When Donald Trump began his “outreach” to African-Americans, there was a near-unanimous conclusion among journalists and commentators about what Trump was really up to. He couldn’t possibly believe that he’d get support from the most reliably Democratic constituency, so he could only be doing what some Republicans, most notably George W. Bush, had done before him: by making a show of reaching out, he was trying to send a signal to white moderates that he was the kind of reasonable, inclusive candidate they could feel comfortable voting for.
But everyone was wrong. Trump wasn’t trying to appeal to white moderates. He was appealing to the same white conservatives who have driven his presidential bid from the very beginning.
Trump’s “outreach” has been full of contempt and insults, demonstrating to his core supporters that the campaign of white nationalism that he has been running since last June, when he debuted his candidacy by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, has not changed a bit.
You couldn’t get a much better symbol for Trump’s outreach than the town-hall-style interview he has conducted, which will air on Fox News tonight. Billed as a forum on issues of concern to African-Americans, it took place in front of a mostly white audience and was moderated by noted civil rights activist Sean Hannity, who asked hard-hitting questions like, “What does it mean to you to see people of all races and all religions and all backgrounds going to bat for you in this election the way they are?” When one audience member asked him what he would do about “violence in the black community,” Trump responded, “I would do stop and frisk. I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well.”
Later in the event, a questioner asked Trump about the epidemic of opiate addiction. Oddly enough, Trump did not suggest using stop-and-frisk in communities affected by this crisis. Somehow, the idea of having the police harass and search huge numbers of random white people as a way of finding those possessing opiates doesn’t strike him as an appropriate response to the problem; instead, he said that the way to solve it is to build a wall on the Mexican border.
We should note that stop-and-frisk has not only been ruled unconstitutional, it had virtually nothing to do with the dramatic drop in New York’s crime rate over the last couple of decades, which began long before stop-and-frisk was instituted and continued after it was abandoned (Philip Bump has details here). But perhaps most importantly, stop-and-frisk has an enormous symbolic and practical impact on the minority voters Trump claims to be reaching out to. It tells them that they’re always a suspect, and at any moment police will detain them, search them, and publicly humiliate them, not for anything they’ve done, but because of who they are.
To put it mildly, when Trump suggests stop-and-frisk as a way to address crime, he isn’t thinking that Eric and Donny Jr. will be slammed up against a wall and patted down when they’re walking down a Manhattan street. Now look at what he said about the issue this morning on Fox & Friends:
“They are proactive and if they see a person possibly with a gun, or they think may have a gun, they will see the person and they will look and they will take the gun away. They will stop, they will frisk, and they will take the gun away and they won’t have anything to shoot with.”
This morning I checked the NRA’s web site and social media feeds to see if they were expressing outrage at this gun-grabbing assault on Second Amendment rights, and you’ll never guess what I found: nothing. Somehow when the idea of a black person with a gun comes up, the calculation is very different. Don’t think for a moment that’s lost on black people.
You can add this to the shockingly offensive rhetoric Trump uses whenever he talks about African-Americans and the places where they live. Instead of arguing that African-American are disproportionately affected by broader problems like poverty, crime, and low-performing schools — let alone acknowledging that systemic racism may have played some part in creating that condition — he paints their lives as a miserable hell from which only he can save them. And even after he has been criticized for the tone of these remarks, he hasn’t changed. Just on Tuesday, he said, “our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever, ever, ever,” adding, “You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They’re worse, I mean honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”
The fact that these ideas are factually wrong is only part of the point. They also play into the worst stereotypes of African-Americans living in almost animalistic conditions. That’s not the voice of someone trying to demonstrate empathy.
And at the same time, Trump continues to sow fear of immigrants, particularly refugees. He says that refugees are not people fleeing terrible situations but a “Trojan horse” coming to destroy us all. “This is cancer from within,” he said earlier this week, explaining why we need to racially profile Muslims. “This is something that’s going to be so tough. They stay together. They’re plotting.” Again, Trump’s idea is that we should subject innocent non-white people to widespread police harassment because of something someone who shares their race or ethnicity might have done in the past, a policy white people will never have to worry about. And as he said on Wednesday about banning refugees, “this isn’t only a matter of terrorism, but also a matter of quality of life.”
Today, Trump gave a speech in Pennsylvania where he read off a teleprompter a statement about the events in Charlotte, where protesters angry at the shooting of yet another black man by police were met by officers in riot gear launching tear gas and stun grenades. While the prepared statements are never the truest expression of Trump’s beliefs — for that, you have to wait until he’s speaking extemporaneously, usually the next day — it said nothing about what the protesters’ grievances were, simply characterizing the events in Charlotte as a kind of mindless chaos that needs to be put down:
“Many Americans are watching the unrest in Charlotte unfolding right before their eyes on the TV screens. Others are witnessing the chaos and the violence firsthand. Our country looks bad to the world, especially when we are supposed to be the world’s leader. How can we lead when we can’t even control our own cities? We honor and recognize the right of all Americans to peacefully assemble, protest, and demonstrate. But there is no right to engage in violent disruption or to threaten the public safety and peace of others. Every single American in our country is entitled to live in a safe community. The violence against our citizens and our law enforcement must be brought to a very rapid end.”
The idea that America’s cities are cesspools of crime and chaos is right out of Richard Nixon’s playbook — at time when crime is actually at historic lows. So don’t think for a moment that Trump is going after moderates who might be concerned about his good will toward people of all races. He’s still talking to the people who already support him.