On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump campaigned for black votes in Dimondale, Mich., a predominantly white town, by asking black voters, “What the hell do you have to lose?’”
More than a year later, the answer seems to be: acknowledgment of the issues that affect black Americans most.
Returning to Michigan this past weekend to hold an event that was reminiscent of a campaign rally, Trump reminded his supporters that he was skipping the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
“You may have heard I was invited to another event tonight. I’d much rather be in Washington, Michigan, than Washington, D.C.," he said.
Back in this Washington, comedian Michelle Wolf closed her controversial stand-up routine with a line pertinent to thousands of Michigan residents:
“Flint still doesn't have clean water.”
Trump spoke for nearly 80 minutes, but he never mentioned the ongoing water crisis just 50 miles away in Flint — an issue that a government-appointed civil rights commission concluded in 2016 was exacerbated by “historical, structural and systemic racism combined with implicit bias.”
The life-threatening crisis has affected thousands of black families. Though things have improved, much more remains unaddressed. Irwin Redlener, a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, wrote about the lingering issues for Post Opinions last month:
The highest lead level recorded in Flint was 13,000 parts per billion (ppb) in 2015. This was more than 866 times the federal guideline of 15 ppb — the upper allowable level, above which immediate remediation is required. . . . Water lead levels have improved considerably, especially where pipes from main lines to some 6,200 homes have been replaced. Sadly, that still leaves more than 12,000 homes where, after nearly four years of stalling and fighting for dollars, the pipes still need replacing.
In recent weeks, several other incidents that have prompted outrage and discussion in communities of color also have been publicly ignored by the president: There was the high-profile case of racial profiling in a Philadelphia Starbucks. Last month, police fatally shot an unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, in an incident that drew the attention of political leaders across the country, but none from the president.
Trump did take time last week to praise hip-hop artist Kanye West for doubling down on his endorsement of the president. Trump used that opportunity to tout unemployment rates among black and Hispanic Americans.
The low unemployment rate seems to be a fallback statistic for Trump to cite, even though it is part of a trend that began under the presidency of Barack Obama. And Trump's insistence on repeating it only reinforces the perception that he doesn't care about broader issues affecting communities of color.
What many black Americans care about is a leader who can acknowledge the unique challenges that black Americans experience, which some believe have worsened under Trump. When the president passes over opportunities to discuss how environmental issues, police brutality, gun violence and racial profiling disproportionately affect black Americans, the likelihood of those voters taking seriously his claims to want to improve their lives remains low.