Donald Trump’s Odd Pitch for the Black Vote: Wooing With Insults
Donald Trump has a problem. He is polling as low as 1 percent among African-American voters nationwide, and in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, he has earned an astonishing 0 percent of the black vote.
So what’s Trump to do? Make a bold play for the black vote? Yes.
But here’s the problem—the same problem that has earned him his meager support from black voters: The words of appeal he speaks drip with his deep contempt for black people.
The heart of his new pitch to the African-American community is this: “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
When I heard him speak these words, I was astonished at how quickly an appeal for votes could devolve into an insult. Frankly, I felt more than insulted—I felt oddly traumatized, like I had heard these words before. Then it hit me: the memory of the scene from “The Color Purple,” where Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) finally decides she’s had enough abuse, but Albert (Danny Glover) won’t let her go without one last “appeal.”
In Trump’s plea to black voters, the echo of Albert’s words can be heard when he says to Celie, “Look at you. You’re black, you’re poor, you’re ugly, you’re a woman. You’re nothing at all!”
I shared this feeling with my wife, and before I could get all the words out, she chimed in with a verbatim recitation of Albert’s words. This movie was iconic in black culture; Trump’s insult-appeal will resonate painfully across black America.
Speaking as a middle-class, educated and employed black man—part of five generations of middle-class, educated, black families—the idea of turning to Trump as the “savior” of black people is beyond comprehension. Compounding the insult, Trump also said, “At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95 percent of the African-American vote.”
The man is clearly delusional.
No Republican has ever gotten near a majority of black votes, and most have only reached the teens in the last 50 years.
He is clearly delusional if he thinks a promise from him will sway black voters. While the press has cooperated with Trump in ignoring the “birther” issue, that’s the first thing many black people think about when they see Trump’s face on the screen. Isn’t he the one who, since 2011, has been trying to delegitimize the first black president by saying he was born in Kenya? Isn’t he the one who has yet to admit he was lying when he said his investigators had found devastating evidence that President Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii?
Until Trump retracts his statement and apologizes to all black people—not just Obama—we don’t want to hear anything he has to say. This is why his polling numbers among African-Americans are so abysmally low, even though he has not launched a broadside at the black community similar to those he has launched at women, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Muslims and Muslim Americans.
Trump’s recent “appeal” to black voters was made to a largely white audience in Dimondale, Mich., a town where in 2010 just 9 of the town’s 1,234 residents were black, according to census data. This seems an odd audience in which to petition black votes. But it does make sense if his true purpose is to make him seem less bigoted and racist to white swing voters by a grand gesture of outreach.
On Saturday, he met with Hispanic leaders to map out a plan to win more Latino voters. But his true aim is the moderate Republican and independent voter who has been turned off by his strident comments about a Latino judge, a Muslim gold star family and his birtherism.
In reality, it’s Trump, with almost no African-American votes, who has nothing to lose.
But black America does have something to lose. A foundation of black support for Democratic Party candidates is voting rights and civil rights, and both of these would be imperiled in a Trump administration. The black vote peaked for Democrats in 1964 with Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, promised the 1965 Voting Rights Act and earned 94 percent of the black vote. Republicans have done nothing but fight to beat back the voting rights of black folks ever since, most recently with voter ID laws that even federal courts said “surgically targeted African-American voters for disenfranchisement.”
Recent speeches in Pennsylvania and Virginia did not help Trump’s cause. He insinuated that blacks should be prevented from casting votes for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia and that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had filled the voting rolls with “violent felons.” Black folks heard his messages loud and clear: He has no interest in expanding black voting rights.
His lecture to black people offends and angers us. We cannot withhold our vote from him, because so few of us have even considered his candidacy. Nevertheless, his words can motivate us to vote, volunteer and donate more to Clinton.
In the end, we will do whatever is in our power to make sure that Trump never, ever sets foot in the White House.
What else do we have to lose? Our dignity.
Madison T. Shockley II is the pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif. His views expressed here are personal and do not represent his church.
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