The white supremacist march and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va., serve as stark reminders that racism and bigotry still run rampant in America. These events also remind us that President Trump has failed to advocate for policies that help black Americans overcome systemic racial discrimination. In fact Trump has done the opposite, due not only to his espousal of racism and bigotry, but also his zero-sum-game view of the world, generated from his career as a real estate tycoon before taking the Oval Office.
Consistent in all of Trump’s 12 books is his philosophy that in order for one person or group of people to win, someone else or some other group has to lose. In his book "Think Big and Kick Ass," he writes: "You hear lots of people say that a great deal is when both sides win. That is a bunch of crap. In a great deal you win — not the other side. You crush the opponent and come away with something better for yourself." In another book, "The Art of the Deal," he half-jokingly instructs the reader not to follow his advice because doing so would “make it a much tougher world for [him].” To his credit, wealth in the real estate sector is somewhat fixed, in that the amount of land and building regulations limit the number of available properties. Thus, a real estate investment made by one investor often means an economic opportunity is lost for another.
Trump’s zero-sum approach, however, directly undermines policies — such as affirmative action — that foster equality between blacks and whites. Last month, the White House instructed the Justice Department to investigate "intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions," signaling that it is concerned with admissions policies that discriminate against white applicants. This initiative, which implicitly seeks to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling just last year in Fisher v. University of Texas, is based on the misguided viewpoint that affirmative action benefits black university applicants to the detriment of whites and, in turn, blacks are taking jobs away from whites.
At first glance, affirmative action is a zero-sum game — a university that selects a black applicant over a white applicant because of race means the white applicant lost her opportunity to attend that university. That simplistic understanding of race-conscious admission policies, however, is part of the reason why the racial divide is still so vast.
Evidence suggests that affirmative action is not a zero-sum game. In a 2005 study, Harvard researchers determined that only the top 20 percent of colleges in the United States had affirmative action policies and that the average acceptance rate at those colleges was around 20 percent. The average incoming class had roughly 15 percent black or Hispanic students and 3 percent were selected as a result of affirmative action. This means only a fraction of the 80 percent of rejected white applicants could have overlapped with the 3 percent of applicants admitted because of affirmative action. The same study also pointed out that attending a university in the top 20 percent had almost no effect on the lifetime income of individuals from advantaged backgrounds, whereas attending a university in the top 20 percent for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds had a substantial impact on lifetime income. Considering that the poverty rate for blacks and Hispanics is 24 percent and 21 percent, respectively, yet just 9 percent for whites, affirmative action works much more in the favor of people of color than it does against whites.
Further discrediting the view that race-conscious admission policies are zero-sum in nature are the myriad benefits of college diversity. In an amicus brief filed in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas, the American Psychological Association cited evidence that racial diversity in college enhances students’ “critical thinking and problem-solving ability” and improves “other attributes related to academic success, including student satisfaction and motivation, general knowledge, and intellectual self-confidence.” Affirmative action, in other words, promotes diversity and gives students the opportunity to improve each other’s lives synergistically. It’s a mechanism that lifts all boats, not just those of a certain color.
Currently, 40 percent of whites older than 18 mistakenly believe that it is likely that they or someone they know was rejected from a college because an unqualified black applicant was admitted instead. As president, Trump’s job is not only to champion all Americans, but also correct the misunderstanding that white people are worse off from policies that improve the lives of racial minorities. Until Trump eschews his zero-sum approach to race and advocates for policies that improve race relations, the racial divide will likely continue to widen, and a repeat of Charlottesville is not out of the question.
Daniel Schwartz is a second-year law student at the University of Wisconsin.
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