Donald Trump, The Clintons, and the Racially Coded Language of Law and Order

Last night’s Republican National Convention came to a fiery climax as Manhattan billionaire Donald Trump took to the stage to deliver his first speech as the official Republican party nominee for President of the United States.

One might argue that Trump’s speech, as well as the “anti-establishment movement” that his candidacy represents, marks an unapologetic return to what has become a benchmark strategy of the Republican party in the post-civil rights era: angry white nationalism masquerading as a colorblind concern for “law and order.”

Students of American history have seen this story before: what Trump did last night is no different than what Barry Goldwater did in Election ’64 (which gave rise to the modern Republic party); what Richard Nixon did in Election ’68 (which gave rise to the War on Drugs) or what Democrat Bill Clinton did in Elections ’92 & 96 (which helped give birth to the rise of mass incarceration in the US).

All of these campaigns have relied on the same political strategy: an invocation of the seemingly race neutral rhetoric of “law and order” as a way of bolstering support for policies that inevitably result in the increased surveillance and aggressive policing of black and brown communities.

It is worth noting that — -as with Nixon and Clinton before him — Donald Trump’s vision of “law and order” is not directed towards the wealthy or those who belong to the politically protected classes of American society. Thus, establishing “law and order” does not entail a reigning in on the criminal corruption of Wall Street or the criminal corruption running rampant in police departments across the nation (where officers are endowed with the “right” to execute unarmed citizens without fear of legal consequence).

Instead, “law and order” refers almost exclusively to the increased surveillance of America’s most politically vulnerable constituencies: black people living in cities like Cleveland; Ferguson; Flatbush and Baltimore; or Muslim Americans and non-European immigrants of all kinds.

This story is not new.

But perhaps more frighteningly: this story is not exclusively Republican. Indeed, the racially coded language of “law and order” is not germane or specific to the Republican party and conservatives: Democrats (particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton) have long seized upon such language to bolster allegiances with white working class constituencies.

Indeed, perhaps Trump’s convention speech helps reveal why, up until very recently, he and The Clintons have been long time allies and political comrades. Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric is a continuation of the Clinton legacy — not a deviation from it.

Whether it be in the form of Donald Trump’s call for the erection of a wall to separate the U.S. from Mexico, or Hillary Clinton’s call for a crackdown on “super-predators” — -the use of the racially coded language of “law and order” is what makes Trump and the Clintons bedfellows — -not opponents.