Editor’s Note: Rev. William J. Barber II, a protestant minister, is president of the North Carolina NAACP, president of Repairers of the Breach, a progressive ecumenical organization, and founder of Moral Mondays, a grass-roots movement for racial and economic justice. He is the author of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author
Rev. William Barber: Trump says his scripted performance at black church in Detroit was outreach. But his policies speak louder
He says Trump refuses to embrace a living wage, supports laws that suppress the black vote
Donald Trump has been telling African-Americans he wants our vote. He hasn’t been saying it to us, exactly – he said it last week in West Bend, Wisconsin, which is 1% black – but we all heard about it on the news.
Then on Saturday he flew to Detroit to make his case in a black church, for a photo op that he hopes will serve as a substitute for his extreme policy proposals.
Bishop Wayne T. Jackson invited him to Great Faith Ministries for services on Saturday. Trump told the congregation he was there “to listen to your message – and I hope my presence here today will help your message reach new voices.”
But rather than address race, Trump tried to sell a revisionist history, claiming the party of Lincoln.
That’s deceptive. Lincoln’s Republican party – and its opposition Democratic party – were the polar opposites of today’s parties that carry those same names. If Trump really wanted to embrace the Party of Lincoln, he would have to support the Reconstruction policies that won freed blacks’ support in the 19th century.
He would have to be for federal intervention to ensure equal protection, for expanding voting rights, and for public education. Instead, he and his party’s platform have embraced the extreme policy of reactionary forces that have opposed Reconstruction since the 19th century.
As a preacher, Trump’s performance in church Saturday called to mind the words of Jesus, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21).
We do not need to dwell on what Trump says at photo ops. Racial injustice in America isn’t about words or feelings in your heart, but about the heart of policy and how it impacts African-Americans, poor whites and Latinos.
We don’t have to wonder what Trump’s policy would look like. We’ve seen it. In state houses across America, his fellow extremists on the right have attacked voting rights protections, public education, health care, living wages, labor rights, and immigrant rights. They have refused to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and their trickle-down economics led to the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The so-called “big government” that those extremists railed against for decades bailed out the banks that were “too big to fail,” and poor and working people of every race bore the brunt of greedy and irresponsible creditors’ over-speculation.
Donald Trump launched his “outreach” to African-Americans in my home state of North Carolina a few weeks ago, just after a federal court ruled that our governor and the Republican state legislature passed a voter suppression bill that targeted African-Americans “with near surgical precision.”
Rather than confront this systemic racism, Trump joined Governor McCrory in stoking fear of “voter fraud,” evidence of which no one was able to produce in court.
Trump’s other points of “outreach?” He has committed to take away the health care guarantee for 20 million Americans – 3 million of them African-American – if elected.
He has refused to embrace a living wage, even as he promises “good jobs.”
But extreme policy like this never only hurts African-Americans. Despite the many injustices we have faced, there are still more poor whites than there are of us. According to the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center, 26% of African-Americans are poor – as a percentage, an extreme disparity compared with the 10% poverty rate among whites.
But in real numbers, 8 million more poor white people are being conned by the Southern Strategy and the extremists who use it to build their own power and wealth.
“What do you have to lose?” Trump has been asking African-American voters. We not only know what we have to lose; we know all too well what all Americans stand to lose.
Take it from a people who learned long ago that a “just trust me” from a rich white man is a polite way of saying, “You better know your place, boy.”
This nation is far from perfect, but we’ve come a long way from where we started. Our best hope is not in returning to some imagined greatness of our past. Our true greatness lies in our determination to see our common cause, join hands and move forward together.