Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump this week asked African Americans "what the hell do you have to lose" in imploring them to vote for him.
His arrogance in presenting the question reminded me of that scene in the 1978 film The Deer Hunter when a sadistic prison camp guard during the Vietnam War demands that an American soldier, played brilliantly by Christopher Walken, play Russian roulette with a loaded pistol. What the hell did the soldier have to lose? He was likely going to die from torture, disease, or starvation anyway.
Thanks, but no thanks, Donald. Many in the African American community are suffering, but they have a better chance of survival with someone who hasn't left a bullet in the chamber for them.
There's nothing in Trump's record as a businessman or his current proposals as a presidential candidate to suggest he has spent much time thinking about how he can help America's black and brown citizens. Trump likes to talk about all the African American employees he has, but they are hard to find among his corporate executives. In fact, in 11 seasons of his TV series The Apprentice, only one African American ever won: Randal Pinkett in 2005. Black comedian Arsenio Hall in 2012 also won in one of the three seasons of Celebrity Apprentice. But the rest of the darker aspirants to be Trump's man, or woman, were always "fired."
Trump's flippancy in trying to recruit black voters is yet another example of him treating his presidential run like a game show. His calculated moves to advance to the next level suggest someone well versed in the art of legerdemain. He blinks nary an eye in telling one audience he wants to be more sensitive to the plight of immigrant families while declaring to another group that he will pick up the pace set by President Obama in deporting undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally. And oh yeah, he's still going to build that wall on America's southern border and make Mexico pay for it.
Trump asked African American voters to try "something new" without revealing exactly what that entails. With his record of stiffing people -- including tradesmen who did work at his bankrupt Atlantic City casino and never got paid -- Trump has some nerve asking anyone to believe he will come through for them. And that's too bad, because poverty-stricken minority communities that were already reeling before the recession could use a champion. As Trump pointed out, too many of their schools are bad, unemployment is common, and there's too much crime. But as Jesse Jackson said of Trump, "Most African Americans consider him a bigot."
Polls suggest maybe 1 percent of African Americans will vote for Trump. That figure won't improve with former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and conservative pundit Armstrong Williams serving as Trump's surrogates to pump up his credibility among blacks. Neither of them is held in high regard in the African American community. If the Republicans want to do better with minority voters they are going to have to do the hard work it takes at the grassroots level to persuade community leaders, pastors, and parents that they will deliver on promises that the Democrats haven't kept.
Bernie Sanders pointed out Clinton's vulnerability with blacks by noting her support for policies during her husband's administration that may have hurt poor African American neighborhoods more than they helped. Sanders focused on the mandatory minimum sentences in Bill Clinton's 1994 crime bill, which resulted in disproportionate numbers of blacks and Hispanics, mostly men, being taken from their families and sent to prison for nonviolent drug crimes. But Senator Sanders usually left out that he voted for that bill as a member of the House.
The Clintons also could be criticized for the 1996 welfare reform act. It has reduced the number of Americans receiving cash assistance from the government from 13 million to 3 million, but ending welfare as we knew it never provided enough good jobs and child-care assistance to truly give the working poor a better life. The 2008 recession dried up more jobs, which has only made life in poor communities in cities like Philadelphia even worse.
Trump isn't going to fix any of that. Rather than address mandatory sentences or the atrocities that birthed the Black Lives Matter movement, he wants to make America even more of a police state. Asked by Bill O'Reilly on his Fox News show how Chicago police could lower that city's rising homicide rate, Trump responded: "How? By being very much tougher than they are right now; they're right now not tough." He then said he came to that opinion after talking to a "couple of very top police," which prompted the Chicago Police Department to issue a statement that said: "No one in the senior command at CPD has ever met with Donald Trump or a member of his campaign."
Maybe the cops who spoke to Trump didn't want it known that they talked to him. Or maybe Trump made up the story. With him you just don't know. His stories, like his positions, can change depending on the audience. What the hell do people have to lose by believing in Trump? Too much.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for the Inquirer.