In the final weeks of the transition to a new administration, a common refrain emerged from supporters of Donald Trump.
The nation’s 45th president, his ideas and administration ought to be given a chance. After all, President Trump had, officially, done nothing yet. But it the reactionary and fact-resistant tone of the new administration’s inauguration weekend is indicative of the years to come, then so, too, are the contents of the new administration’s carefully planned and posted website.
On it, some of the nation’s leading civil rights activists, legal scholars say, is proof of the Trump administration’s adversarial relationship with modern concepts of universal equality and inclusion and a lukewarm to nonexistent commitment to assertively protecting the civil rights of demonstrably marginalized groups. Instead, the new administration’s White House website indicates a determination to make all manner of racial and religious profiling reliable features of public policy and everyday American life.
“If you look at the new administration’s website,” legal scholar and Columbia University professor Kimberlé Crenshaw said at a public forum in Washington right after Saturday’s Women’s March, “what you see is every indication you need that this entire conversation we have been having about police accountability, inclusion, equality, linking today’s struggles to the larger civil rights movement, all of that is over.”
Public interest in the Trump administration’s use of the whitehouse.gov website began Friday, as related portions of the Obama administration’s website followed the standard course and became a part of the national archives. That whitehouse.gov pages that once detailed the Obama administration’s civil rights philosophy — controlled since Friday afternoon by the Trump administration — led to pages featuring a “404 error” message or an image of a smiling President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump defenders insisted that the website itself was in transition. The absence of pages dealing with issues such as climate change, LGBT rights and the civil rights of racial, ethnic and religious minorities or the disabled, they said, was insignificant. Some described stories about the matter as evidence that logic and objectivity had been supplanted by a biased media’s obsessive effort to vilify the new administration.
By Monday, however, the White House website had taken on a more complete quality, with few remaining links leading to “404 error” messages and images of the nation’s new chief executive. The new pages included what some activists described as Trump’s unmodified, Nixonian embrace of “law and order.”
Some of the Trump White House website’s few references to policing appear on a page labeled, “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.” It evades the question of equitable policing entirely.
“The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong,” the page says. “The Trump Administration will end it. Our country needs more law enforcement, more community engagement, and more effective policing. Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.”
The Trump White House website describes the work of empowering police officers , reducing crime and other threats to public safety but appears to include no references to growing bipartisan support for criminal justice reform or to the racially uneven results of aggressive policing found in national data on arrests, sentencing and incarceration.
What’s more, on Monday, the administration’s website included no mention of ongoing litigation and debates around the country related to voting, criminal justice reform and other matters that have been the subject of significant, bipartisan public debate and litigation in recent years, said Kristin Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“I was very struck by this very academic recitation of early struggle around the franchise and that that history seems to stop around 1965,” Clarke said. The new White House website “makes no reference to the very real voting problems that we have been struggling with around the country in recent years, in particular voter suppression,” she added. “What this signals to me is that focus on modern-day voting problems appears not to be front and center for this administration, but it needs to be. These problems stand among the greatest threats to our democracy.”
The contents of the new administration website — information that by nature is preconceived and carefully planned before posting — are, in fact, in keeping with Trump's stated interest in pursuing a possible ban on Muslim immigration and a registry of American Muslims, standing up a "deportation force" to implement mass deportations and using police tactics such as “stop and frisk.” Critics see such contents as indications that a Trump administration would not be particularly attentive to civil rights.
Since Trump's election victory, his decision to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as the nation's next attorney general has intensified this perception.