Show Some Skin | Thursday, August 31, 2017
On Aug. 11, racism marched explicitly and visibly through the streets of Charlottesville. According to the Washington Post, a group of around 250 people marched with torches through the University of Virginia, chanting, “Our blood, our soil,” amongst other Nazi slogans. Upon pressure to respond, President Trump condemned violence “on many sides,” sparking backlash from conservatives and liberals alike. “There are no sides … We will not tolerate this hateful ideology,” Paul Ryan released in a Facebook post. Jumping to the President’s defense, the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer wrote, “No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, [Trump] just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
Though the Trump administration has weathered its fair share of overdramatized scandals, this event cannot be disregarded as a novice mistake. President Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville crisis epitomizes the administration’s gross negligence and at times outright hostility toward civil rights for racial and ethnic minorities.
As president and throughout his rise to political prominence, Mr. Trump has employed xenophobic rhetoric to mobilize his base. In 2015, Trump vilified Mexicans in a campaign speech, claiming, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He released a statement later that year calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” because their “hatred is beyond comprehension.” Reversing the Obama administration’s close scrutiny of police misconduct, President Trump told police, “Please don’t be too nice,” while frequently invoking the racially charged word “thug.”
However, rhetoric is not policy. A condemnation of Trump’s ‘political incorrectness’ ignores his administration’s explicit pattern of hostility toward civil rights. Shortly after appointment, Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions dropped the Department of Justice’s holdover suit against a Texas voter ID Law, which a federal judge found to be “discriminatory because it imposes burdens disproportionately on blacks and Latinos.” At the same time, a voter integrity commission was formed to investigate “widespread voter fraud,” headed by Kris Kobach — a known proponent of restrictive voter ID laws, which have been linked to “substantial drops in turnout for minorities.” These actions defy the 1965 Voting Rights Act by deliberately disenfranchising minorities in a manner reminiscent of Jim Crow.
Ignoring widespread international rejection of tough-on-drugs policies, the Trump Administration has taken steps to reignite the War on Drugs (WOD). Sessions directed prosecutors to seek harsher drug sentencing by rescinding guidance included in Obama’s “Smart on Crime” policy. However, the WOD presupposes drug offenses as a criminal issue rather than a public health crisis, an antiquated fallacy touted by Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Anti-drug policies disproportionately affect black and Latino populations, leading to mass incarceration on minor drug offenses, as per Michelle Alexander’s seminal book “The New Jim Crow.” According to the Deputy Director at the Drug Policy Alliance, “the very foundation of the war on drugs is racism and xenophobia.” Because convicted felons lose the right to vote, and tough-on-crime policies disproportionately imprison young black and Latino men, the WOD effectively disenfranchised a generation of minority populations. Yet despite this growing body of research, the Trump administration has reversed policies dedicated to rectifying past injustices, thereby further endangering civil rights.
Our fears are echoed by the bipartisan Commission on Civil Rights. In a report expressing concern at the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts and planned staff losses, the commission details specific governmental agencies where civil rights enforcement will no longer be prioritized. These agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Labor and more. The Commission notes that communities of color will be disproportionately harmed by the budget cuts and ensuing policies. Despite the bipartisan commission’s report, Devin O’Malley, spokesman for the Department of Justice (DOJ), asserts, “This department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals.”
Racism rarely manifests as visibly and explicitly as in Charlottesville. Racism is an Arizona sheriff who unlawfully and unconstitutionally arrests Hispanic residents. Racism is a president who pardons him despite the guilty conviction of a Bush-appointed judge. Racism is disregarding clear research on drug sentencing and voter ID laws. Racism is not only President Trump’s rhetoric but the policies that crystallize his intentions. “At best, this administration believes that civil rights enforcement is superfluous and can be easily cut. At worst, it really is part of a systematic agenda to roll back civil rights,” said Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama. Fundamentally, racism threatens civil rights. We must look beyond the Trump administration’s headline-grabbing rhetoric in order to dismantle its surreptitious perpetuation of systemic racism. Only then will we begin to reassert this nation’s foundational devotion to civil rights and equal opportunity for all.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.