I’m tired of news outlets saying again and again that Donald Trump is courting African-American voters. It’s quite clear that Trump is communicating about African Americans in order to court suburban and college-educated white voters who frequently vote Republican but are concerned that voting for Trump will uncomfortably tie them to racism and bigotry.
This, of course, explains why he has given speeches about black people to virtually all-white audiences in places like West Bend, Wisconsin at a time when Milwaukee was in turmoil over the recent police-involved shooting of an unarmed black man, Sylville Smith. It explains why Trump’s lectures about the black community draw from Archie Bunker-era stereotypes and invoke over-the-top, “living in hell” exaggerations.
It explains why Trump responded to a question about racial healing in this week’s debate with a defense of New York City’s unconstitutional and widely reviled stop-and-frisk policy. (New York Mayor Bill De Blasio retired the policy after a court found it unconstitutional, and NYC’s crime rate has continued falling to new record lows). And it explains why the Trump Campaign staff’s instructions to their candidate when he visited a black church in Detroit read like the panicked directives that a Millennial college student might give his or her granddad before a diverse group of friends comes over for dinner. (“Shhhh! Grandpa, they don’t like to be called “Negroes” anymore!”).
So please, press and pundits, stop describing Trump’s new Black Talk as “courting black voters.”
What would the Donald say if he were sincerely courting—instead of just talking at and about—black voters? The Opportunity Agenda’s recent multi-racial survey of U.S. adults offers a few ideas. For example, he would talk in detail about past and present discrimination and discuss with particularity the “many wrongs” that he vaguely referenced during his Detroit speech. He would vocally support the uncontroversial idea of enforcing and strengthening the civil rights protections that are so important to addressing those wrongs. Those protections include the Fair Housing Act, which Mr. Trump’s real estate company allegedly violated by excluding African-American renters from his properties. Some 90% of African Americans report having been treated unfairly based on their race or ethnicity, and they overwhelmingly believe that existing fair housing laws should be strengthened.
African-American concern about civil rights is not limited to protections for their own group. Black voters are significantly more likely than other Americans to view discrimination against Latinos, poor people, women, and undocumented immigrants as a national problem requiring action. Robust civil rights enforcement across race, gender, ethnicity, and other aspects of our identity will be the responsibility of the next president, and is a priority for African Americans and many other voters.
If Trump were genuinely courting black voters, he would also commit to other opportunity-expanding policies that African Americans overwhelmingly support, such as increasing the minimum wage ($15 per hour is a nice, round number) and expanding job training programs. Trump has flip flopped on the minimum wage, leaving his actual position unclear at best.
And instead of doubling down on his support of harmful stop-and-frisk policies as he did during the first debate, Trump would call for equitable community policing and for alternatives to mass incarceration that are supported by large numbers of his fellow Republicans.
Finally—and it doesn’t take a survey to figure this one out—he would sincerely apologize for perpetuating the inaccurate and racially tainted falsehood that America’s first African-American president was born in Kenya and is therefore constitutionally illegitimate.
Of course, it’s not too late. There’s still time for Trump to articulate an agenda that is both in line with core Republican principles and legitimately responsive to African-American concerns and experiences. But unless and until he does that, let’s please stop saying he’s courting black voters.