Apr 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Trump allies plot anti-racism protections — for white people

Photo illustration of Donald Trump with photos of Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Charly Triballeau/AFP, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If Donald Trump returns to the White House, close allies want to dramatically change the government's interpretation of Civil Rights-era laws to focus on "anti-white racism" rather than discrimination against people of color.

Why it matters: Trump's Justice Department would push to eliminate or upend programs in government and corporate America that are designed to counter racism that has favored whites.

Targets would range from decades-old policies aimed at giving minorities economic opportunities, to more recent programs that began in response to the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd.

  • Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung told Axios: "As President Trump has said, all staff, offices, and initiatives connected to Biden's un-American policy will be immediately terminated."

Driving the news: Longtime aides and allies preparing for a potential second Trump administration have been laying legal groundwork with a flurry of lawsuits and legal complaints — some of which have been successful.

  • A central vehicle for the effort has been America First Legal, founded by former Trump aide Stephen Miller, who has called the group conservatives' "long-awaited answer to the ACLU."
  • America First cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in February in a lawsuit against CBS and Paramount Global for what the group argued was discrimination against a white, straight man who was a writer for the show "Seal Team" in 2017.

In February, the group filed a civil rights complaint against the NFL over its "Rooney Rule."

  • The rule — named for Dan Rooney, late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers — was instituted in 2003 and expanded in 2022. It requires NFL teams to interview at least two minority candidates for vacant general manager, head coach and coordinator positions.
  • American First argued that "given the limited time frame to hire executives and coaches after the season, this results in fewer opportunities for similarly situated, well-qualified candidates who are not minorities."

In 2021, Miller's group successfully sued to block the implementation of a $29 billion pandemic-era program for women- and minority-owned restaurants, saying it discriminated against white-owned businesses.

  • "This ruling is the first, but crucial, step towards ending government-sponsored racial discrimination," Miller said then.

Zoom in: Other Trump-aligned groups are preparing for a future Trump Justice Department to implement — or challenge — policies on a broader scale.

  • The Heritage Foundation's well-funded "Project 2025" envisions a second Trump administration ending what it calls "affirmative discrimination."
  • Part of the plan, written by former Trump Justice Department official Gene Hamilton, argues that "advancing the interests of certain segments of American society ... comes at the expense of other Americans — and in nearly all cases violates longstanding federal law."
  • Hamilton is America First Legal's general counsel.

Such groups have gained momentum with the Supreme Court's turn to the right — most notably its recent rejection of affirmative action in college admissions. The court ruled that programs designed to benefit people of color and address past injustices discriminate against white and Asian Americans.

  • Earlier this month, another federal judge ruled that the Commerce Department's Minority Business Development Agency was discriminating against white people and that the program had to be open to everyone.

What they're saying: The Trump campaign directed Axios to the candidate's already stated positions bashing Biden's policies promoting equity.

  • "Every institution in America is under attack from this Marxist concept of 'equity,' " Trump said in 2023. "I will get this extremism out of the White House, out of the military, out of the Justice Department, and out of our government."
  • The Trump campaign's Steven Cheung added: "President Trump is committed to weeding out discriminatory programs and racist ideology across the federal government."
  • The NFL and Miller declined to comment. CBS didn't respond to a request for comment.

Between the lines: A CBS poll last November found that 58% of Trump voters believe that people of color were advantaged over white people — just 9% of Biden voters said the same.

  • Polls also show, however, that Trump is gaining support among Black and Latino voters.

Zoom out: Trump has portrayed himself as the victim of racism amid his legal troubles.

His political career really began in 2011 as the chief Birther-agitator, questioning Barack Obama's eligibility to be president.

  • When Trump jumped into the presidential race in 2015, he accused Mexico of dumping criminals and rapists into the U.S.
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