It is hard to fathom a public figure who is more universally despised in the African American community.
Now, as Donald Trump leaves Philadelphia and heads to Detroit, his campaign team believes they can turn the tide. But the highly scripted visit to the Motor City, notably Trump’s first direct appeal to black voters, may not engender the response he might hope. Instead, the well-orchestrated string of photo ops is likely to stoke the flames of loathing already ablaze.
Arguably, given his low single-digit support among black voters, no one has been so widely reviled since General Sherman burned down Atlanta’s west end in 1864. According to a recent public opinion poll, Trump’s favorability rating among African Americans is at zero percent. Even Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the segregationist and onetime presidential candidate, might have had an easier time luring black votes.
In the City of Brotherly Love, rather than meet with black elected officials and other prominent community leaders and activists, he rented a church catering hall and surrounded himself with a dozen hand-picked black Republicans—including Calvin Tucker, one of only a handful of black delegates at the GOP convention in July—who sat adoringly at the roundtable. According to The New York Times, the Friday meeting did include the mother of 20-year-old Iofemi Hightower, who was murdered by a “group of men which included two undocumented immigrants.” But, instead of addressing rape and gun violence, Trump focused his attention on the draconian anti-immigration policies he has proposed.
Trump’s plan to attend a Saturday morning worship services at Great Faith International Ministries and then sit down for a one-on-one interview with Bishop Wayne Jackson has been met with a collective shrug. Skipping the opportunity to have a genuine conversation, there are reportedly no plans to address the congregants and the events are closed to the broader public.
Long on theatrics and woefully short on meaningful policy solutions, the pre-baked questions and answers were leaked to the media. Even the church service was a ticketed event.
Trump has been previously ridiculed for never once holding an event in a predominantly black neighborhood and declining invitations to speak before several prominent civil rights groups, including national conventions for the NAACP, National Urban League and National Association of Black Journalists, in over a year of active campaigning. Boasting that he is black America’s answer to generational poverty and violent crime, in city after city, the former reality television personality had previously taken his case to predominantly white audiences. Curiously, there were few non-white faces present at those rallies and the response from black voters has predictably ranged from frustration to anger.
It is difficult to imagine that Trump will garner more than 3 – 5 percent of the black vote come November and it is doubtful that this new strategy will have any impact on the real target: suburban white women.
However, the issue for Trump extends beyond the litany of political missteps in recent days. Years before the real estate developer hit the campaign trail, his public track record—including two Justice Department lawsuits citing housing discrimination and his attempts to delegitimize the nation’s first black president—left his reputation among black people in tatters. The choice to send Trump to largely black communities now—with just 65 days left, no real campaign infrastructure and a small gaggle of no-name African-American surrogates—is like toting a gallon of kerosene to a camp fire.
If Donald Trump truly cared about black voters, about increasing his support from our communities, he would do more than show up for a scripted interview in Detroit. He would do more than slip on a custom tailored suit, don a silk tie and spew poorly hewed talking points before an all-white audience crowded into suburban gymnasium. He would certainly be able to recruit better surrogates than Omarosa Manigault, the newly installed director of African-American outreach who has no campaign experience and no credible constituencies among black voters, and Pastor Mark Burns, who is facing a tumult of criticism after CNN’s Victor Blackwell revealed that the South Carolina televangelist falsified significant portions of his public biography. Then, of course, there is American Spectator editor and CNN political contributor Jeffrey Lord, who contends that Burns is being targeted because he “left the plantation.”
If he really wanted more black support, he would not have hired the publisher of a right-wing website that peddles racial animus for profit as his new campaign chief. And he most certainly would not be hop-scotching across the country and using African Americans as props in his charade.
“Keep speaking,” supporters Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson—known by their stage names “Diamond” and “Silk”—tweeted Saturday. “While some don’t want to face the truth, Black people are waking up and joining the Trump train.”
“She is not our slave master,” the duo from North Carolina said of Hillary Clinton in a YouTube video released last week.
Rather than mount a slip-shod campaign, festooned with vicious stereotypes, including those advanced by “Diamond” and “Silk,” Trump would take the opportunity to get to know us, to know our families and our issues. If he was serious about courting African-American voters, Trump would then offer substantive policy solutions aimed at delivering liberty and justice to the communities that need them most instead of lacing his appeals with long-debunked statistics gleaned from conspiratorial websites run by white nationalists.
The real work—building relationships and support among black voters—could have and should have begun long ago and it would have started with a specific apology for his dodgy record on racial issues.