Voices from across the black community called for caution when Donald Trump lured presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to the White House with promises of billions in funding. Now Trump has proved we were right not to trust him.
You might remember the spectacle. It was late February, and Trump, surrounded by smiling black college presidents, signed an executive order that moved the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education into the executive office of the White House. The order directed the initiative to work with the private sector to make HBCUs financially stronger, but it didn't guarantee the $25 billion in extra federal funding the black colleges were seeking.
That lack of a guarantee set off alarm bells for those of us who saw the meeting as little more than a photo op. But last week, when the president attached a signing statement to an omnibus budget bill, we learned that February meeting was more than a photo op. It was, quite possibly, the precursor to an outright betrayal.
That's because Trump's signing statement was just the opposite of Trump's February pronouncement that HBCUs would be "an absolute priority for this White House." Trump's signing statement labeled the Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program Account as a race-based program and said the White House will treat such programs "in a manner consistent with the requirements to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment."
In other words, legal scholars say, Trump is looking to treat funding for HBCUs as if it is discriminatory. That could tie up HBCU funding in the courts, and the schools could ultimately lose the federal funding they already have.
Which brings us back to that February meeting at the White House.
"It is clear that the earlier meeting of the HBCU [presidents] at the White House in February was a complete sham," said civil rights attorney Paul Hetznecker.
"Many of the attendees stated all they had was a brief opportunity with the vice president and a photo op with Trump. The real meaning of that executive order signing appears to have been to simply move the decision-making regarding the funding of HBCU out from under the Department of Education and into Steve Bannon's hands at the White House.
"This would permit the White House to do what it did this weekend, and appears to be the beginning of an effort to reduce funding … that has been authorized by Congress under the Higher Education Act since 1965. More importantly, the reconfigured Act signed by Carter since 1980 has been re-signed in some form or another since [then]."
If Hetznecker is right, and moving federal HBCU funding out of the Education Department and into White House puts the funding of black colleges into Bannon's hands, the irony is horrific.
Bannon, as chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart News, proudly provided a platform for what he called the alt-tight. I don't believe in the term alt-right. I think it's a euphemism for racists, and since Trump and his ilk want to do away with political correctness, let's do ourselves a favor and dispense with the niceties.
Putting Bannon in charge of a program designed to fund construction and other capital improvements on black college campuses is like bringing the fox into the hen house. It exposes black educational institutions to the kind of racism the schools were founded to escape.
To put it bluntly, Historically Black Colleges and Universities did not come about as a result of "school choice," as current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos so ignorantly said upon taking office. No, HBCUs were founded because blacks had no choice.
Blacks founded colleges before and after the Civil War because racist laws and policies excluded African Americans from white colleges.
That's what makes it so utterly ridiculous for Trump, in a signing statement, to seemingly label HBCU funding as some kind of race-based injustice. If there is any injustice in the existence of HBCUs, it is that the racism in America's educational system made HBCUs necessary in the first place.
But now that Trump has embarked upon what looks to be a Machiavellian move to challenge federal funding for such schools, we must be prepared for the worst.
"This is Trojan Horse, Part 1," said Hetznecker, the civil rights attorney. "Trojan Horse, Part 2, is the reference to the due process clause. This is a not-so-veiled reference to the legal arguments put forward challenging affirmative action Programs since the Bakke decision [which upheld affirmative action and allowed race to be one of several factors in college admission]."
Essentially, HBCUs aren't the only things under attack. Black education itself is at risk.
If we've learned anything from this little exercise, it's that Trump meant what he said on the campaign trail. He loves the poorly educated.
Especially if they're black.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).