Donald Trump and Mis-Messaging Black Voters

If the election weren’t just 60 or so days away or if it wasn’t too late to save Trump’s sinking campaign; perhaps I wouldn’t write this. But, at this point, I believe it’s OK to point out how Trump has blown any chance of garnering any great number of black votes come November.

“You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”

Incredulously, this is Trump’s appeal to black voters. Talking to them as if they are confused and abused children further illustrates why the maniacal, celebrity candidate is simply not ready for prime-time politics.

Maybe Trump was just putting on a show; denigrating blacks while trying to convince his white voter base that’s he’s not quite the racist monster people say he is. After all, why would any presidential contender assume that all black people are impoverished, unemployed and uneducated? Why base an outreach message on the bizarre notion that blacks are so downtrodden, so pathetic, so desperate they have nothing to lose by electing someone, anyone who’s not a Democrat?

I’m not going to delve much into what blacks actually have to lose by supporting Trump. After all, this is the candidate who’s been sued for racially-biased housing practices; who publicly questioned the citizenship of America’s first black President; excised people from his rallies based on skin color and religious beliefs; who’s supported by white supremacists and who has accused black protesters of encouraging people to kill police officers.

Although Trump has dug his own grave in regards to minority outreach, I’m compelled to dissect his messaging. Why? Well, Trump’s appeal to African American voters may be the most condescending and crass in recent history but it’s not too far removed from political petitions from other candidates-Republican or Democratic, white, black or “other.” Though more nuanced, Hilary Clinton’s repeated message to black folk isn’t tailored to their needs; it’s based on the fact that we have more to lose if we vote for the boogeyman, Trump, than her.

First and foremost, pandering politicians fail to see black people as most of us see ourselves. Few of us view politics or politicians as the sole deliverers of our collective salvation. Since the abolition of slavery, the brief Reconstruction period and throughout the civil rights movement, it was black people who pulled politicians in progressive directions-not the other way around. Folk like WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer and Fannie Lou Hammer force-fed reluctant politicians the spoonful’s of “progress” they (mostly Democrats) now claim as their legacy. Politics helped fuel social and economic advancements for blacks but in instances of criminal justice or social welfare reforms or legislation it also impeded progress.

Obama’s occasional mention aside, we’ve yet to see a politician vying for national office who appeals to blacks based on their history of resilience, creativity, entrepreneurism and “can do” spirit. Like Trump, most see black voters as impoverished, unemployed, uneducated victims, solely dependent on government for our ultimate survival and progression.

When Trump uttered his “what do you have to lose” challenge to blacks he spoke before a mostly white audience in Dimondale, Mich. Failing to recognize the success of more than 32,000 black-owned businesses in Detroit, a mere 90 minutes away from Dimondale, was a strategic boo-boo. Trump, who considers himself a “self-made” billionaire, should have grasped the opportunity to validate the entrepreneurial spirit of black Detroiters. These were the people, as noted byHuffington Post reporter, Kate Abbey-Lambertz, who “kept their businesses going on shoestring budgets” during the economic downturn. These potential black voters reflect millions who, as the writer phrased it, “feel excluded from conversations about economic revival and access to (government) resources.”

Many polls indicate that Trump has blown his chance to capture a significant number of black votes. Other GOP candidates, however, still have an opportunity to one-up Democrats by introducing fresh and relevant ideas that may appeal to this demographic. All they have to do is employ and articulate their “bootstrap” rhetoric and revisit promising platforms of the past.

For example, in 1996, former Oklahoma GOP congressman J.C. Watts and Missouri Congressmen Jim Talent (R-MO) introduced the American Community Renewal Act which was signed into law in 2000. Although it wasn’t created to help blacks specifically, the program sought to aim federal dollars at resuscitating 100 poor metropolitan neighborhoods through enterprise zones backed by public-private partnerships, tax breaks, regulatory reforms and school vouchers. The proposal was designed to boost educational and entrepreneurial opportunities for those who needed resources most.

“(Watts) worked tirelessly to grow the Republican Party by communicating our message of compassionate conservatism not only to our base, but also to swing, moderate and disenfranchised voters,” said Rep. Tom Davis, former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Watts and Talent did a yeoman’s job of presenting a conservative message that resonated with some black voters. Unfortunately, their efforts seem to have been in vain. After the election of George W. Bush in 2001-that drew impressive numbers of black and Latino voters by the way-the Party seems to be losing the war of race, gender and ethnic messaging.

Republicans only point to what Democrats haven’t done for blacks. They never present plans that show what they will do to uplift blacks if they’re elected. Without progressive, inclusive communication, the Party left a huge vacuum that’s been filled by a pompous, race-baiting candidate who seems to believe that a “what the hell do you have to lose” message is enough to sway votes in his favor.

The only real route to collective progress will be dictated by black voters and black leaders who abandon the illusory script of salvation through politics. We must assume the historical role of fixing our own problems while prodding politicians to further our mandates, follow our lead and talk to us as responsible adults with potential-not hapless victims of political policy.

Based on polls today, Hilary Clinton stands a better chance of becoming our next president than Donald Trump. If and when she wins, rest assured, it won’t be a sign of black progression. It will be just another signal that the Democratic candidate’s message is less volatile than that of her Republican challenger.

In reality, when it comes to reaching out, neither Party has perfected the art of talking to black voters. Both rely on emotional, fear-based appeals without any real substance. Both take black voters for granted.

It’s just that Trump seems to be a master of mismanaged messaging.

Sylvester Brown, Jr. is the former publisher of Take Five Magazine in St. Louis, MO and former columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Today, Brown is the director of the Sweet Potato Project, a program that teaches at-risk youth entrepreneurial skills by planting produce on vacant lots that’s turned into marketable food-based products.