One would think that the State of the Union address would be the ultimate barometer of America’s current state of politics, but it’s not. This year, that distinction belonged to the Super Bowl.
In a game featuring two teams fighting for the right to be called champions, I watched with the hope that former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid would win the title that had eluded him here. In between, I watched the commercials — specifically the political ads — and realized I was witnessing more than a game. I was watching two presidential campaigns acknowledge that blacks will be the key to winning the next presidential election.
I would have thought such a revelation would make me happy. But as I watched President Donald Trump’s and Michael Bloomberg’s campaigns air commercials featuring the pain of black women, it made me angry. Yes, both campaigns decided to spend millions on the world’s biggest advertising stage in an effort to win black votes, but they did so by exploiting black misery.
Take Democratic candidate Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor is a billionaire, and he has climbed in the polls by spending his personal wealth on television ads. He doesn’t debate. He doesn’t compete directly with the other candidates.
Instead, Bloomberg does commercials like the Super Bowl ad where a black mother talks about the pain of losing her son to gun violence.
“Mike’s fighting for every child because you have a right to live,” the woman said. “No one has a right to take your hopes and dreams.”
I could feel that sister’s pain because, like many black Philadelphians, I know multiple people who’ve been affected by gun violence. Bloomberg simply can’t relate to that.
Bloomberg was the king of “stop and frisk” — a racist policy that leads to black and brown people being disproportionately stopped and searched by police, even though cops are more likely to find guns, drugs, and other contraband on white people. Bloomberg credited his de facto racial profiling policy with lowering crime in New York and didn’t apologize to black folks until he decided to run for president.
However, as hypocritical as Bloomberg’s sudden focus on black people seems, Trump’s contention that he cares about blacks in prison is worse.
Trump — the same dude who will soon be acquitted in a trial with no witnesses — did a Super Bowl ad implying that he understands the plight of black folks who get railroaded.
His simple message? I got criminal justice reform done. Black people benefitted. Vote for me.
To prove that point, Trump’s campaign aired a Super Bowl commercial featuring Alice Marie Johnson, a woman who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense before Trump commuted Johnson’s sentence at the request of Kim Kardashian. I have no doubt Trump did it so he could use her to prove he’s not a racist. Except we’ve got receipts.
We know Trump was sued by the U.S. Justice Department for discriminating against black people in his real estate business. We know he called for five boys of color to get the death penalty for a rape they didn’t commit in the infamous “Central Park Five” case and refused to apologize, even after DNA evidence exonerated them.
Trump’s record on race is abysmal, and it’s my belief that it has only grown worse during his presidency. Trump’s constant derisive references to former President Barack Obama are not just about jealousy, as some have asserted. In my view, his mentions of Obama are a dog whistle, summoning his followers to reject black leadership, to devalue black masculinity, and to hate black people.
That’s why it’s so ironic that Trump, along with Bloomberg, would target African Americans as a key voting demographic. Despite their respective records on race and their offensive use of black pain as a political commodity, their campaigns are keenly aware of the importance of the African American vote.
If men like Bloomberg and Trump understand why black votes matter, the least my African American community can do is embrace how politically important we really are. Get out there and vote.