Editorial: Trump's bid to inflict fear on the suburbs

When Donald J. Trump won the presidency in 2016, he carried the nation's suburbs by 49% vs. Hillary Clinton's 45%. When the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll was released on June 26, it showed Joe Biden leading Trump in the suburbs by 60% to 35%.

There is a reason Trump suddenly is declaring that a Biden presidency would “abolish the suburbs.”

It would be naïve for anyone to think his hyperbolic charge is merely a colorful way to set forth a difference of opinion over policy – particularly since the pertinent Biden housing proposal Trump's campaign seems just now to have discovered was issued in February.

The suburbs will determine who wins this year's presidential election, and Trump surely knows it. He also knows that he will not win the election unless he somehow can knock down Biden's vote here.

There is the sound of a dog whistle in Trump's politicking on this. He has described a Barack Obama administration fair housing mandate as “having a devastating impact on these once thriving suburban areas” and said Biden “wants to destroy our suburbs” by extending that mandate even further.

To the extent that the president's campaign strategy is cynically whistling, let those of us in the suburbs reply – with thunderous and offended clarity – that our communities are thriving, that we are far from devastated. Let us reply also that we will not be destroyed, that we have confidence in the future of our communities and the suburban lifestyle. Further, let us make it abundantly clear that we are not the narrow-minded reactionaries that may stereotypically be assumed and manipulated by that strategy.

All of that said, fair and affordable housing has and continues to be a challenge in the suburbs, one that bumps up against zoning visions and traditions, income inequality and, admittedly, a sad history that at one time at least included racial steering and intentional segregation. To the degree that progress on fair housing has moved too slowly and that worthwhile goals still grapple with conflicts, this is an issue that requires resolve and continued attention.

The Trump Administration has effectively suspended the Obama fair housing mandate that tied community development grants to efforts to integrate neighborhoods in keeping with the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Biden's plan would not only re-start that mandate, but would strengthen the enforcement mechanisms by withholding transportation money from communities that fail to revise zoning codes enough to provide for sufficient and fairer housing.

In that regard, it's fair to debate the issue. Fair to ask Trump how as an alternative to the Obama mandate, he's going to promote desegregation in housing when where you live has a major impact on how broad your life's opportunities may be. And fair to ask Biden for specifics on his enforcement mechanisms and for how open he would be to innovative solutions to some of these housing challenges.

It's fair also to ask these questions of our senators and congressmen – and of their opponents – in the upcoming election.

But while asking them, let's also be mindful of a recent observation by former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, newly named executive director of the Wheaton-based Hope Fair Housing Center.

“There's a reason behind fair housing laws,” Sanguinetti told one of our reporters the other day. “We all need a place to live. Fair housing is a human right, and as much as people try to politicize it, I always try to steer them away from that because it's a human right.”

Housing policy is subject to debate like anything else. But Mr. President, let's debate it without resorting to demagoguery that seeks to inflame and divide goodhearted people.

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