This was not the first time that Trump has revealed that his view of daily existence for most women and their families is stuck in the 1950s. In a May interview with the New York Post, he singled out two female journalists who had annoyed him — Weijia Jiang and Paula Reid, both of CBS — and added: “It wasn’t Donna Reed, I can tell you that.”
The president was likely referring to the saintly Mary Bailey character that actress Donna Reed portrayed in the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Or the wife and mother she played on her sitcom, “The Donna Reed Show,” which ran from 1958 to 1966. Her character, Donna Stone, had a pediatrician for a husband and was always perfectly coifed, wearing an impeccably styled dress as she went about her housework and put dinner on the table.
In real life, Reed was an activist who, though she was a Republican, campaigned for antiwar Democrat Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and volunteered as a waitress at a fundraiser to benefit a legal-defense fund for protesters arrested during that year’s Democratic Convention in Chicago.
And consider Trump’s defense of Mike Pompeo, when he was asked about reports that the secretary of state had government employees doing his household chores: “You know what? I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn’t there or his kids aren’t there.” That a man might fend for himself by sticking his own dirty plate in the dishwasher seemed beyond the president’s comprehension.
The opinion column that Trump believed would scare the bejeezus out of “The Suburban Housewives of America” criticized Biden’s housing plan — which is neither a new one (he released it in February) nor all that radical. It builds upon a desegregation rule that was put in place under President Barack Obama and that Trump is moving to repeal.
But then, Trump’s tweet wasn’t really about zoning policy at all. It was about stirring racial fears. His increasingly frequent claims Biden would “destroy the beautiful suburbs” is not a dog whistle. It is an air-raid siren.
“He thinks we all live in Levittown,” said Republican pollster Christine Matthews, evoking the name of the Long Island archetype of the all-white suburbs that sprang up around the country after World War II.
Old photos of the cookie-cutter houses from that era have little resemblance to the suburban areas that will be the electoral battlegrounds in 2020. One is New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from the Atlantic coast to the outskirts of Philadelphia. There, freshman Rep. Andy Kim (D) is in a closely watched battle for reelection.
Though Hillary Clinton easily carried the state in 2016, Trump won the overwhelmingly white district by more than six points. Two years later, Kim, a diplomat and the son of Korean immigrants, narrowly beat a Republican incumbent there. “They wanted something different,” he said. “They took a chance on me.”
The congressman is skeptical that Trump’s racist, culture-war themes will resonate with his constituents, who are battling the coronavirus and worried about whether to send their children to school in the fall. “They want leadership that’s focused on the daily concerns that they are dealing with,” Kim said.
But that has to start with having a sense of what the lives of women — and men — today are really like. They don’t want to be scared or patronized. Nor do they want to go back to the 1950s, either the actual or the imaginary version. They are looking toward the future, and they want a president who is, too.
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