As odd as it may seem, Donald Trump wasn’t entirely lying when he boasted a few months back that “the African-Americans love me!” Not a week goes by that I don’t turn on a hip-hop radio station and hear his name.
From Notorious B.I.G.: “Twenty-seven cars and a 12-bedroom house, now they call me Snoopy Trump...” From Redman: “I'm well known like Donald Trump...” From E-40: “Trump change, I'm talkin’ Donald Trump change...”
From Nelly: “Bill Gates, Donald Trump, let me in now…” From 2 Chainz: “Exit the club to the Trump...” From The Weeknd: “I'm out here in the Trump Tower...” Even his daughter’s name from Nicki Minaj: “I told him meet me at the Trump, Ivanka...”
For decades, many black Americans idolized the Republican nominee, making his name a staple of rap songs since the 1980s, and a synonym for the kind of wealth and power that continues to elude so many of us for a multitude of reasons.
It’s why Trump once had a cameo on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” smug and smirking in a tailored suit as Will Smith and the rest of the Banks family gaped in awe. It’s also one reason why, for years, Trump had a close friendship with Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Recordings and brother of Rev. Run, a member of the ground-breaking New York rap group Run-D.M.C.
But that was then. This is now.
Now Trump is a tarnished man and brand, with his many transgressions over race and power catching up with him.
He’s running for president of the United States on a platform that began with a blanket condemnation of undocumented Mexicans as “criminals,” morphed into a call to ban Muslims, and has evolved – or maybe devolved – into a series of patronizing speeches about what’s best for black people.
“Look at how much African-American communities are suffering from Democratic control,” Trump said last Friday in Dimondale, Mich. “To those I say the following: What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose?”
Applause erupted from the sea of white people in “Make America Great Again” hats.
He raged on. “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs.”
On Wednesday, he was in one of the whitest counties in Wisconsin. While protesters were torching squad cars and businesses a few miles away over the fatal police shooting of a black man, Sylville Smith, Trump insisted that “law and order” must be restored.
“It must be restored for the sake of all, but most especially for those policing in the affected communities, of which there are many,” he said. “The main victims of these riots are law-abiding African-American citizens living in these neighborhoods.”
You know, because this is something the jetsetting Republican nominee knows so much about.
Trump hasn’t held a single rally in a black neighborhood anywhere in this country. Instead, he has stuck to the suburbs of racially and ethnically diverse cities. He’s also turned down multiple invitations to address the NAACP and National Urban League.
Trump’s audiences are as they have been since he launched his campaign – mostly white.
It’s no wonder then that he’s polling in the single digits – even zero, depending on what poll you’re looking at – among black voters. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll predicted support of just 2 percent.
Even Simmons has publicly backed away from Trump. Citing their more than 30 years of friendship and his current role as chairman of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, he told Trump in an open letter: “Stop fueling fires of hate. Don’t feed into the rhetoric created by small-minded people. You’re smarter and certainly more loving then you let on.”
This about the man who started – and whose campaign has continued to float – the rumor that President Barack Obama is a Muslim who wasn’t born in America.
My, how the mighty have fallen.
Black voters don’t like Trump – and it’s not because because he’s smug, rich and obnoxious. He always has been smug, rich and obnoxious.
It’s because he has outed himself as racist and a bigot – whether he’s truly those things or just playing to the racists and bigots in this country, it doesn’t really matter. And more than that, it’s because he’s setting himself up as some sort of white savior. Someone who will protect black people and knows what’s best for us – all without actually talking to us.
Trump has proved his ignorance and arrogance again and again. Last week, he repeatedly asked black voters (while standing in front of white audiences): “What do you have to lose?”
“The only way to change results is to change leadership,” he said Friday. “We can never fix our problems by relying on the same politicians who created our problems in the first place. A new future requires brand new leadership.”
According to Trump, the “suffering of black communities” is the fault of Democrats. “If Hillary Clinton’s goal was to inflict pain to the African-American community, she could not have done a better job. It is a disgrace.”
Yet, also according to Trump, all black people are poor, in jail, on public assistance, attend horrible schools, don’t have jobs, can’t get jobs, and live in crime-ridden neighborhoods. While it’s true the black Americans, as a whole, haven’t had the easiest time since the recession, these are generalizations – the stuff of rap lyrics, not fodder for presidential campaigns.
Real public policy requires nuance and a true understanding of a problem. It requires actually knowing and listening the people who need help, not just talking about them to other people several miles away.
Maybe Trump has listened to black people praising his name and his brand in one too many rap songs (266 times since 1989, according to FiveThirtyEight). Maybe he drank the Kool-Aid. No matter. Trump’s wealth and power might be good enough for a mention over a beat, but not for a vote.