During the first presidential debate of the 2024 race, former President Donald Trump once again used racially charged rhetoric, this time to attack President Joe Biden as a “very bad Palestinian.” The former president followed it up the next day by repeating the same smear against Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Only a few days earlier, Trump doubled down on his disparaging rhetoric aimed at undocumented immigrants.

The former president’s incendiary remarks and track record on race make it easy to personalize the challenge his nativist presidential campaign poses to America’s multi-racial and multi-ethnic nation. Trump, however, is not operating in a vacuum. Instead, the former president is feeding off the enduring undercurrents of racism in our society, our politics, and our institutions. Evidence is often hiding in plain sight. Consider the decisions and actions of our judicial system, state governments, and national politicians.

For instance, in late May, the Supreme Court upheld South Carolina’s racially determined gerrymandering of congressional constituencies. That decision followed a U.S. appeals court ruling last year that limits the ability of individuals or organizations to sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects against racial discrimination. The governor of Virginia has vetoed laws meant to strip tax exempt status from organizations commemorating the Confederacy, and a state school board restored names celebrating Confederate generals to public schools. Nearly 90 percent of House Republicans (192 Members in all) voted in June to restore a racist monument – featuring a Black female slave holding the child of a white Confederate officer – to Arlington National Cemetery. The effort was narrowly defeated after just two dozen Republicans joined every Democrat in rejecting it.

There are initiatives across multiple states to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs while portraying White Americans as the true victims of racism. National opinion leaders such as Elon Musk and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson have spread the white nationalist “Great Replacement” theory, which holds that white Americans are deliberately being replaced with immigrants of color. The governors in Texas and Florida regularly use language more suited to an armed conflict than governing, as they attack the Biden administration’s immigration reforms and attempt to justify increasingly restrictive legislation against irregular migrants, almost all non-white. Senior Trump aide Stephen Miller reportedly plans to focus on alleged “anti-white racism” should the former president win a second term in November. Nationwide, antisemitism and anti-Muslim discrimination are on the rise.

Biden has begun pushing back against the challenge of resurgent racism in our society. In his address on antisemitism at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in May, as well as in his recent commencement speeches for Howard University and Morehouse College, the President called out “the poison of white supremacy.” In his remarks on the occasion of a Juneteenth concert at the White House, Biden spoke again in general terms about “old ghosts in new garments” seeking “to erase and rewrite history.”

But as the examples above indicate, the specifics also matter: the challenge is national, systemic, and sustained, threatening minorities across the United States.


In another era, Trump’s statements about immigrants poisoning the national bloodstream, as well as his plans to oversee a mass deportation of undocumented migrants, comments about Israel-hating Jews, vow to ban Muslims from entering the country, and racist smears aimed at his political rivals would have disqualified him from becoming the presidential nominee of a major party.

Not now. Crowds at Trump rallies cheer his messaging – and there is little to no pushback from establishment Republicans, even those who supposedly oppose the former president.

Trump critics like former presidential candidate Nikki Haley, former Attorney General William Barr, New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu have all endorsed Trump, claiming that President Biden is a bigger threat to the country. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has also endorsed Trump, remaining silent as the former president insults his Asian-American spouse with an ethnic slur. Some Republicans who are themselves minorities counterattack when racist trends within the party are pointed out, as was the case with Senator Tim Scott, who claimed “the most racist [people] in this country are liberals.” Haley has also adopted a dismissive attitude, stating that the United States has “never been a racist country.”

It is not enough to rationalize, as Senator Rubio did in reference to Trump, that “he doesn’t talk like a traditional politician.” At a certain point, the now ubiquitous prevalence of racialist speech should be a cause of profound concern for the nation. Nor is this simply a matter of troubling language.


Politicians at the national and state levels are rewriting our history of slavery and race relations. Florida has led the charge, revising its educational curriculum to suggest the institution was of benefit to the enslaved. Eighteen states are imposing constraints on how race is taught in schools. These revisionist efforts are aimed at changing how we perceive minorities not just in the past, but also in modern America.

On the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito disparaged both self-identification and the role of race in history when he asked the value of a student saying, “I’m Hispanic, I’m African American, I’m Asian?” Some of the justices are unwilling to question the notion of a “color-blind Constitution,” which enshrined the principle of Black lives being worth less than white ones, as they also sidestep the court’s own long history of supporting discrimination.

The Court’s 2023 decision on affirmative action opened the doors to a flood of efforts to eliminate DEI in education, government, and the private sector. One can acknowledge the debate on DEI and affirmative action programs yet still recognize the continuing need to remove the barriers to equality of opportunity. Instead, DEI programs are being terminated in their entirety at public universities in Florida and Alabama, with more than twenty states possibly following suit. The U.S. House of Representatives has quietly closed its Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Companies are also looking at whether they need to continue with DEI programs.

The Heritage Foundation blueprint (Project 2025) for a second Trump administration goes further, advocating the end of all DEI in government, as has the former president. In Congress, the “Dismantle DEI Act” was introduced by Republicans on June 12, stating in part, that “the DEI agenda is a destructive ideology that breeds hatred and racial division.”

Concurrently, state restrictions on voter registration, voting day procedures, and the rights of election officials to certify results are gaining pace. Fourteen states enacted restrictive voting laws in 2023, according to the Brennan Center. The efforts are national, though Alabama’s elimination of majority Black districts was so egregious it was blocked by the Supreme Court.

More generally, the targeting of minorities has become more widespread since the 2020 COVID pandemic, when Americans of Asian descent faced racial harassment. Two years after the conviction of officers for the murder of George Floyd, police killings were at a decade high in 2023, with Blacks again representing a disproportionate number of the victims. American Jews fear for their safety. Arab Americans express a similar sentiment.


Mainstream national media covering the presidential campaign, and not wishing to appear partisan, struggles to offer balanced coverage of the candidates’ approach to race. The fact is, however, that white supremacy, as Jennifer Rubin writes, is a subtext of the Trump presidential campaign, with little or no pushback from the mainstream leadership of his party. It may be impolitic to suggest that racial animus is a motivating factor for a critical mass of voters this year, but polling suggests that this is indeed the case

There is no indication that attempts to use race as a divider in our national politics will stop anytime soon, raising the stakes of the presidential choice facing Americans on November 5. The consequences for minorities in a second Trump administration could be devastating.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) had endorsed Trump. He has not endorsed the former president.

Image: Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits at the defendant’s table for his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss – Pool/Getty Images)