May 22, 2024

Black MAGA Is Still MAGA to the Core

Trump’s strategy for the Black vote has been high on empty symbolism and low on specific policy benefits for the Black community.

Clarence Lusane
Outgoing US President Donald Trump, who refused to attend his successor’s inauguration, waves to supporters lined along on the route to his Mar-a-Lago estate on January 20, 2021. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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Consider Donald Trump to be in a racial bind when it comes to election 2024. After all, he needs Black voters to at least defect from Joe Biden in swing states, if not actually vote for him. Yet, more than ever, he also needs his white nationalist base to believe that a second Trump term will be even more racist than the first and he’s been openly claiming that he’ll address the ghost of anti-white racism. Not surprisingly, his evolving strategy for the Black vote has been high on empty symbolism and viral moments, but distinctly low on specific promised policy benefits for the Black community.

Milkshakes and far-right policies are all the presumptive Republican presidential candidate has recently offered Blacks. Take his orchestrated photo op at a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta a preview of things to come. The event was organized by Black MAGA supporter and Republican operative Michaelah Montgomery, who recruited some young African Americans, probably students from nearby historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to cheer for Trump when he entered the place. He proceeded to buy milkshakes for everyone. Montgomery herself gave Trump a picture-perfect hug and, to the glee of MAGAworld, stated, “I don’t care what the media tells you, Mr. Trump. We support you.”

Naturally, while there he made false claims about what he had done for Black folks while president. It wasn’t quite a speech, but he more or less mumbled that he had great support in the area because “I have done more for the people of Atlanta than any other president by far. I have done more for the black community than any other president since Abraham Lincoln and maybe including Abraham Lincoln, but since Abraham Lincoln. And it looks like our polling is very good in the state of Georgia overall. We are very happy about it. We have had—you see the support. It’s been really something.”

Note to Trump: You had such great support in Georgia in 2021 that the GOP lost two Senate seats in run-off elections there (while you were trying to overthrow the government). And that was primarily because of the turnout of Black voters who, the previous November, had voted for President Biden and returned to vote Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock into office.

Without actually engaging the students at Chick-fil-A, and speaking in his usual broken fashion, Trump boasted: “That’s really nice. We took care of the—black colleges, university. They are taken care of. Biden did nothing for them. I did everything.”

Note to Trump: The Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act you signed ensured that permanent funding for HBCUs would remain at essentially the same level as during the Obama administration (about $85 million). The Biden administration, on the other hand, has invested over $7 billion in HBCUs. That includes “$3.6 billion for HBCUs through the American Rescue Plan and other COVID relief,” “$1.6 billion in capital finance debt relief for 45 public and private HBCUs,” and “$1.7 billion in grant funding to expand academic capacity and provide support for low-income students.”

MAGA and HBCUs

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Cover of June 2024 Issue

Michaelah Montgomery is steeped in contemporary MAGA politics. She has ties to the Blexit Foundation, a group started by far-right provocateur and conspiracy theorist Candace Owens to sway African Americans from the Democratic Party. Montgomery states on her LinkedIn page that she was Blexit’s city director for the Atlanta metro region. She is also the founder of Conserve the Culture, a group apparently devoted to converting young African American students to conservative, that is, Trumpublican, politics.

In interviews with the right-wing media, she made it appear that Trump had encountered a group of everyday young Black people at that Chick-fil-A who spontaneously expressed their love for him. In fact, it was a handpicked group that did not represent most HBCU students or the Black community more generally.

If she really thought Trump had developed significant popularity among Black students, why didn’t she schedule him to speak at an HBCU? Montgomery later said: “The media will definitely have you thinking that if [Trump] were to show up to our neighborhood…that an angry mob of some sort would form or a riot would ensue.” She can pretend otherwise, but if Donald (“the Black people like me”) Trump actually ever showed up to spew his usual lies to any HBCU audience or Black community in the nation, there would indeed be massive protests.

While he claims he’s had great relations with HBCU presidents, he only visited one of those schools during his presidency and it turned into a scandalous Trumpian event. In 2019, he gave a talk at Benedict College in South Carolina to crow about his criminal justice reform policies. However, Benedict students were asked to stay in their dorms, where they were essentially imprisoned for an hour and served lunch while Trump bloviated. The faculty, too, were requested to stay away. According to USA Today, only seven students were allowed to attend the event and they were not allowed to ask questions.

Black and Far Right

Trump’s Black supporters continue to propagate the false notion that he’s going to make a historic breakthrough in voter support in the coming election. Polls are one thing, election results another. While his campaigns in 2016 and 2020 were wish-casting that he would get 15 percent to 20 percent of the Black vote, he only won 6 percent and 8 percent respectively.

And it should be noted that Trump desperately wants to dump Black votes not cast for him. The Big Lie that he won in 2020 was premised on his contention that voting in Black-dominated cities was corrupt and that millions of votes should have been discounted. Accepting that “reality” is the price of admission to Trumpworld, whether at the Trump-colonized Republican National Committee or for any prospective vice-presidential candidate.

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And worse yet, his African American sycophants continue to drink the Kool-Aid. South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott humiliated himself recently on NBC’s Meet the Press when he clumsily refused six (yes, six!) times to state that he would accept a Trump defeat in the fall. Repeatedly asked, he demonstrated that his desire to stay in Trump’s good graces and potentially become his running mate took priority over the most basic stance for maintaining a constitutional democracy.

In the service of Trump, Scott also launched a video series, “America’s Starting Five,” a weekly discussion between him and the other four Black Republicans in Congress, Representatives Burgess Owens (Utah), John James (Mich.), Wesley Hunt (Tex.), and Byron Donalds (Fla.). The goal: to convince Black voters that the GOP and Trump are the only way to go if African Americans want to get ahead.

