In a recent New York Times profile of the Donald J. Trump presidential campaign, the presumptive Republican nominee for president made a curious claim: “By the way, I’m going to do great with the African-American vote. One poll came out saying Donald Trump’s going to get 25 percent of the African-American vote.”
Fox News personalities have echoed Trump’s bold claim. Earlier in the year, Geraldo Rivera argued: “I predict that Trump may get as much … as 25 percent of the African-American vote. Why? Because he’s anti-free trade or unfair trade. He’s anti-immigration, the immigrants perceived by many black Americans as being in direct competition to them.”
Rivera is about as welcome at a black family cookout as potato salad prepared by Sean Hannity. Likewise, Rivera is about as in tune with black voters as a deadbeat dad is with his children. I’d sooner expect Iggy Azalea to win Miss Black USA than I would Trump to secure that high a percentage of the black vote.
To wit, as writer Robert Draper noted in the Times piece, the poll in question was last September’s SurveyUSA poll, “which has a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percentage points.” Still, this is a song Trump has been singing for quite a minute now. In April, while attending the Time 100 Gala at Lincoln Center in New York City, Trump assured Revolt correspondent Lawrence Jackson that he would “win the black vote.”
As for why Jackson, a young black male, would vote for Trump, the real estate mogul and reality star discussed the effects of the current unemployment rate on the black community. Trump used this line of logic with the Washington Post and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, too.
On an anecdotal level, I have heard some of your black cousins and uncles speak admirably of Trump—particularly about him being a billionaire. If it’s one thing that unites Americans of every hue, it’s the shared fairy tale that in this capitalistic society, having money means you’re intelligent, skilled and capable of doing anything. And last month, Fred “the Hammer” Williamson endorsed Trump for president. The Hammer joins the likes of Omarosa and some random black pastors who have also sung the praises of the dude from The Apprentice.
This still won’t be enough to move black people at any significant margin, but I like the idea of Trump pretending that he can secure a higher-than-usual percentage of the black vote as the GOP nominee for president because it creates an opportunity. Trump, if nothing else, is a mirror. A circus mirror, maybe, but a mirror all the same. If there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s making other people face their past mistakes.
Can you imagine Trump on a black radio station saying, “I mean, I don’t know why African-American support for Hillary Clinton is so high considering she calls your children superpredators.”
Or, “Bill Clinton thinks he can be best friends with the blacks because he played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show, but he’s the one who locked so many of you guys up, not me. I was building hotels and creating jobs.”
Trump might also say something like, “I mean, all I did was ask for a birth certificate. Crooked Hillary Clinton is the one who said Obama might get shot like RFK.”
Granted, Trump has a very, very long list of offensive comments made about “the blacks.” Moreover, Trump is also the same person who holds rallies in which black people are walking targets of supporters of his who are emboldened by his unabashed condemnation of otherness and calls to “Make America great again”—a not-so-subtle nod to the days of these United States in which whiteness still overshadowed the rest of the population.
There is also Trump’s history of racism with respect to housing and his businesses altogether. Giving Dionne Warwick and NeNe Leakes a TV gig does not absolve him of his anti-blackness in the least (but he probably has hired more blacks on The Apprentice than Bill Clinton ever did). And yes, his challenging the Clintons for their anti-black rhetoric and policies would be absolutely hypocritical.
However, when has that ever stopped him before? This is the same man who got the public to revisit how Jeb! Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, may have not actually protected Americans from terrorism. Trump is also the one who now has the media revisiting Bill Clinton’s history of being accused of sexual harassment and assault. Trump has his own history of accusations, but that doesn’t stop him from drudging up other folks’ dirt in the meantime.
Unlike select GOP strategists, I highly doubt that Trump can truly earn a quarter of the black vote, but he most certainly can say enough to make Hillary Clinton answer for a few things before she just walks away with our vote. If there’s one thing this joyless election produces, I hope it’s that the press is forced by that loudmouth to re-examine the Clintons’ very mixed past with black Americans. Trump may not be our BFF, but neither are they.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.