Over the weekend, President Trump used his bully pulpit to openly fantasize about the Secret Service siccing “vicious dogs” on demonstrators outside the White House who were protesting police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last week. Trump’s calls for violence against protesters reflect the anti-Blackness of economic policies he and the GOP have relentlessly pursued since 2016, including recent attempts to destroy public sector jobs and to make discrimination in lending nearly impossible to catch.
One in five Black Americans work in the public sector, where they earn more and face less wage disparities than in the private sector. The United States Postal Service (USPS) is one public sector employer that’s long been a center of Black labor organizing, and, subsequently, a target for privatization. In 2006, George W. Bush signed a law that forced the USPS to pre-fund its pensions 75 years into the future. Trump has tried to go even further, threatening back in March to veto the CARES Act should it contain any aid for the USPS, even as it faces bankruptcy. Despite this threat, the CARES Act contained a $10 billion loan for the postal service, to be administered by the Treasury Department, which is reportedly planning to use it as leverage to force changes. The Trump administration’s determination to let the post office fail is an attack on Black workers. As Thomas Kennedy wrote for Truthout, Black workers shut out of many jobs due to systemic racism have “traditionally found well-paid and stable employment through the post office.” A 2000 study by the Government Accountability Office found that as of 1999, 21 percent of USPS employees were Black, compared to the 11 percent of the overall country’s civilian labor force. As of 2011, about 25 percent of the USPS’s workers were Black. Black workers also made up 14.3 percent of the Post Office’s executive management. Like many frontline workers, USPS employees are especially at risk during the pandemic. According to the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, 1,100 postal workers have tested positive for coronavirus and 54 have died.
During the Great Recession, losses in public sector jobs hit Black workers hardest, as they lost their jobs at twice the rate of whites. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggests that blue states should simply go bankrupt during the pandemic, he is expressing his determination to decimate Black employment. With state and local budgets staring down massive shortfalls, this all but guarantees that the loss in public sector work that Black Americans saw after the last recession will repeat in this one.
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The Trump administration has also been busy creating new barriers to housing for Black and Brown U.S. residents. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) was enacted in 1977 in response to racist, government-created redlining to ensure banks are not discriminatory in their lending. Many banks ran afoul of the CRA during the last financial crisis, including OneWest, which is why advocacy groups cried foul when Trump chose former OneWest executive Joseph Otting to run the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a banking regulator. Otting oversaw a dramatic overhaul of the CRA, allowing banks to reduce their lending to low-income communities, a move that faced wide condemnation by civil rights groups. After pushing through these changes that will almost certainly further widen the racial wealth gap and exacerbate the problems of banking while Black, Otting resigned mid-pandemic, telling staff he planned to play lots of golf and tennis. Otting’s lasting legacy will be his efforts to make discrimination in mortgages and bank lending more likely — hopefully it won’t be a lasting legacy; the National Community Reinvestment Coalition has already announced it will sue to block the rule.
Like most kinds of discrimination, housing discrimination can be difficult to even notice, as prospective landlords have a variety of excuses to blame rejections on, from credit scores to lack of references. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has written, “Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute.” Under Trump, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been working to make detecting and prosecuting it even harder. Following the last financial crisis, the Justice Department prosecuted Wells Fargo for disproportionately giving Black and Latinx borrowers subprime loans and whites prime loans, even when their credit scores and incomes were the same. Wells Fargo, in this case, did not explicitly say it aimed to discriminate, but the outcomes of its lending was discriminatory because there was a “pattern or practice of discrimination.” The Obama administration formalized this legal standard with its 2013 Disparate Impact rule, which clarified that it is a violation of the Fair Housing Act when practices lead to discrimination even if there was no explicit, provable intent to discriminate. HUD has not just moved to gut this rule, the agency went even further, saying that lenders aren’t responsible if they use an algorithm from a third party that results in discrimination, effectively allowing lenders to dodge blame. Enforcing all but the most egregious, naked discrimination would be all but impossible under HUD’s proposed rule — which is the point.
Trump is living up well to the legacy of his father, who routinely denied housing to Black people. But he’s also bringing back the same discriminatory political targeting used by white supremacist politicians like Bull Connor and Walter E. Headley. Trump evoked Connor’s methods of sending police dogs to attack civil rights protesters in the 1960s when he threatened on May 30 that if protesters outside the White House breached the fence, they would be “greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons.” Connor was the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, who aimed fire hoses and released dogs on civil rights protesters in 1963. The day before, Trump labeled the Minneapolis protesters “THUGS” and quoted Headley’s statement that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in a tweet that was later censored by Twitter for “glorifying violence.” Headley was Miami’s police chief from 1948-1968, overseeing two decades of anti-Black violence in Miami including the use of guns, dogs and stop-and-frisk. And like many lawmakers today, Headley dismissed the protesters’ demands, calling them “hoodlums who took advantage of the civil rights campaign.” Trump continues to celebrate brutality in his response to the uprisings following the police murder of George Floyd — retweeting calls to “use overwhelming force.” His policymaking and those he’s deputized in his administration use similar force to perpetuate violence through anti-Black policies.