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Trump's attempts to thwart the 'DEI revolution' may continue, as he seeks to further impede progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.


On a cold January night before the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump traveled to Rochester, a city of blue-collar, culturally conservative voters who swung his way in 2016 and again in 2020. 

“We will terminate every diversity, equity, and inclusion program across the entire federal government,” the former president declared to a packed auditorium. 


It was more than just a popular applause line at Trump rallies. Behind the scenes, a coalition of dozens of right-wing groups is preparing to make Trump’s words a reality

Led by the Heritage Foundation think tank, which has helped mold the policies of Republican administrations since the Reagan presidency, conservative interests have drawn up a sweeping planknown as Project 2025 in anticipation of Trump’s return to power. Part of that agenda goes after the decades-long corporate drive to increase racial diversity in cubicles and executive suites. 


It was more than just a popular applause line at Trump rallies. Behind the scenes, a coalition of dozens of right-wing groups is preparing to make Trump’s words a reality

Led by the Heritage Foundation think tank, which has helped mold the policies of Republican administrations since the Reagan presidency, conservative interests have drawn up a sweeping planknown as Project 2025 in anticipation of Trump’s return to power. Part of that agenda goes after the decades-long corporate drive to increase racial diversity in cubicles and executive suites. 


“Getting rid of critical race theory from federal agencies, diversity, equity and inclusion policies, unconscious bias — we are certainly going to have ideas and proposals ready for a possible new administration,” former Trump administration official Russ Vought, who is advising Project 2025, told USA TODAY in an interview.


Civil rights advocates say Project 2025 is the work of a small group of vocal conservatives who are laying the groundwork for a far-reaching rollback of civil rights laws that would water down federal safeguards against racial discrimination if Trump is re-elected.

“They are trying to take apart the legacy of these laws that made us a multiracial democracy,” said Alvin B. Tillery Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Diversity at Northwestern University. “Trump is just picking up the mantle." 


What Trump would do on DEI if elected

The presidential transition plan calls for purging liberal policies and dismantling some federal agencies.

“The next conservative president must make the institutions of American civil society hard targets for woke culture warriors,” Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, wrote in the foreword to the policy agenda.


The think tank declined to comment, but Project 2025’s director, Paul Dans, told Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast: "We want everyone walking into office to be literally on the same page" for the first 180 days of the next Republican presidency. 

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Trump has said that he alone is responsible for the policies of a future administration, but Project 2025 − which outlines an agenda that touches every government agency − offers insights into what those policies might look like.


Jonathan Berry, a veteran of the Trump administration and lead author of a chapter on the Labor Department and related agencies, says Project 2025 continues the work of the first Trump White House which banned diversity training by the federal government and government contractors.

The plan broadly reflects where Trump's policy stood at the end of his presidency in 2020, Berry said, adding that "it also represents the direction you would expect to see a second Trump administration go.”


Among the recommended measures: 

  • Bar the federal government and government contractors from using taxpayer dollars to conduct training about systemic racism;

  • Abolish the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which is responsible for ensuring that federal contractors comply with antidiscrimination laws;

  • Eliminate “disparate impact” liability – evaluating whether the impact of a policy varies based on race, ethnicity or other factors, even if the conscious intent was not to treat people differently. 

  • Prohibit racial classifications and quotas and halt the collection of employment data on the racial and ethnic makeup of the American private sector workforce.

“The Biden administration is abusing the law in ways that tend to flatten the human person into identity politics categories,” Berry said. “The goal here is to move toward colorblindness and to recognize that we need to have laws and policies that treat people like full human beings not reducible to categories, especially when it comes to race.”

'They’re advocating for the return of white privilege'

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, says Project 2025 peddles concepts like “race neutrality” to reverse the progress women and people of color have made in the workplace over the last 60 years. 

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate, private-sector employment was mostly segregated. Even when Black people landed positions, they were mostly low-skill jobs with no authority or mobility.

“They are not advocating for colorblindness. They’re advocating for the return of white privilege. They’re advocating for the policies that were used during a segregated America,” Morial said. “Let’s just hide disparities. Let’s just pretend they don’t exist. Let’s sanction things that appear to be race-neutral but are discriminatory.” 


According to Justin Gomer, associate professor of American Studies at California State University, Long Beach, today’s conservative playbook contains much of the same wish list as its first edition which was prepared for Reagan's presidency: Ending “reverse discrimination,” repealing affirmative action, limiting the Justice Department’s ability to file discrimination lawsuits and preventing the Labor Department from tracking employment statistics.


“This is what Heritage does. It tries to entirely dismantle all government mechanisms from even assessing, let alone studying or addressing racial discrimination,” Gomer said.

Anti-DEI attacks after George Floyd murder

As the nation grows more diverse and research studies suggest that diverse companies outperform more homogeneous peers, businesses are working to make their workforces and leadership better reflect the communities they serve.


After the 2020 murder of George Floyd forced a historic reckoning with race in America, corporations redoubled those efforts.

Racial parity in the business world is a long way off. A USA TODAY investigation of the nation’s largest companies found that the top ranks are predominantly white and male, while women and people of color are concentrated at the lowest levels with less pay, fewer perks and little opportunity for advancement.


Corporate diversity efforts are broadly supported by the American public. A vast majority of adults – 81% – believe that corporate America should reflect the nation’s diversity, according to a recent study by The Harris Poll. 

But the political environment shifted after Floyd's murder. Diversity pledges from businesses spurred a backlash against the “woke policies” of corporate America.

In September 2020, a Trump White House memo from Vought suggested rooting out "ideologies that label entire groups of Americans as inherently racist or evil" in diversity training materials by searching for keywords such as "white privilege," "systemic racism," "intersectionality" and "unconscious bias."


Soon after, a Trump executive order prohibited racial sensitivity training by the federal government and government contractors and the administration threatened to suspend or cancel federal contracts with companies that violated the order.

The order had an immediate chilling effect on reinvigorated efforts to reverse patterns of discrimination and exclusion in the workplace. Worried that the diversity training they routinely offered employees might run afoul of the new rules, companies protested.

Asked about his executive order during a presidential debate, Trump said: "They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place. And they were teaching people to hate our country. And I’m not gonna allow that to happen."

Joe Biden retorted, “Nobody’s doing that.” Bidenrescinded the executive order after taking office.

Over the last several years as president of The Center for Renewing America think tank, Vought has joined other conservatives in fighting what he says taxpayer-funded “state-sanctioned racism.” Republican-led legislatures have introduced dozens of bills to restrict DEI in education but also state government, contracting and pension investments.


The anti-DEI backlash has only intensified in recent months.

Last year’s Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions set off a wave of legal threats against corporate diversity policies and programs from conservative activists like former Trump administration official Stephen Miller and anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum. Billionaires Elon Musk and Bill Ackman have also assailed DEI efforts as “racist.” 


“It gets to the very nature of what it means to be American, which is that we are all human beings made in the image of God and we should be equal in the eyes of the law,” Vought said. “And our law cannot be treating us differently based on our skin color.”


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