Donald Trump finally got around to demonizing African Americans. The only surprise is how long he took to get there. Early in the campaign season, he raged about Muslims and demanded they be barred from entering the country. He labeled Mexican immigrants “rapists.” He has insisted that a wall, built by the United States, paid for by Mexico, must rise along the southern border. But he held off on making broad, baseless generalizations about black people.
African Americans listened carefully to Trump’s rhetoric about Muslims and Mexicans: His horrendous poll numbers among blacks reflect a widespread understanding that nothing good can come of a Trump presidency. “We got the message and he wasn’t even talking about us,” U.S. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, a District of Columbia Democrat, told a National Association of Black Journalists convention audience in August, referring to Trump’s comments about other minority groups. “But he was and we knew it.”
Now that détente is over. With a shooting in Tulsa and riots in Charlotte as backdrops, Trump has spewed misinformation about African Americans, and, especially, low-income people in inner cities, who according to Trump, have “no jobs,” “no education” and “get shot walking down the street.” “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they've ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever,” he told a predominately white North Carolina audience this week. Those comments earned Trump a “Pants on Fire” rating from PolitiFact.
Trump’s remarks not only reveal the billionaire’s bigotry, but also presage a grim future for African Americans should he win in November. Trump’s America will be known for its hyper-militarized police forces, an intensification of stop-and-frisk policies, and expanded racial and religious profiling. His prescriptions are a recipe for continued civil unrest.
Where Hillary Clinton has outlined an ambitious agenda for job creation, small business revitalization, re-entry programs, and affordable housing policies for cities, Trump’s proposals double down on the very policies that contributed to the historic tensions in places like Ferguson.
The Ferguson riots unsheathed the havoc that a militarized police force can rain down on civilians. Although President Obama restricted the distribution of military grade hardware to police departments nationwide last year, administration officials recently agreed to revisit the ban, presumably with a view toward modifying or lifting it.
Trump would go further—ending restrictions on the Defense Department program that sends grenade launchers, helmets, armored vehicles, and other surplus military equipment to police forces, some of whom lack the proper training to know when and how to deploy such materiel against civilians, assuming it’s even proper to deploy it at all.
At a Cleveland town hall, also this week, ostensibly aimed at African American voters, Trump called for a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy similar to the program instituted by his good friend, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He failed to point out that in 2013, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the New York policy, which disproportionally affected African Americans and Latinos, was an unconstitutional violation of Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure and of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. During a campaign stop in Philadelphia, where stop-and-frisk continues despite a federal consent decree, he called the practice “a very positive thing.” He later qualified his statement, saying that he meant to apply the practice only to Chicago, where more than 500 people have been murdered this year.
Moreover, Trump either did not know or did not care that the decisions to have police departments employ stop-and-frisk rest with local governments—not the feds. And following the recent bombings in New Jersey and New York, Trump once again endorsed ethnic and religious profiling, giving voice to the very attitude that makes stop-and-frisk so onerous in minority communities.
Of late, Trumps drops into carefully screened black churches to voice a bogus concern for the African American community and to preach a disingenuous gospel of inclusion. It is in his talks to white audiences that Trump lays out his real agenda for black America, which isn’t even really about solving black America’s problems. Rather, he tells white audiences how he “alone” can confront the issues that face African Americans, ones that the Democratic Party has failed to address. In August, Trump made an appeal to black voters in speech before another predominately white audience, this time in Michigan. “To those hurting, I say the following: What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump?” he asked. “My administration will go to work for you as no one ever has.”
Americans believe that they may lose quite a bit, according to a new Lincoln Leadership Institute/Survey Monkey poll of 1,051 registered voters released Friday. Conducted on behalf of a group of former GOP administration officials and advisors advocating a return to the party’s “foundational values,” the poll asked voters “to assign a percentage chance from 0 to 100 of certain events” unfolding during a Trump administration. Voters thought that there would be a 65 percent chance of race riots in major U.S. cities “at some point” if Trump gets elected. Trump supporters believe that there is a 36 percent chance of civil unrest; Clinton supporters, a 63 percent chance. Both men and women were apprehensive, with women seeing a 71 percent chance of riots and, men, 65 percent.
The post-Ferguson violence in black communities is a reaction to a long and historic list of grievances beginning with the misapplication of police power. Trump’s African American agenda doesn’t really respond to these realities at all. It is a nightmarish fusion of tactics that fail to get to the root causes of the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police officers or the killings of police officers by individuals bent on avenging those deaths. In the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign, one possible future president cultivates a national ethos worthy of the Jim Crow era while the other appeals to the better angels of our nature—but strains to be heard above the din.