There is almost no group left that Donald Trump hasn’t offended: Muslims, babies, women, Gold Star families, and of course Hispanics. Yet there is one group that despises Donald Trump more than any other: black Americans.
At an average of just 2 percent support in the polls, Trump is running fourth among black voters, as Harry Enten noted last week. He’s 84 points behind Hillary Clinton, but also trailing Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein.
The findings of recent surveys read like an Onion headline or possibly a Saturday Night Live sketch left on the cutting room floor: “Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has more black voter support than Donald Trump.” Just think about that for a second. A white guy who was actually a leader of an organization synonymous with not only hating, but terrorizing, black people is more popular with black people than a white guy who used to host a reality show and now may become president.
Trump’s insanely offensive rhetoric against other groups has drawn extensive media coverage and denunciations from people from both sides of the aisle. His allegations of bias against federal judge Gonzalo Curiel were called the textbook definition of racism by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, among many, many others. His early calls to ban the entry of Muslims to this country have been so widely denounced it’s hard to find a public figure—even among those who have endorsed him—who has not come out against the remarks. He’s made more derogatory comments about women that I can count.
While he has certainly had moments that can be perceived as offensive to black Americans, such as when he inaccurately tweeted that black people are responsible for 81% of white homicides (which was nowhere near true), when people think of groups Donald Trump has insulted we’re certainly not at the top of that list.
And yet, Trump is polling at 24 percent with Hispanic voters, and still has the support of 35% of women voters. With black Americans though, he is at 1 or 2%, depending on the poll. That rock-bottom number has put traditionally red states with notable pockets of black voters in play for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
While black voters tend to be more party loyal than other groups, Mitt Romney still managed to get 6% of the black vote, and that was in an election year in which black voters turning out to re-elect our first black president shattered previous historical turnout records and were given much of the credit for Obama’s glide back to the White House.
So what is it about The Donald?
It’s true that candidate Trump has not singled out black Americans for the same obsessive and insulting focus he has some other groups, but the contempt for him within the black community has been brewing for much longer.
For starters, he made himself the face of the “birther” lie against President Obama. He claims credit for pushing the President to release his birth certificate. (Ironic considering the President’s 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, really was born outside of the country, as was 2016 contender Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom have since become Trump foes.) For many black Americans, the entire birther conspiracy was added to the list of indignities no previous commander in chief, all of whom were white, had been subjected to. While most birthers until Trump had primarily been seen as basement kooks who occasionally landed airtime on a few cable shows, he lent the movement a mainstream face that many black Americans have not forgotten or forgiven.
Additionally, while Trump’s language and policy proposals have perhaps not been as openly hostile to black Americans as some other groups, black people are well acquainted with coded dog whistles–and the impact they can have. For instance, Trump’s false tweet about the level of crimes committed by black Americans against whites is precisely the kind of rhetoric that plays into the worst fears of his overwhelmingly white supporters. He’s been doing this for decades, since he put out full-page ads calling for the death penalty for the five black boys of the Central Park Five (something he’s never apologized for, even after it emerged that those boys, who spend decades behind bars, were innocent).
Historically, rhetoric like Trump uses has resulted in terrifying fallout for black people. Many forget that the 1915 film Birth of a Nation is credited with reinvigorating the membership of the Ku Klux Klan, the film’s message essentially that someone needed to take a stand against the rising tide of dangerous brown people. Sound familiar? The era immediately following the film’s release would be one of the most horrifying in terms of violence against black people, men in particular.
So when Trump says of a black protester “maybe he should have been roughed up,” and black protesters at his rallies are punched and otherwise assaulted, his candidacy inevitably calls to mind darker days—particularly for black Americans living in an age in which the shootings of unarmed black men by police are not an uncommon occurrence.
But perhaps the main reason so many black voters are repelled by Donald Trump is that he’s not David Duke. I have a family member who grew up in the segregated South who said she always prefers people who are honest about who they are. They’re simply safer. Ones who present a façade are much more dangerous. While you can see the David Dukes of the world—and all they represent—coming a mile away, there is something particularly dangerous about the kind of bigot that hides behind a suit, tie, a smile and a handful of so-called “black buddies”—who are on the payroll of course. (Here’s looking at you, Omarosa.)
Duke’s bigotry may be offensive, but at least it’s honest. Trump’s is just plain offensive.