President Trump also delved into the topic this week, sort of. He tweeted a rebuke of the the prime minister of Sweden after a black rapper was arrested and charged with assault in the Scandinavian country.
And in what was perceived as a swipe at crime by undocumented immigrants in Sweden, Trump added in a separate tweet: “We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky”
A$AP Rocky, whose legal name is Rakim Mayers, has been accused of beating a man in the street on June 30 in central Stockholm.
In a video of the alleged assault, the rapper and those with him apparently threw a man to the ground before kicking and punching him.
Another video posted to A$AP Rocky’s Instagram account claims that the men followed him for four blocks and had repeatedly been asked to leave the artist alone.
“WE DIDNT WANT TROUBLE,” he wrote in a caption.
Public prosecutor Daniel Suneson of the City Public Prosecution Office said video evidence played a significant role in the decision to charge Mayers.
Trump has struggled with black voters since launching his presidential campaign. Most Republicans do, but Trump brought a more antagonistic history than most. Prior to entering politics, his track record of being sued for racial discrimination in housing combined with his rhetoric essentially calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, black and Latino youths accused of a crime they did not commit, did not endear him to black voters, a demographic that overwhelmingly supports Democratic candidates anyway.
Since entering the Oval Office, profane attacks on black football players protesting racism and police brutality; telling women of color in Congress who have criticized his policies to “go back” to where they came from; and reportedly referring to the nations from which many black immigrants come as “shithole countries” have all contributed to his low approval ratings with black Americans.
It probably doesn’t help that his efforts to make inroads belie a stereotypical view of the community and the issues that concern them most.
Trump, a celebrity before he was a politician, appears to give more credence to the words of black musicians than he does black people working in policy and advocacy. He tweeted that he got involved with the effort to release A$AP Rocky after a request from Kanye West. Last year, he demonstrated his commitment to sentencing reform by commuting the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson after Kim Kardashian West advocated for that.
He views entertainers as the most influential voices in black America. That could be in part because Trump does not have a black person working in a senior position in his White House. Some of the people the president mentions most when addressing issues like criminal justice reform and the black unemployment rate are hip-hop artist Kanye West and conservative activist Candace Owens, supporters of the president with no expertise in these areas.
But things do not have to be this way. If the president wants to prioritize the main policy concerns of black Americans, his staffing and interest areas could reflect that. The fact that they do not suggests that the manner in which Trump invokes African Americans and their issues is not meant to attract their support as much as it is to maintain the support of white Americans uncomfortable with his handling of race issues.
According to an April Pew Research Center survey, most Americans — including 20 percent of Republicans — believe that Trump has made race relations worse. And according to a recent Fox News poll, most Americans — including half of white respondents — said the president’s recent tweets telling four congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from were racist.
Trump supporters are often criticized for turning a blind eye to or unapologetically supporting and defending the president’s prejudiced comments and positions on race. But in recent years, polling suggests that doing so has become more difficult for some of them. As my colleague Philip Bump wrote: ”Since 2017, even Trump’s base is more skeptical about his views on race. Among Republicans, the density of those who say he respects racial minorities fell 14 points over the past two years. Less than two-thirds of evangelicals now think Trump respects minorities; nearly three-quarters did two years ago.”
This leads some to believe that the attention the president is paying to a black rapper incarcerated abroad is not mainly about winning over black Americans but keeping existing supporters, mostly white Americans, from defecting. The Trump campaign has repeatedly communicated that its political strategy is prioritizing turnout of the base. Showing enough interest in a topic of importance to black Americans to give his surrogates talking points to defend him without deeply engaging in the real conversation could do just that.