Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Saturday outlined what he called “a new civil rights agenda for our time” during a trip to a predominantly black church in Detroit. A few hours later, his campaign released a memo detailing three “civil rights” it would champion: The “right” to live in “safe” communities; the “right” to choose charter schools instead of public education; and the “right” to have one’s job protected from foreign competition.
None of these proposals are actual civil rights recognized by U.S. law. Instead, Trump’s “new civil rights agenda” represents a convenient marriage of Trump’s populist rallying cries with some long-standing conservative policy goals.
As for how he would create “safe communities,” the Trump memo said his administration would “be working with local communities, city and state police, federal law enforcement, and the Mexican government to combat crime.” This network of law enforcement officers would “dismantle gangs, remove violent offenders from the streets, and destroy the international drug cartels.”
Taken at face value, Trump’s plan sounds like most other crime reduction plans: multiple agencies collaborating to reduce the influence of gangs, drugs and violence.
Yet in his memo, Trump emphasizes the role of “international drug cartels that thrive off the innocent victims in our cities, robbing them of the future every citizen deserves.”
In the context of Trump’s campaign, which was launched with a speech calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals,” this depiction of crime is ethnically charged. It implies that Latino immigrants are tied to drug cartels, and that they are partly to blame for urban crime.
Ever since Trump launched his bid for the White House in summer 2015, the reality TV star’s campaign has been mired in xenophobia and racial controversies: Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the United States; his habit of retweeting messages posted by white supremacists; his reluctance to denounce the support of infamous Klansman David Duke; his co-opting of Richard Nixon’s racist appeal to “the silent majority”; his suggestion that a Black Lives Matter protester “deserved to get roughed up”; and the list goes on.
At Trump’s raucous rallies, the message is often that poor, white Americans should fear foreign workers; that black Americans should fear undocumented immigrants; that white people should fear all minorities; and that everyone should fear Muslims.
Along with the right to a “safe community,” Trump’s civil rights memo also touted the rights of parents to receive state and federal funds to send their children to private schools.
“States should have flexibility to use federal dollars to help parents and students find educational opportunities that meet their needs – including charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, religious schools, and homeschooling,” read the policy memo.
As with Trump’s crime proposal, there was a racial component. On education, Trump was focused on low-income African-Americans living in cities, and he claimed that the government “discriminates against students in the inner cities by denying them the choice they deserve.” Terms like “inner cities” and “discrimination” are typically used in policy briefs to signal that a topic affects black Americans.
But creating a profit-driven market of private and charter schools is hardly a foolproof plan for fixing America’s education problems. Schools often vary immensely in quality, and some charter school programs are barely regulated.
Trump’s campaign has yet to release a formal education policy proposal, but in recent weeks the nominee has proposed eliminating the U.S. Department of Education altogether, and more than 350,000 teaching jobs along with it.
While Trump’s focus on public safety and school choice are both in line with decades of conservative thinking, his third “civil right” is not.
During his Saturday visit, Trump told church attendees in Detroit that Americans have “the right to have a really, really great job. A good paying job, and one that you love going to every morning.”
Later, in his policy memo, Trump claimed that recent trends in globalization “violate the civil rights of American citizens by failing to protect and prioritize their jobs and wages from foreign competition.”
The right to have one’s job prioritized and protected from foreign competition is not, and never has been, considered an American civil right. U.S. law limits civil rights to personal liberties like speech and religion, and to issues of political equality, like the right to vote, or the right to sue another person in court.
HuffPost asked a Trump spokeswoman why the nominee claimed that job protections from competition were a “civil right.” As of press time, she had not replied.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.