President Trump is in Phoenix for a campaign-type rally that is expected to draw some of his most fervent fans and bring thousands of anti-Trump protesters into the streets. His decision to go to Phoenix prompted Mayor Greg Stanton to urge Trump to stay away lest the president inflame racial tensions in the wake of white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va. Even though Trump’s rally was planned before the racial violence in Charlottesville, the unpopular president is entering a surprisingly supportive space — one that defies our contemporary notions of a blue America confined to cities and a red America entrenched in rural counties.
After all, Phoenix remains the place where Sheriff Joe Arpaio used his badge to harass, intimidate and round up Latinos. Phoenix is the city where during the campaign Trump called for mass deportations. Still, Phoenix has grown much more racially and ethnically diverse in the past two decades; approximately 40 percent of the city is now Latino, and, from his seat in City Hall, Mayor Stanton has offered a strong counterpoint to Trumpism, challenging the president’s attitudes and policies on his signature issues of trade and the border, and underscoring the evolving character of the city’s politics.
In Stanton’s April 2016 State of the City address, he took a not-so-veiled jab at Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Defending a pro-trade, pro-immigrant vision rooted in social tolerance, Stanton boasted of how his city “began working to repair our relationship with Mexico — and create new jobs on both sides of the border.” He went on to note that “in partnership with the city of Tucson, we began the push for the Arizona Trade Office in Mexico City. We’ve teamed up with Phoenix and Arizona chambers of commerce and the consul general to conduct more than a dozen trade missions over the last four years. Late last year, six Arizona mayors traveled south to sign an agreement with Mexico City to promote two-way trade and student exchanges.”
But there’s a reason Trump finds a reliable base of support here. Phoenix provides him with a home to hard-right racial, anti-immigrant and conspiratorial politics, past and present, making his decision to hold a rally in this post-Charlottesville moment likely to inflame both his base and worsen already raw racial divisions and ethnic tensions roiling the United States.