Jamelle Bouie on “The lasting damage of Donald Trump’s bigotry” argues that in his first year as president, Donald Trump has abandoned his populist and reformist agenda, but held true to his promises to enact policies simmered in racial grievance:
Trump promised generous health care reform. Instead, he delivered a monthslong effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and end a Medicaid expansion that brought insurance and health services to millions of people, many of them his supporters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia. He promised to bring in the “best people” to staff his administration and—upon taking office—promptly staffed his White House and the larger bureaucracy with a cadre of sycophants, opportunists, and ideologues hostile to the missions and values of the departments they lead. Trump promised tax reform that wouldn’t benefit the rich and delivered just the opposite. And, most famously, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and wash corruption from Washington. What that has meant, in practice, is an open effort to enrich himself and his family at the expense of taxpayers, directing public funds to his private clubs and resorts.
But there’s another way to read Trump’s promise—not as a commitment to economic populism but as a statement of racial solidarity. Far from acting as a president for all Americans, he’s governed explicitly as a president for white Americans and the racial reactionaries among them. He’s spoken to their fear and fanned their anger, making his office a rallying point for those who see decline in multiracial democracy and his administration a tool for those who would turn the clock back on racial progress. If those Americans are the “forgotten men and women” of President Trump’s inaugural address, then he’s been a man of his word. That simmering pursuit of racial grievance has been its defining characteristic and threatens to be its most enduring achievement.
I would add one thing. Ever since the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, it’s seemed to me that Trump has been halting in his criticism of such people because he can’t give up their adulation of him. He can back away from them, criticize their actions, and say that American is bigger than them; yet so long as there’s a sliver that can be interpreted as praise, they’ll stick by him. For someone who needs attention and praise and the spotlight, and yet also needs to lash out and subjugate people, they’re the perfect audience. He’ll never leave them, and they’ll never leave him.