President Donald Trump is rarely subtle with his racist dog-whistling, and his latest appeal to suburban voters is no different. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.” He continued, “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!” Trump was referring to an Obama-era law regarding the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision, which seeks to reduce racial segregation in the suburbs.
This declaration follows a tweet last week in which Trump shared a New York Post op-ed by the former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey, arguing that presidential challenger Joe Biden’s proposed housing policies threaten the “value of their new home, the size of their property tax bill and the character of the town they now call home.” Trump proclaimed, “The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article. Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!”
The political play here is not hard to decipher. Trump feels he needs to portray “the suburbs” as under an imminent threat to provoke racist fears among white voters. That threat, he implies, would come about from the diversification of neighborhoods encouraged by the Fair Housing Act, the provisions of which Biden has pledged to expand. And by couching the issue in terms of “the Suburban Lifestyle Dream,” Trump plays into a caricature of an idealized homogenous past, a white-bread Leave It to Beaver image of 1950s suburbia. That image was always a lie, but it is instructive to see how the very words suburb and suburban have served historically as a kind of palette for painting racial, ethnic, and economic divisions on the American landscape.