Why is Trump Obsessed with Suburbia?

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tags: segregation, Donald Trump, suburban history

Willow Lung-Amam is a Nonresident Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. She also serves as associate professor in the Urban Studies and Planning Program and director of community development at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In a raucous first presidential debate, there were few coherent moments. Among Donald Trump’s many distractions and personal attacks, he turned a question about homicide rates to the suburbs. “Our suburbs would be gone” under a Biden presidency, he claimed. “You would see problems like you’ve never seen before.”

Over the last several months, the topic of suburbia has been of endless fascination to the President. He has made inflammatory comments in press briefings, late night tweets, policy statements, and a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal penned with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary (HUD), Ben Carson. While presumably related to HUD’s recent decision to revoke the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulations, Trump’s comments have often extended far beyond the narrow ruling, leading many to question his obsession with suburbia. The op-ed offers his clearest statement as to why.

America is often perceived as being deeply divided between rural Republican and urban Democratic strongholds. Suburbia, it is often said (though less often proven) is the land of swing voters—the place that decides elections. That appeared to be the case in 2016, when Trump won the suburban vote and the White House by narrow margins. Since then, suburban voters seem to be slipping from his narrow grasp—and Trump is more determined than ever to win them back, largely by appealing to suburban stereotypes and racial tropes.

Urban policy makers are convenient scapegoats for what conservatives cast as failed liberal policies. Trump and Carson attack the two African American senators leading efforts to enforce 50-year old fair housing laws, implying that suburbanization (implicitly of Black and Brown Americans) is a response to “failed liberal governance” of cities they represent that are “unaffordable” and “unlivable”.


The postwar period of racially exclusive, tight-knit suburbs that gave birth to the middle-class mark the height of American “greatness” to many white Americans. Decades of deindustrialization, a declining welfare state, corporate deregulation, and global capitalism have torn away at that dream. Their sense of security has withered alongside once-shining suburbs—mirroring larger economic inequality trends. Many have watched poverty, foreclosure, and unemployment rates rise in their communities, while other suburbs became increasingly exclusive and advantaged.

The pandemic and economic crises threaten to strip away the pretense of American exceptionalism and myth of meritocracy. Trump and Carson do not want white America to see itself as recipients of federal welfare policies that made suburbs possible, profitable, and desirable–from Federal Housing Administration loans and interstate highways to mortgage interest deductions. Instead, they position white suburbanites as defenders of democracy in their commitment to private property rights and local control–Americans who “voted with their feet” and grew their communities “from the bottom up.”


Read entire article at Brookings Institution

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