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Practical Politics

Donald Trump and the African American vote in 2016

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 9/15/2016, midnight

Recently, Mr. Donald Trump has asked, “What do you have to lose?” aimed, he says, at Black American voters. In speeches mainly to Anglo audiences, he has said he is offering a real change to Black voters.

Describing the Black American reality in this country as predominately one of failure and constant gloom—"You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs"—Mr. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that neither he nor his small coterie of Black advisers know a lot about the multi-varied conditions of existence for Blacks in this country.

What would a Trump victory herald for African Americans? First, it would turn around almost 90 years of the ascendancy of Black voting within the Democratic Party. Just as an historical tidbit: African American voters in presidential elections started swinging Democratic during President Franklin Roosevelt’s second term, in 1936. Although most African American voters were still registered Republicans, Mr. Roosevelt garnered almost 71 percent of the Black vote at that time. His New Deal programs, which had eventually helped most Americans, including unemployed Black Americans, and the popularity of his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who actively sought an end to racial discrimination and Jim Crow policies nationwide, were major factors in this result.

Combined with the major migration of African Americans from the Republican-dominated South, a trend had started that still continues. For Harry Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, Black Americans helped him win his come-from-behind victory over New York Gov. Thomas Dewey in 1948. Why? Truman was from a racially segregated background in Missouri, but had shown marked independence and a penchant for broader thought. Besides issuing Executive Order 9981, which ordered the nation’s military to immediately desegregate, he was known for the following statement as a U.S. Senator, “I believe in brotherhood … of all men before the law … if any (one) class or race can be permanently set apart from, or pushed down below the rest in politics and civil rights, so may any other class or race … and we say farewell to the principles on which we count our safety … The majority of our Negro people find but cold comfort in our shanties and tenements. Surely, as free men, they are entitled to something better than this.”

Under Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, Rev. Martin L. King’s partner in getting both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed, the complete identification of the majority of the Black American population with the Democratic Party was completed.

For Donald Trump, or any other Republican politician to begin to change that relationship, which had been forged in the fire of major civil rights gains, not just talk and exhortations, there would have to be major proof that movement towards a better American future for African Americans would occur under Republicans. So far, that has not been demonstrated by Republicans in government, who have mainly been mean-spirited and prone to race-baiting, especially during the last two decades.

Electing Mr. Trump, it is widely believed in the Black community, would be providing open season for the Alt-Right cranks on most Black progress in this country. It would be a major step backwards—a shooting of ourselves in our own feet. Mr. Trump, unlike others who have solicited African American votes, has no history of trying to help elevate Black folk in this country. In fact, his history has been from the opposite end, including the infamous housing discrimination cases for which he had to pay federal fines which involved denying Blacks access to his housing units in New York, and the Central Park 5 letter in which he broadly excoriated young Blacks in a case in which he had no dog in the fight. And lastly, he led the infamous “Birther” movement against President Obama, and to this day has refused to either apologize for it or admit he was wrong about it. He has not been forgiven for any of those, and should not expect more than 2-3 percent of the African American vote in November (even Bob Dole, former Republican presidential candidate, got 14 percent of the Black vote).

In this election, Black votes certainly matter, and may be determinative. There will be no victory speech for Mr. Trump on November 9th.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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