The recent "Saturday Night Live" Black Jeopardy skit reveals that the economic and security hopes and fears of both black and white Americans are far more similar than the media would have us believe. Unfortunately, the tone of this year’s presidential election is doing a lot more to divide than unite citizens as the race goes down to the wire.
With a week to go until the election, the race is tightening with the revelation that as many as 650,000 emails are sitting on a laptop that may or may not have links to Hillary Clinton’s controversial basement email server. The allegation that this was the same laptop used by Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, and her estranged oft-sexting husband, Anthony Weiner, further overshadows the issues that should be defining this campaign.
And one of these issues involves the economic security of black Americans -- who, thanks to social media, are now able to amplify their daily fears about violence and its ties to systematic racism.
Then there are the concerns that far too many black Americans live in poverty: over 27 percent, in fact, according to one NGO. There are many ways to contrast the incomes of black Americans versus the rest of the population. In 2014, the Washington Post offered one way to sum up how they are faring in the U.S.: If black America were a country, its per-capita income would range somewhere near that of Portugal or Lithuania, or approximately 40 places behind where the U.S. ranks. Hence there is an opening, if political candidates can offer compelling ideas in order to appeal to a voting bloc that represents about 12 percent of the U.S. population.
Once solidly behind Republicans, black Americans increasingly voted Democratic during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. By the time Harry Truman called for new civil rights measures in 1948, and the passage of laws ending th Jim Crow era in the 1960s, blacks were overwhelmingly backing Democratic candidates.
But in recent years, some grumbled that Democrats have taken black voters for granted. The country’s evolving demographics, which in a few words means the country is now far less white, have sparked some Republicans to find a way to rebrand the party as one that has appeal to America’s racial and ethnic minorities -- especially after Mitt Romney lost in his attempt to oust President Obama in 2012. Nevertheless, the stubborn fact is that no Republican has tried to woo black Americans with ideas that could resonate since the late Jack Kemp, a former upstate New York congressman and 1996 vice presidential candidate, preached the idea of “enterprise zones” for inner cities during the 1980s.
This year, Donald Trump often repeated his mantra that Democrats assume the black vote is theirs. During a speech last week in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trump claimed that he would never take black Americans’ votes for granted. He promised vague Kemp-esque tax incentives for inner cities, microloans for entrepreneurs and social enterprises, expanded school choice, and even a path for cities and states to declare inner cities “disaster areas.” And as part of his ongoing narrative, which seems like more of an appeal to his current base than a move to expand the GOP’s tent, Trump pledged to remove gang members from inner cities and continued to raise alarm over what he says is a rising murder rate.
But for Trump, his challenge in appealing to blacks and other Americans goes far beyond what are at a minimum missteps and at most ignorant assumptions about people of color. His urging of “the blacks” to vote for him because, well, “what the hell do you have to lose,” are easily juxtaposed with his confusion over thugs versus supporters and his family’s history of refusing to rent to black citizens. As Chauncey Devega of Salon wrote last week, Trump’s “New Deal” for blacks is particularly insulting when you consider his incessant claims that voter fraud is rampant throughout inner city neighborhoods (despite no evidence) and his refusal to acknowledge police brutality.
The real problem with Trump’s plan to address the “disaster” and the “crippling crime and total violence” in American cities is that it also grossly generalizes the reality of many black Americans. As Fortune's Joel Kotkin explained, the black American experience is hardly monolithic. In fact, many blacks are doing quite well in states that their grandparents and great-grandparents left in droves decades ago during the “Great Migration,” including metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Raleigh and Charlotte. In fact, the top 10 wealthiest black communities are all south of the Mason-Dixon line, with cities such as Washington, D.C.; Miami; Richmond, Virginia; Orlando, Florida; and San Antonio, Texas, also making this list.
Furthermore, despite Trump’s assumption, repeated during the second presidential debate as he answered a question from one black undecided voter (which SNL brilliantly parodied), more black Americans now live in the suburbs than the cities. Of course, many of those communities to which they relocated are inner-ring suburbs as more millennials, empty-nesters and professionals are moving back to the cities. Nevertheless, Trump’s Charlotte speech comes across more as a Hail Mary pass to finally expand his base, with a rewording of his vague proposals to fix the country’s economy, boost jobs and repair infrastructure.
Finally, while Trump did lament last month’s shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte as “uneven justice,” his clarion call to black voters in North Carolina’s largest city summed up his struggle to make his case to many of America’s citizens: The forum, as described by the local Charlotte newspaper, was an invitation-only event full of mostly white voters.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.