‘Racist, classist nonsense’: Trump accused of dog-whistle racism with pledge to end affordable homes in suburbs

President claims to protect ‘suburban lifestyle dream’ in language harking back to post-war housing discrimination era

Andrew Naughtie
Thursday 30 July 2020 10:18 BST
Trump says Chicago 'worse than Afghanistan'

Donald Trump has been accused of pandering to racists after he rescinded an Obama-era anti-discrimination rule so as to save people’s “suburban lifestyle dream” from low-income housing.

The policy change was met with instant criticism from his opponents. The flare-up comes as the president struggles to regain traction among suburban voters, whom polls indicate are increasingly turning towards Joe Biden.

In a pair of tweets on Wednesday, the president announced his administration is repealing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which was created in 2015 to help reduce racial housing disparities in suburbs. The policy requires local authorities seeking funding to provide data proving that any money they received would not go to projects that perpetuated racial housing discrimination.

“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream,” Mr Trump tweeted, “that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood…

“...Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”

The president’s tweets were immediately met with criticism. Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez poured scorn on the move, telling Mr Trump in a tweet that “I am happy to inform you that I’ve already introduced an amendment to block your latest racist, classist nonsense”.

A spokesperson for Joe Biden, meanwhile, called the move a “distraction” and castigated the president for deploying such divisive language in the middle of a pandemic. “Turning Americans against each other with total lies is unacceptable for a commander-in-chief at any time,” he said, ”but it’s especially heinous to do so in a moment of worsening crisis.”

Their words echo those of former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro, who oversaw the rule’s introduction and decried Mr Trump’s political motives to repeal it when the idea first surfaced last week. “The AFFH rule was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement,” he wrote, ”and we finalized it at HUD to fulfill the promise of fair housing to every American. Trump is desperate, and he’s terminating it to play white identity politics in an election year.”

The last several decades of US politics has seen many leaders building their political bases by equating low-income housing with crime and the suburbs with safety. This in turn has been considered a racist code for the difference between mostly poor “inner cities” populated by black Americans and affluent suburbs inhabited by white people.

The spectacle of a president saying he will protect the “suburban lifestyle dream” from low-income housing and its residents harks back to the era when the Fair Housing Act was created.

As the suburbs expanded after the Second World War, black people were largely prohibited from buying suburban homes, while white Americans who could afford to buy houses fled from rapidly integrating inner cities.

In many large American cities, the legacy of this so-called “white flight” was persistent segregation by race and income between the suburbs and urban neighbourhoods, with poverty and crime historically far higher in the latter. However, economic and demographic shifts in the ensuing decades mean that more poor Americans now live in suburbs than do in cities.

Mr Trump has drawn these ideas since the start of his first campaign, in particular focusing on violence in poorer black areas of major cities like Chicago, which he has called “worse than Afghanistan”.

The president's message to suburban voters comes as extensive polling shows him losing electoral ground in these critically important areas. Many states crucial to Mr Trump’s re-election are won or lost at the presidential level based on the balance of votes in the suburbs.

If the Democrats are to win Pennsylvania, for instance, they need to maximise their vote in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while Mr Trump needs to do the same in the small-town and rural areas where he drove unprecedented turnout in 2016.

The more decisively the suburbs turn against him, the harder it will be for him to cling on to a crucial state where he already looks to be falling behind.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in