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Jared Kushner’s unhelpful reminder to Black Americans

Jared Kushner listens to President Trump speak with members of the coronavirus task force at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Jared Kushner went on Fox News Monday and pretty well encapsulated why, for all the talk about his father-in-law, President Trump, making inroads with men of color ahead of the presidential election, the Republican Party continues to struggle with Black voters.

Kushner, a White House aide, was asked about working with hip-hop artist Ice Cube on the Trump campaign’s Platinum Plan for Black America.

Here’s the exchange, with the part of the quote that is earning Kushner particular blowback in bold:

Fox Host Brian Kilmeade: When did you realize this isn’t just a celebrity coming forward, there was some substance to it? And why did you go forward with it? Why did the president go forward with it?
Jared Kushner: So look, there’s been a lot of discussion about the issues that were needed in the Black community for the last years. But particularly, it intensified after the George Floyd situation. And you saw a lot of people who were just virtue signaling. They’d go on Instagram and cry, or they would put a slogan on their jersey or write something on a basketball court. And quite frankly, that was doing more to polarize the country than it was to bring people forward. You solve problems with solutions. And one of the things I respected about Ice Cube is he actually went and said, "Okay, what are the policies that are needed in order to solve the problems that everyone’s complaining about?” And he put forward his proposal.
We were connected through some mutual friends, and we started some discussions. He came in to meet. We said, “Look, we’re been working on our own plan to solve these problems.” We got together. We were able to take them through all of President Trump’s accomplishments, whether it was accomplishing criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, the funding he provided the HBCUs. And then we took him through a lot of the different plans that we had for what President Trump could do in the next four years. And I’m a big believer in iron sharpens iron. It was a really in-depth and respectful policy discussion. There were some things we didn’t agree on, but there were a lot of things we did agree on. I think he helped make our plan better, and we appreciated it.
And again, one thing we’ve seen in a lot of the Black community, which is mostly Democrat, is that President Trump’s policies are the policies that can help people break out of the problems that they’re complaining about. But he can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.

The statement suggests that Trump is more invested in improving the lives of Black Americans than Black Americans are themselves. This would be news to many Black Americans, considering Trump’s history of denigrating and insulting so many of them before entering the White House. The real estate developer was sued by the federal government in the 1970s for discriminating against Black people in housing. And more than a decade later, he advocated for the death penalty for Black teenagers wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping a White woman — something for which he refuses to apologize.

An in-depth look at how President Trump and Joe Biden have approached criminal justice and race issues throughout their public lives. (Video: The Washington Post)

That history is partially why Trump in particular was unpopular with Black voters headed into the 2016 presidential election. Kushner’s portrayal of them as complainers who don’t pull their own weight evokes Republicans’ broader problems. It is not an ideal time for the Trump team to be reminding voters of that.

Kushner went on to claim in the interview that there was a “groundswell” of support for Trump growing among Black voters. And there is data suggesting that Trump will perform better than most Republicans with Black voters. But Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is the overwhelming favorite, with 90 percent of the support of Black voters so far, according to the latest CBS News/BET poll.

One of the problems of greatest concern to Black Americans is the coronavirus pandemic. The death rate for them from covid-19 is twice that of the death rate for White Americans, according to a recent report from Johns Hopkins University and the National Urban League.

South Carolina resident Robert McClain, 65, recently told The Washington Post why he’s voting against Trump in 2020 after not voting at all in the previous election.

I think we have a president in there who doesn’t care about the American people: We have more than 200,000 people who have died, and he has not placed any importance on that. He’s said they would have died anyhow. That’s not good for a president. I had the virus myself — I got over it. But one of the ministers in my church died from it.

In fact, while Trump often claims to be the best president for the Black community since Abraham Lincoln, many Black Americans don’t believe Trump has done what he says he has.

According to a Post-Ipsos poll from this summer, most Black Americans — 86 percent — said Trump has done “nothing” to reduce anti-Black racism in the criminal justice system. And Trump is viewed by many of them as being too sympathetic to police officers who have acted violently against Black Americans. He has repeatedly attacked Black Americans protesting police violence by calling them “thugs.” And although Trump often mentions that the unemployment rate for Black Americans hit an all-time low under his presidency, few Black Americans credit him with reaching that mark alone, noting that the rate had been steadily declining under President Barack Obama and that Trump has not improved the gap between White and Black unemployment. And about 3 in 4 Black Americans believe Trump is racist, according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

Kushner’s comments sparked particular disappointment and anger, because it revealed a longer-standing frustration with the belief of many Republicans that Black Americans don’t want or aren’t willing to work for a better life.

It’s an attitude that reinforces the racist tropes that Black Americans are lazy, complacent and content with mediocrity. This idea of Black people lacking hope and ambition is often supported by Black Trump supporters, who dismiss most Black Americans as being unwillingly affiliated with a Democratic Party that neglects them.

Disaffection with Democrats may exist among Black Americans to some degree. But that doesn’t mean they will flock to a party or a president whose message is as condescending as the one Kushner presented Monday.