For a brief period during the Nixon administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (led at the time by George Romney, Mitt’s father) enforced the 1968 Fair Housing Act by withholding funds from municipalities whose policies did not actively promote racial integration. President Richard Nixon himself put an end to the practice, and nothing of the sort was attempted until the Obama era, when HUD began using grants as leverage to force local governments to track (and plan to address) segregation. The agency codified this approach under the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule in 2015. But the Trump administration, predictably, stopped enforcing the rule almost immediately after Donald Trump took office.
Now, in 2020, Trump is making an embarrassingly transparent attempt to win white voters back from Joe Biden by formally repealing the rule that he hadn’t been enforcing anyway—and by circulating the idea that, if and when Biden wins and reinstates it, every white suburban family in America will soon discover that their precious single-family home is located next to a new high-crime “urban” housing project from a 1970s nightmare.
One reason this gambit might not be as effective for Trump as it has been for reactionary American politicians in the past—and, granted, it definitely has been effective before—is that suburbs have been getting more diverse at the same time that their white residents have become more likely to hold college degrees. (Having a degree is a demographic marker that, in recent years, has grown even more closely tied than it was before to holding liberal attitudes on race.) Another reason is that when Trump talks about suburbs, he sounds like someone who has not had a suburbs-related life experience since watching Back to the Future in 1985.
Yes, for sure … the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream,” a well-known phrase, used commonly in 2020 by “Suburban Housewives of America” (who definitely, in 2020, enjoy being referred to as “Suburban Housewives”) and many others, in the suburbs.
Voters, don’t let the Democrats ruin your … lawns? Trees? Whatever.
Anyway, this is, to be sure, a fun sequel to “Trump tries to describe a dishwasher,” and the persistent segregation of suburbs is a real issue. But as long as the coronavirus remains a more active threat to homeowners than Joe Biden possibly reinstating a rules interpretation that creates a long-term incentive for zoning boards to approve the construction of affordable housing, it is unlikely that anyone needs to spend much more time thinking about what Donald Trump says about it.
For more of Slate’s news coverage, subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts or listen below.
Support Slate’s politics coverage
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Join Slate Plus to support our work. You’ll get unlimited articles and a suite of great benefits.