President Donald Trump’s Wednesday tweets about his decision to repeal a housing rule implemented by the Obama administration requires us to consider whether something can be termed a dog-whistle if its racism can be heard from orbit. “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 wrote. “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down.” The New York Times, often reticent to deploy such language, accurately described the remarks as playing on “racist fears” to court “white voters” in the suburbs.
But Trump’s bigoted appeals to white suburbanites don’t come from out of the blue. A review of his racist statements on Biden’s housing plan -- and the timing of those statements -- shows that he’s been heavily influenced by the demagoguery of right-wing media personalities, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Biden’s campaign has rolled out a series of housing proposals in an effort to spur construction of more units, improve affordability, and reduce residential segregation. Notably, he has pledged to restore an Obama-era rule suspended under Trump related to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) provision of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The rule required cities and towns that receive funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to document patterns of racial bias in neighborhoods, publish them, and develop plans to reduce segregation. Biden also supports legislation from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) that incentivizes cities and towns to change zoning rules that block the development of dense construction by leveraging community development and transportation funds.
Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, claimed in a June 30 National Review piece that Biden’s support for the “radical” AFFH rule and the Booker/Clyburn policy proposal means that he wants to “abolish the suburbs.” (Kurtz, who is obsessed with proving that President Barack Obama was actually a radical socialist likewise claimed in 2012 that Obama “intends to abolish” the suburbs.)
Kurtz urged Trump and the Republican Party to pick up this line of attack to attract suburban voters. “If suburban voters knew what the Democrats had in store for them, they’d run screaming in the other direction,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, Republicans have been too clueless or timid to make an issue of the Democrats’ anti-suburban plans. It’s time to tell voters the truth.”
But Kurtz added that it would be difficult for Republicans to make this case because HUD Secretary Ben Carson has suspended but not ended the Obama-era AFFH regulation. “The Democrat war on the suburbs is a golden gift to President Trump, but he won’t be able to make use of it until he throws over Carson’s AFFH lite and completely guts Obama’s wildly radical regulation,” he wrote. “Then [Trump] can go to town on Biden and the Dems for making war on the suburbs.”
Trump apparently came in contact with Kurtz’s piece. Hours after its publication, he tweeted that he was “studying” and considering eliminating the AFFH rule, which he claimed was “having a devastating impact” on the suburbs which Biden would make “MUCH WORSE.”
Kurtz congratulated Trump for the tweet in a National Review post the next day, adding, “Now, if your campaign exposes the Democrats’ anti-suburban plans and ignores the media screams, the suburbs will be in your corner.”
The National Review contributor picked up some additional firepower the following week when Carlson used his prime-time Fox show to adopt the line of attack. His July 9 opening monologue denounced Biden’s housing proposals, adopting Kurtz’s claim that they show that Democrats “want to abolish the suburbs.”
“Low-income federally subsidized apartments will go up in the suburbs,” thanks to the AFFH rule, Carlson fearmongered. “It's a good bet you won't see any of this, you won't see projects being built in Aspen or Martha's Vineyard or anywhere else Eric Holder vacations, but in your neighborhood? Oh, yeah.”
It may have been the last Carlson monologue authored by Blake Neff, the show’s head writer, who resigned the next day upon the revelation that he had been writing bigoted message board comments under a pseudonym for years.
Trump immerses himself in Fox’s programming, and Carlson is the host he listens to the most -- particularly where racist campaign diatribes are concerned. In this case, Carlson’s segment appears to have supercharged the president’s adoption of the “abolish” language, which he used extensively in two public events the following week.
“You’re going to abolish the suburbs” with this Biden proposal, Trump claimed during a July 14 press conference. He added that he had spoken with Carson and they were planning to eliminate “Obama-Biden’s radical AFFH.”
“Mothers aren’t happy” about the rule, he said. “Fathers aren’t happy about that. They worked hard to buy a house, and now they’re going to watch the housing values drop like a rock, and that has happened. It dropped like a rock. So we’re not going to do that; we’re going to do the exact opposite.”
Trump also used the “abolish” language again during a July 16 White House event which was widely criticized as excessively political. “The Democrats in D.C. have been and want to, at a much higher level, abolish our beautiful and successful suburbs by placing far-left Washington bureaucrats in charge of local zoning decisions,” he claimed.
He warned that under a Biden administration, “your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise” and “the end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs.”
Ever since, Fox hosts and other right-wing media figures have continued to demagogue over Biden’s purportedly dark plans for the suburbs. And Trump, using language that removes all pretext, has echoed them.
It’s not just talk -- right-wing media influence often leads to action from the Trump administration, and it did in this case. As Kurtz suggested and the president had previously hinted, Carson terminated the Obama-era AFFH rule on July 23.
The president is using racist language and promoting racist policies in an attempt to win reelection, and he’s doing it because Tucker Carlson and other right-wing media figures told him to do it.