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Take fear, resentment out of politics, Dreyfous lecturer says

March 15, 2016


During Tulane Law’s Dreyfous Lecture on March 14, UC Berkeley law Professor Ian Haney López describes President Richard Nixon’s “ dog-whistle” appeals to racial divisiveness while campaigning.

Photo by Ryan Rivet 

What critics call racist appeals by presidential candidate Donald Trump actually reflect divide-and-conquer politics that the Republican Party has practiced for 50 years, to the detriment of middle class Americans of all colors, law Professor Ian Haney López told an audience at Tulane Law School March 14.

The remedy, he said, is a vision of “we” that isn’t fragmented, recognizing that race is a wedge issue that politicians use to win white votes, ultimately causing further economic inequality.

“We have to pay attention to race because race is structuring our economy and jeopardizing the well-being of the 99 percent,” said Haney López , the John H. Boalt Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. “Race matters to everybody.”

Haney López, a constitutional scholar, delivered the 41st Dreyfous Lecture on Civil Liberties and Human Rights. Established in 1965, the event honors legendary Louisiana civil rights advocates George Abel and Mathilde Schwab Dreyfous. (Watch the video)

Haney López, who has explored the history of “dog-whistle politics” — the use of racial code words such as “inner-city,” “thug,” “silent majority” and “make America great again” — called it a tactic that promotes race-based fear and hatred of government while building support for policies that benefit the very wealthy but damage the middle class.


UC Berkeley law Professor Ian Haney López delivers Tulane Law School's 2016 Dreyfous Lecture on Civil Liberties and Human Rights. 

Photo by Ryan Rivet 

He argued that Trump doesn’t worry about whether his critics see bigotry in his message because many voters who are drawn to him don’t recognize it. But his candidacy has forced to the surface a long-developing “festering wound of racial fear and resentment.”   

“Most of his supporters are not white nationalists,” Haney López said. “Most of his supporters are good, decent folks who are stressed about the economy and about the changing face of the country. And both of these anxieties are real, they’re profound and Trump is speaking to these fears in a way that hides even from most of his supporters that these fears, at least the demographic ones, are rooted first and foremost in ugly racial stereotypes.” 

While social movements of the 1960s and ’70s created great social progress, they also left social insecurities that must be addressed, Haney López said, particularly because Republicans have promoted the narrative that whites are being disrespected and undercut.

“We need to respond to that, … recognizing that people do want to feel good about themselves but that people can feel good about themselves if we give people a positive sense of what it means to be American, to be in this together, to really be part of a “we” that embraces everybody and that refuses to be divided by fear and resentment,” he said.

“It is absolutely essential that we give everybody in this country a way to be proud of who they are and what they contribute, when they see themselves in each other and refuse to be divided against each other, against other working people.”


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