Surprise, surprise, surprise! Trailing badly in the polls, and with less than three months to go until the November election, Donald Trump and his media enablers have finally discovered the Black electorate!
Suddenly my news feed is full of absurdly optimistic analyses that presume a remote possibility of Trump managing to convince enough Black people to vote for him that he could win, and it’s hard to know where to even begin to debunk them.
On the one hand, it’s nice that they’ve finally come around to noticing our existence and electoral power, but on the other, it’s an enormous insult. Beyond the mere fact that Trump’s alleged Black outreach died decades before it was ever born with his adventures in housing discrimination and race baiting, followed by his scurrilous attempts to discredit President Obama’s citizenship, this current episode fails on multiple levels.
Not only did he neglect to deliver his recent “Black outreach” remarks to actual Black people, he based his entire “appeal” on racist and woefully inaccurate stereotypes that have been passed down through the ages. Like countless other Republican adherents to the Southern Strategy, Trump “led” with the basic premise that all of Black America is a hell-hole mired in crime, poverty, substandard education, and untreated medical illness.
As the mythology goes, these misfortunes are visited upon Black Americans exclusively because our feeble minds have been brainwashed by the Democratic Party plantation.
Never mind the scores of White Americans in Appalachia, the Deep Red South, and the Rust Belt, who religiously vote Republican, and still live in the exact same socioeconomic conditions Trump describes.
Never mind the fact that the majority of Black Americans are considered middle class, just as the majority of White Americans are.
Never mind the reality that violent crime is now at its lowest rate in decades.
Yet and still these distortions make their way into the realm of public opinion, because the perpetuation of this mythology is vital to the survival of the Republican Party in our rapidly changing demographic landscape. As President Lyndon Johnson once famously said, previewing Trump’s strategy: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
In other words, Trump and the GOP surmise that their best shot at hanging on to white voters who are nervous about Trump’s extremism is to remind them that they’re far and away superior to those ‘Democrats who live in hell holes and shoot each other.’
He’s selling the prestige of belonging to a political party that is greater than 90% white not because of overt prejudice, but simply because you’re too smart and sophisticated to vote the same way ‘Democrats who live in hell holes and shoot each other’ do.
Notice the sleight of hand. It’s a trick that’s been passed down for the last fifty years of Republican politics, ushered in by Goldwater, but carried forward by Nixon, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and the last three Republican nominees for president. The goal is to place the blame for the detrimental outcomes of Republican austerity on the people who suffer greatest from it — namely Black Americans.
There is no shortage of data outlining the generational effects of housing and hiring discrimination on the current socioeconomic status and geography of Black Americans. Beyond that, any honest accounting of the 2008 recession reveals how effective GOP malfeasance has been at wiping out much of the economic gains made by Black Americans during the economic boom of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
In truth, the last fifty years of Republican public policy have worked in direct opposition to the advances spurred by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the Black Americans who reliably vote Democratic because of them. They’ve also worked in unprecedented obstruction of the first Black American president, whose economic recovery has cut the Black unemployment rate nearly in half since 2011.
Ultimately, Trump has no better pitch than explaining away his 0% Black support as a failure of the Black psyche, rather than a multigenerational failure of the Republican Party.
Rest assured Black voters know the difference, because for us, not knowing has always meant the prospect of losing everything.