Acting like it's 1957, Trump promises protection of suburban lifestyle
As if dragging the country into a tiki-torched, kidney-pool HGTV show nobody asked for, President Donald Trump this week introduced his Twitter followers to the "Suburban Lifestyle Dream," which can best be described as — let him explain:
"I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood," he wrote on Twitter. He was referring to his desire to repeal a fair housing rule — signed into law in 1968 and strengthened under the Obama administration — created to make sure federal funds didn't support discriminatory housing practices.
"The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article," Trump had tweeted the week before, linking to an opinion column bashing the housing rule. "Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!"
Trump was telegraphing multiple things with his comments.
One: that Suburban Housewives of America are the demographic that his advisers have told him he needs to wrestle back from Joe Biden in order to win the election (In a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 66% of suburban women said they disapproved of the job Trump was doing overall).
Two: that he assumed this demographic would respond well to barely disguised racial fearmongering.
Three: that his understanding of women voters is based on six reruns of "Happy Days" plus a vacuum cleaner ad from 1957.
Who are the Suburban Housewives of America living their Suburban Lifestyle Dreams (SHASLD)?
Trump has provided clues before: "Remember the dishwasher? You'd press it, boom! There'd be like an explosion," he said at a 2019 Michigan rally. "Now, you press it 12 times. Women tell me...you know, they give you four drops of water." Trump would have you believe that the SHASLD (pronounced shazzled), given an audience with the president, would use that time to complain about their home appliances.
The platonic ideal of a SHASLD is Donna Reed, star of the black-and-white pantheon to domesticity, "The Donna Reed Show." We know this because when the president wanted to accuse two female journalists of treating him inappropriately (i.e. doing their jobs and asking him questions) he disparaged their "angry" professionalism by quipping, "It wasn't Donna Reed, I can tell you that."
Coincidentally, Trump's tweet about the endangerment of the "Suburban Lifestyle" appeared on the same day as a very different view of the American Dream.
Wednesday, Michelle Obama debuted her new podcast — a chatty, virtual coffee hour whose first guest was her husband, Barack. For 50 minutes, the former first couple discussed their vision of citizens' "relationship to our communities and our country."
Michelle's first community was her working-class nuclear family which, Barack teased, was, "The Black 'Leave it to Beavers.' Her father, Fraser Robinson, worked for the city of Chicago. Her mother, Marian, looked after the home, the two children, the neighborhood, and she volunteered with the PTA.”
For Black middle-class families, Michelle said, "The dream was to move to the suburbs."
Ultimately, though, the Robinsons never made it to the suburbs. Her father feared that a mortgage would make them house-poor, unable to save for his children's education. And more importantly: "My father was suspicious of the suburbs because they still weren't completely welcoming."
Using Trump’s word, their new neighbors might have been "bothered" by the arrival of the Robinson family.
Trump's vision of the Suburban Housewife is an aproned fantasy that no longer exists, and maybe never did. At least not the way he imagined it. For one thing, the women he's talking about are today more likely to call themselves stay-at-home-moms, work-at-home moms, or domestic CEOs.
But the terminology isn't the issue. The issue is that the "Lifestyle Dream" he's describing isn't suburban women's universal dream, it's his. It's a view in which American women should be more "bothered" by "low income" people than they are by inequality and discrimination. It's a view in which the American Dream belongs to a few, and those few have the duty and right to keep everyone else out.
The SHASLDs who live in the suburb of his mind have forgotten that their families may have struggled or strove once, too, moving from spare bedroom to apartment, apartment to house-with-stairs, with assistance from government or family.
Donald Trump is not really talking about SHASLDs, and he's not really talking about the suburbs. Neither is Michelle Obama. What they are both really talking about is whom America belongs to. And who gets to be a "suburban housewife."
Monica Hesse is a columnist for The Washington Post's Style section.