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Opinion | Trump’s America Is a ‘White Man’s Country’

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Ludicrously, the Trump administration told the Supreme Court that this information was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But the true aim, as the files of the man who devised the strategy proved, was a drive to preserve a majority-white electorate by giving state Republican lawmakers the tools and the data they need to gerrymander out noncitizens and nonwhites out of fair representation and fair apportionment. The underlying theory is the same in both cases. If you’re white, you are entitled to full political equality. If you’re not, you aren’t.

Much of Trump’s agenda rests on this idea that the boundaries of rights and citizenship are conterminous with race. Those within Trump’s boundaries enjoy the fruits of American freedom, while those outside them face the full force of American repression. White European immigrants like the first lady, Melania Trump, are welcomed; dark-skinned migrants from Latin America are put into cages and camps.

It is important to say that none of this is new to American life. Americans as early as the founding generation believed whiteness was a prerequisite for the exercise of republican virtue. Before the Civil War, there was a decades-long movement to send free and freed blacks back to Africa based on the theory that black people were unfit for and incompatible with democratic life. America’s most restrictive immigration laws were rooted in the idea this was, as the popular 19th-century phrase had it, a “white man’s country,” inherently threatened by the presence of nonwhites and non-Anglo-Saxons, not to mention women.

Trump, in other words, isn’t an innovator. His theory of citizenship is an old one, brought back from the margins of American politics and expressed in his crude, demagogic style. And it has found a comfortable place in a Republican Party that elevates its narrow, shrinking base as the only authentic America and would rather restrict the electorate than persuade new voters.

With that said, what’s more striking than the president’s blood-and-soil racism is how Democratic Party elites — or at least one group of them — are playing with similar assumptions. No, they haven’t held out the white working property owner as the only citizen of value, but they’re obsessed with winning that voter to their side — convinced that this group is the path to victory. It helps explain the current feud between Pelosi and the four congresswomen, with House Democratic leaders attacking progressives on behalf of moderates in the caucus — some of which represent districts Trump won in 2016, but most of whom represent districts that gave Democrats the majority last November.

Indeed, it is instructive — and frankly disturbing — that top Democrats leaked a poll to Axios showing broad dissatisfaction with Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Omar. Not from the entire public or Democratic voters, but from “1,003 likely general-election voters who are white and have two years or less of college education.”

Donald Trump wants to make the United States a white country, where the possibility of full citizenship is tied to race. Most Republicans are either silent or supportive. The Democratic Party has the opportunity to oppose this vision with all the moral force that comes with representing a diverse, multiracial coalition. But even as they condemn the president — “I reject @realDonaldTrump’s xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation,” Speaker Pelosi said on Twitter — there are still too few Democrats who are up for the challenge and too many who would rather go after those who embody that other America.





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