“He sends blatant signals of support for the causes of white supremacists,” said TJ Ducklo, Biden campaign’s national press secretary.
FLORIDA — President Donald Trump is wielding America’s racial tensions as a reelection weapon, fiercely denouncing the racial justice movement on a near-daily basis with language stoking white resentment and aiming to drive his supporters to the polls.
“The issue is to understand the appeal to white resentment and white fear,” said Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. “It’s all rooted in this panic about the place of white people in this new America.”
Though Trump has long aired racially divisive language and grievances in the public sphere, his willingness to do so from behind the presidential seal — and on his Twitter account — has reached a breakneck pace in recent days as the nation grapples with racial injustice.
The Republican president tweeted — and later deleted — a video of a supporter yelling “white power.” He referred to the Black Lives Matter mantra as a “symbol of hate.” He took a swipe at NASCAR for removing the Confederate flag from its races and falsely suggested a Black driver had carried out a racially charged hoax. Also, he mused about overturning a suburban fair-housing regulation and spoke approvingly of the current branding of the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians team nicknames that many consider offensive to Native Americans.
Most notably, he has engaged in a full-throated defense of the Confederate legacy, which he at times has cloaked within tributes to the Founding Fathers, including during a pair of high-profile Fourth of July weekend speeches.
“Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America’s destiny,” Trump said Friday at the base of Mount Rushmore. “In toppling the heroes of 1776, they seek to dissolve the bonds of love and loyalty that we feel for our country, and that we feel for each other. Their goal is not a better America; their goal is the end of America.”
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Trump has repeatedly called for the preservation of statues of the Confederacy and the names of its generals on military bases — all assailed in the protests that have swept from coast to coast in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
According to current and former Trump campaign officials, his overarching strategy is an appeal to white voters — some of them racist, and some who fear being left behind by a government seemingly consumed with helping others. Those officials were not authorized to publicly discuss such private matters and commented only on condition of anonymity.
The belief is that his appeals will generate enthusiasm among the same disaffected white voters who made up the president’s base of supporters four years ago.
But many in Trump’s orbit are sounding the alarm that 2020 is not 2016.
White House advisers Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner, according to the officials, have both warned that some of the racist rhetoric, including the use of China-blaming “kung flu” to describe the COVID-19 pandemic, could turn off swaths of voters. And some believe there was more of an audience for inflammatory rhetoric about immigration four years ago, particularly as polls show the Black Lives Matter movement gaining widespread support.
Democrats have charged that Trump’s recent rhetoric is consistent with his history, including his call in the 1980s for the death penalty for Black teenagers later exonerated for the rape of a jogger in Central Park, and for questioning whether the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, was born in the United States.
“We are beyond dog whistles with this president,” said TJ Ducklo, the Biden campaign’s national press secretary. “Donald Trump openly embraces racist rhetoric and sends blatant signals of support for the causes of white supremacists — and he does it from the highest office in the land.”