Americans being unfairly held out of top universities and colleges because of affirmative action? That's a debate worth having -- including whether prioritizing test scores above efforts to level the playing field for other marginalized groups makes sense -- which is why the Supreme Court weighed in on the subject a few years ago, essentially scaling back the policy and forcing colleges to better explain why it's still necessary in 21st century, browning America.
    A serious discussion about affirmative action would begin with the unfair advantage given to less-than-spectacular students who happen to come from rich families -- such as those with similar backgrounds to Jared Kushner and Donald Trump himself often get. But Trump doesn't do serious, and he has shown time and again he believes white grievance is potentially his ticket to a second term, or might help him make it to the end of his first one.
    In the past, the civil rights division of the DOJ has pursued such things as police oversight, voting equality and LBGT rights. Under the Trump administration, its focus has been redirected away from these priorities. That's why it's hard to believe anything Trump officials say about policies concerning race. They don't seem credible because the man in the White House is not credible.
    That man just days ago "jokingly" endorsed police brutality during an era in which white confidence in the police has steadily increased while blacks and Latinos have grown more concerned about police actions. That's why as upset as he is with Attorney General Jeff Sessions for refusing to protect him from an investigation into his campaign's ties to the Russian government, he will not fire him, because Sessions is busy implementing the policies that will likely hurt people of color the most -- policies endorsed by right-wing hard-liners -- including an increasingly cruel immigration stance.
    White grievance is Trump's fallback because he can no longer brag that he's a skilled dealmaker. The failed GOP attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act exposed Trump as the proverbial naked emperor, and more people are willing to publicly say he has no clothes. He promised the moon and the stars but didn't even seem to understand the difference between health and term life insurance. The much-hyped Carrier deal, in which Trump supposedly swooped into Indiana like Jesus returning on a cloud to save jobs, also exposed him as a reality TV fraud of a president, as many of those jobs are still being shipped overseas and workers there feel betrayed by his empty promises.
    It's beyond unwise to take at face value statements coming from the White House on such sensitive topics, or just about anything. The number of lies and misleading comments from the administration -- from crowd size at the inauguration to questionable meetings with Russian officials -- is unprecedented.
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    And on the issue of race itself, Trump dug himself such an enormous hole, he and his party may never recover. It's too bad, because we need more grownup conversations about race in a country that not too long from now will be majority-minority.