The Black Vote and Mr. Trump
“Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me.”
— President-elect Joe Biden
If not for rapper and entrepreneur Ice Cube’s interactions with the Trump administration about the president’s so-called Platinum Plan for Black American economic advancement, a lot of people, including me, would never have heard about the plan. Unveiled on the eve of the first and raucous debate between Trump and now president-elect Biden, at no point in that debate did Trump mention “his” plan. Not that any believe he had a hand in crafting its language. Still, you would think he might have tried to stay on message, but his own lack of self-discipline was his undoing in that outing – and a factor overall in his defeat.
To be fair, Cube was part of an effort called the “Contract With Black America” (CWBA) that dropped last July. It was, and still is, intended in the words of Professor Darrick Hamilton, executive director of the Kirwan Institute at The Ohio State University outlined in the preface:
“This Contract with Black America strikes at the heart of racism and presents a blueprint to achieve racial economic justice. It was written in the backdrop of the killing of George Floyd, which set off a wave of protests not seen since the Civil Rights Era of the 1950’s and ’60’s, and a global pandemic in which the Black mortality rate is more than double the White rate and in which 45% (nearly half) of Black-owned businesses closed.”
The CWBA was sent to both campaigns. The Dems said they’d deal with it after the election while the GOP apparently altered some of the precepts in the Prez’s 2-page Platinum Plan to reflect the aspirations laid out in the CWBA. Though it wasn’t as if the CWBA or the Plan was much discussed leading up to the election. The latter in particular wasn’t a sincere effort but rather a bid to try and gin up votes for Trump among “the Blacks,” as he would say.
“He calls it a ‘Platinum Plan,’ but it’s more like a Nickle Plan offered by a zirconium president,” said Lawrence Brown, an associate professor with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Be that as it may, even given his racialized appeal to law and order; his studied ineptness handling the pandemic, let alone not acknowledging its disproportionate impact on the Black and Latinix communities and the poor and working poor; subscribing to and re-tweeting tinfoil hat conspiracy theories; and enacting policies such as separating undocumented children from their parents, more white women, a one percentile, and more black men, voted for Trump this time around than in 2016.
In particular according to AP VoteCast, Trump won 8 percent of the Black vote (some sources state twelve percent), up almost 2 percent from before. In a piece by Frank Newport on the Gallup website, there was nineteen percent job approval for Trump among black men and eleven percent among Black women. Too, Biden’s support among Black folk was less than Obama’s ninety percent, though better than Hillary Clinton’s by some four percent more.
On the surface, this support among Black men (and Black women at 6 percent according to the AP) seems stupefying. It’s not as if Trump remained an unknown quantity as a politician these last four years. Is it as some have speculated the “strong man” has a kind of appeal despite reality? This military school graduate who ducked Vietnam by claiming bone spurs yet has managed to craft an image over the decades as someone who is tough, laconic in the way Hollywood has presented the tough guy since before John Wayne strapped on a six shooter as the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach? A guy who can cut through the bullshit and get the job done. None of that cerebral pontificating like Obama or lack of clarity like “Dubya,”
It is the case that prior to taking office, Trump had a favorable image he didn’t cultivate per se but did exist among segments of Blacks and Latinos. His time on The Apprentice reinvigorated an impression of him among a wide swatch of viewers as a wealthy corporate shark despite a string of bankruptcies, his goofball university and failed real estate deals. Bearing in mind that by numerous accounts it took hours of taping that had to be culled and edited together as if he were coherently analytical. Such illusory good will carried over when he finally decided to run for the highest office. But a degree of his attraction for people of color had to diminish given his continued vilifying of the Central Park Five, a quintet of then Black and Latino young men who were railroaded into prison. Their stories the subject of both a well-done documentary and a fictionalized miniseries, When They See Us.
Or when he glommed onto the birther movement. At one-point Trump called in to Fox saying his people were in Hawaii uncovering amazing things about Obama. The tease being he was about the bust the whole thing open and prove Obama hadn’t been born in the U.S. Of course no such evidence was produced since it didn’t exist. Yet his positioning with the racist bunk artists of birtherism earned him admiration among a base including those who now slavishly follow the messages from the mysterious Q. These cryptic communiques tout Trump’s supposed battle against the Deep State and purport that Democrats drink the blood of children – an old anti-Semitic trope revived for the modern age.
Yet it certainly does seem as though Trump was able to accomplish a Jedi mind trick when it came to how he was perceived in various quarters despite reality; a reality star who defied such. As is pointed out in several articles, rappers have cited Trump in their lyrics in positive ways over the years. “Bigged Up” in phrases like 2018’s Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar’s “Determined”: from 2012, “Homies on the block can say whatever they want/I don’t wanna be a dealer, I wanna be a Trump—Donald that is.” By the time he came to office, as Allison McCann noted on her July 14, 2016 piece “Hip-Hop is Turning on Donald Trump” on fivethirtyeight.com, “Rappers love Trump’s money but hate his politics.” For sure YG’s and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” resonated, but Trump would nonetheless find allies in the likes of Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne in this year’s bid to stay in office. Along with a muscular gentleman named Stephen Davis, who goes by MAGA Hulk. An African American who has waved his Trump flag high and has spoken at rallies for him, as of course he’d be the darling among these mostly white crowds as a “right thinking negro,” in Beverly Hills and Huntington Beach.
While I find comfort in Malcolm X’s observation to better have a processed head than a processed mind, this election reminds us of the often stated point that African Americans are not a monolith any more than other ethnic or racial groups on any given issue. Several factors contributed to Trump getting the numbers he did among Black voters. Not all Black people are down for Daca, choice, trans rights or with Black Lives Matter. Between a Justice Clarence Thomas on the far right and Congressperson Ilhan Omar on the left, there’s a lot in play socio-politically along that continuum.
Guess MAGA Hulk will wave his Trump flag on. Because sadly, while he’ll be out of office, Trump will no doubt continue to tweet his verbal hand grenades from the sidelines. It remains to be seen how many will continue to rally around him or tire of his antics.
Gary Phillips' Violent Spring published twenty-six years ago set in the aftermath of the '92 civil unrest was recently named one of the essential crime novels of Los Angeles. He was a story editor on FX's Snowfall, about crack and the CIA set in 1980s South Central where he grew up, and his latest novel is Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem.