More than two years after trying to convince black Americans he had their best interests in mind, President Trump continues to poll poorly with black Americans. The level of disdain his surrogates show for them probably is not helping.
During a heated debate on Fox News, where the chyron read “THE LEFT’S RACIST RANTS CONTINUE,” David Bossie, a former senior Trump campaign aide, offensively dismissed Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who is black. Payne was arguing America was becoming increasingly hostile to black Americans because of the Republican Party.
Throughout the segment, Payne cited multiple examples of hateful speech on the right. Bossie frequently interrupted Payne, accusing him of liberal hyperbole. At one point late in the segment, Bossie told Payne he was “out of his cotton-picking mind.”
The Post's Avi Selk wrote about the exchange Sunday:
When Payne said extremist conservative rhetoric “looks like Charlottesville,” Bossie rolled his eyes.
And so on. Bossie kept talking over the Democrat, waving his hands and cranking up his indignation until, finally, he told Payne:
“You’re out of your cotton-picking mind!”
“Cotton-picking mind?” Payne said. “Let me tell you something —”
“You guys,” Bossie interrupted, “you guys are out of your minds —”
“I’ve got some relatives who picked cotton, okay? —”
“This is ridiculous — ”
“And I’m not going to allow you to attack me like that on TV — ”
“I’m not attacking!”
“I’m not out of my cotton-picking mind.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Bossie said. “You’re out of your mind.”
The etymology of “cotton-picking” is not specifically linked to slavery, but given black people were once enslaved in America and forced, among other things, to pick cotton, it has racial connotations.
Even if Bossie had not been thinking of race at all when using the phrase — which previously led to the suspension of a sports announcer who applied it to a black basketball player and once forced a CNN host to apologize after he used it to describe former president Barack Obama — a much larger issue stands.
Bossie later apologized on Twitter after he repeatedly told a black man he was “out of his mind” when trying to communicate the regular challenges he faces. His apology did not end criticism about his word choice on social media. If someone with this much proximity to Trump is so dismissive, it is not hard for black voters to believe Trump would be as well — especially if they cannot point to many examples suggesting otherwise.
According to a June Pew Research Center poll, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans said they think Trump has “a great deal” of respect for black people. The number is much smaller when you ask black people. Only 4 percent said they think the president greatly respects them.
While Trump regularly pointed to people such as former campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson during the campaign to vouch for his commitment to the black community, those faces have been largely absent from cable news and campaign rallies for much of the year, for various reasons.
Perhaps having black aides with credibility in the black community could help. But one way to keep that support low until then is to continue to allow people -- particularly those who are so disconnected from the concerns of black Americans -- representing Trump make comments with racist connotations when trying to minimize them.