One week ago, Donald Trump announced he was dumping his presidential campaign leadership and bringing on a new team–his third in just over a year. Despite Trump’s declarations that he will never change, this new team appears to have him embracing a long-standing presidential candidate tradition–the pivot. In this case, some might call it the okeydoke.
Everything about the so-called pivot–what he’s saying, how he’s saying it, and to whom–is about as awkward as Carlton dancing on The Fresh Prince, a cultural reference I’m sure Trump wouldn’t understand. And that’s because Trump doesn’t understand black people.
If he did, Trump would know why African Americans, after a year of Trumpisms, can’t simply not see what they’ve seen and not hear what they’ve heard. He has been loud, rude, and reckless for sure. But even more so, from his campaign slogan–“Make America Great Again”–to his raucous campaign rallies, Trump has been condescending, mean, and bigoted.
In this year alone, he referred to an attendee at one of his primary campaign rallies as, “there’s my African American,” recalling the indignities of possession and superiority that infused the institution of slavery. In that same breath, Trump came alarmingly close to uttering an African American colloquialism that is used in the neighborhood among familiar or cultural acquaintances.
In Birmingham, Alabama, in a scene that could have come directly from a black and white documentary film about the 1960s in America, Trump had a black man dragged out of one of his rallies, and a group of men commenced to beating and kicking him like an animal.
No, black people cannot deny the indignities they have seen or heard from one Donald Trump and his campaign this season. These acts cause black and brown people to question who Trump is really addressing and to which era he is referring.
That brings us to this so-called pivot. How can you tell when Donald Trump is being disingenuous and insincere? His lips are moving.
At a campaign rally 40 miles outside of Milwaukee, the latest community in America visited with a race-tinged police homicide, Trump chose to speak to a near entirely white audience about the ills and challenges facing the black community. He blamed the elected leaders in urban communities for policies designed to keep African Americans in poverty. Trump later suggested that Hillary Clinton supports these policies and only cares about getting black votes, not truly helping black people.
What are Trump’s answers to the questions of injustice or solutions for these chronic social challenges? He has none. These latest remarks were simply a warmed over version of his “law and order” convention speech, things he could never dare say to an exclusively African American audience.
There are a few reasons why, in a rare display of discipline, Trump may carry on with these latest political theatrics.
First, by appearing to reach out to people who don’t look like him, Trump’s team hopes he can broaden his appeal, especially with voting blocs with whom he is having particular difficulty (read=white women and millennials). Don’t reinforce the negative by disavowing former KKK grand wizard David Duke and other white supremacists who support you, Trump. Amplify the positive by telling blacks you have the cure for what ails them.
Second, Trump doesn’t actually want too much black support, just enough to make it interesting with Clinton. Trump doesn’t really believe he can ever get 95% of black voters, but if he gets the 11% George W. Bush received in 2004, that may be just enough in states such as Ohio, the Carolinas, or Pennsylvania for him to win the presidency.
Finally, Omarosa and Trump’s ministerial supporters know they could never build an assembly of African Americans for Trump comparable to his normal crowds, and if they did, it might blow up in their faces. Better to keep talking about African Americans rather than to African Americans.
At a 2008 campaign event in South Carolina, Barack Obama implored the overwhelmingly black crowd of supporters not to fall for the okeydoke. African Americans would be wise to heed that advice once again.
Corey Ealons is a partner with VOX Global, a public affairs communications firm based in Washington, DC, and a former White House spokesperson for President Barack Obama. Follow him on Twitter: @CoreyEalons and LinkedIn.