In the midst of his contentious interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, when the subject turned to the supposed political indoctrination of young people in college, Donald Trump paused to remind his guest that “We have as many as them.” He gestured to the White House, to the aristocratic trappings that framed the interview, as proof. “Who’s them?,” Wallace replied, almost incredulously. “The liberal radical left,” the President replied with disdain.
The showman distracts: this is slow motion genocide.
We all know this: Trump often expresses this disdain in racist language and action, a shocking departure of style from his direct predecessor. He openly valorizes the white suburb, which he imagines as white and middle class, and forecasts racial doom should his opponent win. He sees racially-mixed cities – and especially Chicago and New York – as hellscapes, deserving only a vigorous, militarized policing. He routinely, even gleefully, shouts down black and brown reporters. He has labored to wall off all of Mexico, to foreclose legal and illegal immigration, to stymie legitimate refugee applications. Without shame or apology, he has locked away the children of illegal migrants in cages and without due process. He has described African and Caribbean countries as “shitholes,” and erected travel bans against Muslims, whom he imagines as brown-skinned devils. He echoes and repeats an early generation of scientific racists, men like Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant. He has endorsed radical white supremacist groups, marauding through college towns, as “very fine people,” and defined himself as a champion of the Confederacy’s legacy. He has dehumanized this “liberal radical left” so thoroughly that members of his own administration have argued that non-citizens should not count as “people,” an approach that makes the 3/5 clause seem benevolent by comparison. It is for these actions that he is routinely – and rightfully – branded a bully, a racist, and a white supremacist. And it is for the exact same reasons that he has been rewarded with a remarkably consistent racial base and stands a chance of re-election in November.
The sum of all of this is not mere racism. These are not just racist policies and practices; they are eugenic, aimed at the reversal of demographic changes that date back to the mid-1960s. Beneath all of the grievance politics of the day, litigating the past and the present, there is in his administration a rock-steady focus on the future, and on the coming end of the white majority. The theory of the great replacement – the demographic diminishment of whites and the numerical advance of people of color – is no longer just encoded in the ideologies of survivalists and frog-eyed bigots; thanks to Trump, it now has enormous appeal to white families with basic paycheck concerns, including those who are worried about college admissions and for whom the simplest and most banal sort of diversity often leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. To a great many – even a few squeamish, middle-of-the-road types – Trump’s language about repair and resurrection now resonates deep within the body, as a racial instinct for survival.
The policies he has stitched together are a form of institutional genocide, linking the depersonalized structures that have defined racism in post Jim Crow America with the demographic ambitions of ethnic cleansing. I’m referring here, of course, not just to the dizzying list above, but also to the administration’s casual retreat from an aggressive public health posture on the COVID-19 pandemic, a retreat that began once it became clear that black and brown communities, and perhaps especially those communities that were also socio-economically marginalized, were the hardest hit by the virus. Trump’s response to the virus allows us to see the eliminationist position as centrally important. As Adam Serwer put it in The Atlantic, “The Corona Virus was an Emergency Unit Trump Found Out Who was Dying.” Writing in May, when the pressure to “re-open America” were cresting, Serwer had diagnosed that “the lives of disproportionately black and brown workers are being sacrificed to fuel the engine of a faltering economy, by a president who disdains them.” All too many have cited Serwer’s exquisite encapsulation of the regime – that “the cruelty is the point” – but fewer have seen that same meanness and viciousness as a means to an end. And the same logic applies right now now, as the number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths rises once more. Trump’s boredom with the disease is a reflection that it does not matter to him personally, and to the racially aggrieved party he so perfectly represents. When we say, then, that Trump and his wingmen – DeSantis, Kemp, Ducey, and Co. – are taking “America on a death march,” that isn’t exactly true. They are all betting that the racial edge of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to cut down communities of color, even within so-called “red states.” They simply don’t see those communities as American, as people, as human. The death march is for communities of color. And yet, despite this stone-faced focus on the racial numbers, the allocation of medical resources to GOP-led states gets described as petty partisanship rather than as a precondition of radical and racial demographic change orchestrated by the state.
Weaponizing the virus to accomplish a key policy ambition – the resurrection of a white majority and the elimination of the threat to that majority – is, once again, a kind of genocide. Weakening the “liberal radical left” means allowing the virus to cull it of people of color, whether that happens by compelling poor black and brown folks back to work, by insisting that they vote in-person in long lines, or by forcing open schools. In all of this, the present administration is not indifferent or passive; it is an active, muscular presence, building a new white majority out of one thousand deaths a day.
We tend to imagine that genocide happens far, far away. The mainstream media struggles, even now, to call Trump’s words and deeds “racist,” choosing instead to use mealy-mouthed alternatives like “racially charged.” The nation struggles to rescue its reputation, to put extraordinary distance between our domestic, purported “democratic” landscapes and the fascist regimes who have executed eugenic policies in the name of ethnic and racial cleansing. Trump is not a Nazi, the argument goes, and this is not Kosovo or Rwanda. Nevertheless, it is also true that Trump has managed to routinize the work of the racial state, so that eliminationist agendas are spotlighted for the public good. He wishes not only to restore white majority rule, but also to make the nation inhospitable to black and brown communities, to make it so toxic that they leave or die.
Calling this genocide has implications for the future. Soon, Trump will no longer be president. Princeton University historian, Kevin Kruse, has encouraged us all to expect from any possible Biden administration a thoughtful exfoliation of scandals and misdeeds. This is beyond prudent, even if – since we’ve been averaging a major scandal every few days – it might also be technically impossible. But if this is genocide, we might push further towards anti-fascist political precedents like de-Nazification and de-Ba’athification, and also towards structures of post-genocidal accountability, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa and the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. Or beyond all of that.
One final thought: calling this what it is will also hamper the seemingly inevitable normalcy of including Trump’s image in an array of past Presidents on things as quotidian as placemats, encyclopedias, and grade school bulletin boards. Or his face on a postage stamp or a commemorative coin. Or on school buildings and street names. Or, more formally, the establishment of a Presidential library and the assignment of a Presidential portraitist. A vainglorious, shallow pretender, Trump has spent a lifetime building cheap, golden monuments to himself. Tear them all down. Let the most enduring marker be the one that brands him an architect of our most recent eugenic solution.