One of the least surprising scoops from inside the Trump administration was revealed Tuesday night. The Justice Department under President Trump, the New York Times reported, may focus the resources of the agency’s civil rights division on “investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”
Anyone with even a passing awareness of the focus of conservative media over the past eight years or so will understand that this was inevitable. Trump, an eager consumer of conservative news, has no doubt seen scores of Fox News segments focused on the effects of affirmative action, a subset of a broader focus on how Democrats — usually meaning people of color — undeservedly get things free: phones, education, housing, etc.
As should be obvious above, this isn’t an argument that’s unique to the far-right of Trump’s party. Shortly after he lost his race for the presidency, Mitt Romney lamented that his campaign’s sales pitch couldn’t compete with the “gifts” that President Barack Obama promised in the form of free health care and forgiveness of student loan debt. During last year’s Republican primaries, Jeb Bush — perhaps the most moderate candidate in the field — argued that he could win black votes because his message was one of “hope and aspiration,” not “one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff.”
There’s a difference between affirmative action and free college educations, obviously, but for some conservatives, they overlap in the same place: Someone, usually a nonwhite person, is getting something that isn’t deserved. And, moreover, those conservatives think the beneficiaries are doing so at the expense of someone else — in this case, whites who are denied admission or whites having to pay for it with their taxes.
In 2015, Gallup asked Americans how they felt about affirmative action for women and for racial minorities. Across the board, there was more support for policies that bolstered women — in itself a remarkable finding. There was also majority support for programs aimed at racial minorities, but among no groups was that support lower than with white men and Republicans.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric targeted those Americans directly. He argued repeatedly that the worst problems in the country were ones that they linked to nonwhite people: crime and drugs, which those voters saw as the fault of illegal immigrants, and terrorism, which was seen by them as the fault of immigrants and refugees. He also argued that the economic deck was stacked against normal working-class Americans, by which he meant white workers in the Midwest who’d once worked in coal mines and factories. It’s a very short step from there to blame nonwhites for those economic problems, too, in part by suggesting that they’ve gotten an unfair advantage in gaining access to the higher education that correlates to higher incomes over the long term.
(Excerpted from Bump, Washington Post 8/2/17)