“We are advancing with unbridled optimism and lifting our citizens of every race, color, religion and creed very, very high,” he said Tuesday during his speech, the theme of which was “the Great American Comeback.”
Trump’s speech highlighted a project that he believes has greatly improved the lives of black Americans: legislation creating thousands of opportunity zones in underserved areas spearheaded by the GOP’s only black senator, Tim Scott (S.C.); record low unemployment rates for black Americans; scholarships for children wanting to leave low-performing public schools; and the achievements of his criminal justice reform legislation.
“Our roaring economy has, for the first time ever, given many former prisoners the ability to get a great job and a fresh start,” Trump said. “Everybody said that criminal justice reform couldn’t be done, but I got it done, and the people in this room got it done.”
Like much of Trump’s black voter outreach, his words were at least in part directed toward white voters who are considering backing him again in November but are uncomfortable with his racist rhetoric, discriminatory policies and other actions that suggest that his vision of America takes a dim view of diversity.
But initial reaction to the president’s speech from some of his most vocal black critics on social media suggested that Trump’s words could fall on deaf ears for those who have long been uncomfortable with the president’s handling of race-related issues.
Efforts this week to win over black voters — a group that overwhelmingly considers Trump racist, according to a recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll — began Sunday when his campaign spent millions on a commercial featuring Alice Johnson, a black woman whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense was commuted after reality television star Kim Kardashian shared Johnson’s story with the president.
“I am free to hug my family,” Johnson said shortly after her release. “I’m free to start over. This is the greatest day of my life.”
“I want to thank President Donald John Trump,” she added. “Hallelujah. Thank you.”
But most black Americans aren’t singing the president’s praises. In fact, quite the opposite. In the Post-Ipsos poll released last month, about three-quarters of black adults said that Trump’s actions as president have been “bad for African Americans."
Black voters surveyed spoke to The Post:
“Donald Trump has not done anything for the African American people,” said one person.“He has created an atmosphere of division and overt racism and fear of immigrants unseen in many years,” said another.A third said, “He has taken hatred against people of color, in general, from the closet to the front porch.”
According to a New York Times report, Trump and the White House are aware of the president’s continued unpopularity with black voters — something that reportedly confuses them, in part, because Trump is well-liked by hip-hop artist Kanye West. And Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, is spearheading efforts to share more of the president’s accomplishments with black voters with the hope that it will help his reelection efforts.
But that approach assumes that black Americans don’t support Trump because they are unaware of his accomplishments. However, Post reporting suggests that black Americans are quite aware of the things for which the president takes credit — they just don’t credit Trump for those achievements.
In Tuesday’s speech, Trump claimed that improvements in the economy were tied to him undoing the policies of the previous administration. But the January Post-Ipsos survey suggests it’s not likely that his message will be well-received by black Americans, many of whom said former president Barack Obama is worthy of more credit for increases in the black employment rate than Trump. Other black Americans said that they are more responsible for their improved financial situation than anything Trump has done.
Previous attempts by the president to improve his standing with black Americans have not led to noticeable increases in support for Trump from black voters. In part, that is because attempts to connect with black voters are eventually followed by tweets, comments and policies that his critics believe are disrespectful, if not harmful, to black Americans.
But beyond words, there is likely to be a continued sense from many black Americans that outreach efforts from the president are not actually centered on black Americans — but Trump supporters. Like other statements from Trump, the State of the Union speech came off as an attempt to convince his white supporters — people largely drawn to Trump because of their anxieties about America’s changing racial and cultural demographics — that the president is not a racist, something many black Americans believe to be the most defining characteristic of this president.