The first episode, however, didn’t focus on policy differences between the Democrats and Trump, but on two ill-advised and well-criticized statements by Joe Biden. In 2019, he said that “poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids,” implying it was a given that white kids were bright and talented. He immediately recognized his mistake and tried to clean it up with gibberish. (“Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no, I really mean it, but think how we think about it.”) In 2020, as he was finishing an interview with the popular Black radio host Charlamagne tha God, Biden said, “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” At the time, criticism flowed from across the political spectrum in the Black community, chastising the president for seemingly attempting to police Black racial identity.

Scott and the others used those statements to draw a conclusion about Biden’s bigotry and then extend that critique to the Democratic Party. This required, of course, burying decades of Trump’s racist statements and behavior in a memory hole that went deep into the center of the earth. It was an act of epic historical revisionism. They functionally erased the fact that he gave succor to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, attacked voting rights, expressed a desire to shoot Black Lives Matter protesters, demanded that there be less immigrants from “shithole” nations and more from Norway, defamed black prosecutors, judges, and district attorneys with racist verbal attacks, insulted Harriet Tubman, and so much more during his presidency.

The Racial Storm Is Coming

Yet consider Trump’s first term nothing but an appetizer, should he be reelected. According to his campaign website, the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, and Project 47, he will unleash a program of racial authoritarianism unseen since the worst days of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. And he’ll be emboldened and enabled by a constitution filled with ambiguities and undemocratic provisions, by an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court he helped appoint, and by millions of his supporters (many of whom have shown a propensity for using violence to meet their idea of his agenda).

Trump’s second-term racial program is already emerging. He stated while president and recently reiterated that “we will terminate every diversity, equity, and inclusion program across the entire federal government” and end Biden’s “Marxist executive order that seeks to impose racist and woke sexual ideology across the federal government.”

Believe him.

And it won’t just stop at the federal level or in the public sector. As The Guardian recently reported, MAGA forces are planning to go after all efforts at inclusion (whether related to racial, gender, religious, or sexual-orientation), including in the corporate sector and the non-profit world. Trump’s former adviser Stephen Miller’s America First Legal group and other far-right actors have already filed suits against Fearless Fund, a venture capital business founded by Black women; Hello Alice, which provides grants to small Black business owners; and the George Floyd Memorial scholarship program at Minneapolis’s North Central University, among other initiatives. America First Legal has been on a hyper mission to end diversity efforts, all of which it perceives as harmful to white Americans.

In a broader context, Trump has stated, “But if you look right now, there’s absolutely a bias against white and that’s a problem.” First and foremost, Trump sees himself as a victim of racism by Black public authorities and has been signaling that he’s all in on a campaign of overt white nationalism. It couldn’t be clearer where he’ll focus the resources of the White House and federal government should he return to power.

And one thing is guaranteed: He’ll have support for his actions. As USA Today noted, citing a CBS November poll, “Most white voters supporting Trump believe that racial minorities are favored over white people.” About 58 percent of Trump voters (as opposed to 9 percent of Biden ones) believe “racial minorities” are favored over “white people.”

And his plans (as well as those of his GOP allies) to get back into office include not only voter suppression tactics like closing polling sites, ending early voting, and questioning mail-in or drop-box ballots, but attempting to employ an army of Election Day militias who will look for “irregularities” and “illegal” behavior. Is there any doubt where those 100,000 election watchers will be sent (or what they will look like)? And by the way, there has been stone-dead silence from Trump’s Black supporters on the plan to send hardcore MAGA troops to Black and Latino communities in swing states.

Absurd to the End

Trump has said to his Black backers, “I’m being indicted for you, the Black population.” That’s his way of attempting to link his own misconduct and corruption to his conviction that the Black community is overwhelmingly filled with criminals. Even worse, he has insultingly compared himself to South African leader Nelson Mandela, one of the most famous prisoners in the world for nearly three decades. Of course, he knows absolutely nothing about Mandela or what sent him to prison, only that he was famous for it. Mandela became a global hero to tens of millions who fought for years for his freedom.

You undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that, according to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, The Donald had a remarkably low opinion of Mandela. Cohen wrote in Disloyal: A Memoir that, after Mandela died in 2013, Trump told him, “Mandela f—ed the whole country up. Now it’s a s—hole. F— Mandela. He was no leader.”

Of course, Trump knew little and could have cared less about Africa, or South Africa in particular. There is almost no record of him discussing or tweeting about South Africa. The one time he did, based on a news report by far-right commentator Tucker Carlson, he tweeted a white supremacist talking point, falsely claiming that there were “large-scale killings” of white farmers in that country. From former Klan leader David Duke to hard racist websites like The Daily Stormer, white supremacists naturally celebrated Trump’s tweet.

In 2016, every white nationalist and supremacist in this country supported Donald Trump. In 2020–21, in the wake of the Charlottesville riots, immigration cruelties, and the January 6 insurrection, they supported him again. And now, as the 2024 election looms, and Trump fights “anti-white” racism, he has once more earned their love and their votes.

Singer and activist John Legend who, along with his wife, Chrissy Teigen, has battled Trump for years, summed up the former president best. He said: “He’s done very little for us and he is at his core, truly, truly a racist.”

Welcome to the 2024 election season and a world in which Black MAGA is still MAGA to the core.

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Clarence Lusane

Clarence Lusane is a political science professor and interim political science department chair at Howard University, and independent expert to the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance. His latest book is Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy (City Lights).

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