During his first State of the Union address last week, President Trump bragged that the lowest black unemployment rate in history has happened under his presidency.
“Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history,” he said.
While most conservative lawmakers applauded the statement, the majority of Democrats did not — particularly the members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Trump noticed and commented on their lack of enthusiasm Monday during a wide-ranging speech in Cincinnati.
“I said you had the lowest black unemployment in the history of our country. It was like . . . it was a game. You know, they play games. They were told, ‘Don’t even make a facial movement.’
And I’m talking about you had the lowest Hispanic unemployment in the history of our country. This isn’t me saying this. This is the charts, the polls. We have the lowest in the history of our country. Dead silence. Not a smile. In fact there was one guy, when I said the lowest African American unemployment, he was sort of clapping. Who was that guy? He was a nice guy. Think he was a reverend. I wouldn’t exactly say it was a rousing — but he was putting his hands together. And I want to find out who he is. I want to send him a letter of thank you. And he was probably severely reprimanded . . . Because he was the only one. (Editors note: The only ordained minister on the Democratic side who attended the speech was Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D.-Mo.), a member of the black caucus.)
So that means they would rather see Trump do badly, okay, than our country do well. That’s what it means. It’s very selfish.
And it got to a point where I didn’t even want to look too much during the speech over to that side. Because honestly, it was bad energy. It was bad energy.
You’re up there. You got half the room going totally crazy, wild, loved everything. They want to do something great for our country, and you have the other side, even on positive news — really positive news — like that, they were like death, un-American. Somebody said treasonous. Yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
Several outlets wrote about and tweeted photos of the lack of response from Congressional Black Caucus members to Trump’s line about low black unemployment.
Black lawmakers haven’t celebrated Trump’s claim “that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED” because the White House has failed to articulate which policies he implemented that led to lower unemployment rates for black Americans.
In fact, multiple lawmakers and other Americans have criticized Trump for taking credit for the rate without including important context in his claim.
The rate has been dropping since 2011. The most significant declines happened during the Obama administration, something Trump has failed to acknowledge. In fact, Trump often dismissed declining unemployment rates under Obama as false.
And in December, I warned against Trump and his surrogates prematurely celebrating what would probably be a temporarily low rate.
“There’s a good chance that this low number that Trump and company praise isn't likely to continue at this rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the black unemployment rate fluctuates from month to month.”
And that’s what happened.
Just days after Trump’s speech, the black unemployment rate increased by nearly a full point.
After two months of bragging about being responsible for low black unemployment, the White House has yet to respond to the increase in the number of black Americans without work.
Trump’s comments are the latest in what could be a problematic theme for a leader whom most voters view unfavorably:
If you do not affirm Trump — even when his statements are misleading or false — he will attack your patriotism. And given that the president made more than 2,000 misleading claims in his first year in office, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, opportunities for Democrats to show their lack of approval are increasingly plentiful.
At worst, Trump appears to be suggesting that a lack of support for his out-of-context statements is treasonous.
Claims of authoritarianism within the Oval Office are often dismissed by Trump's supporters as harmful exaggerations by those bitter about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss.
But claims that Democrats, and the people they represent, are “like death” for refusing to respond positively to a misleading statement are not likely to lead liberals to walk away from their characterization of Trump.
Republicans need Democratic votes to maintain the majority they enjoy in Congress. It is support from voters on the left that helped Trump win states that Republicans had not won in years. Perhaps Trump hopes that attacking Democrats will lead more people to leave the party and join the GOP. But if the 2017 elections — in which Democrats voted overwhelmingly against candidates who supported Trump — are any indicator, that is not likely to happen in the 2018 races.
Attacking Americans on the other side of the aisle is more likely to lead them to vote against Trump’s party and his vision for “making America great.”