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Tavis Smiley: Black Americans Could Go For Donald Trump

tavis smiley
As someone who resents it mightily when a liberal gets all “Conservatives in the Mist” in writing about Conservative politics, I try to shy away from writing about the goings-on in black and Latino communities. I don’t understand the political and cultural dynamics and I probably couldn’t if I were granted a dozen lifetimes. So when I saw this piece by Tavis Smiley in USA Today I stopped to read it. Smiley is obviously a liberal or otherwise he wouldn’t have a job, but he’s not of the “kill the white man” variety who seem to achieve an out-sized place media coverage — funny how outrageous personalities manage to do that.

With Hillary Clinton racking up more overwhelming victories in Super Tuesday primaries thanks to the overwhelming support of African-American voters, the conventional wisdom is that she has the black vote on lock down. She might be wrong.

Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom is that black voters have forgiven the Clintons for their attempt to diminish Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and this time around, they’ve got Hillary’s back. Except everyone knows that in this presidential election cycle, conventional wisdom left the building long before the train ever left the station. Something tells me that if Donald Trump is indeed the Republican nominee, it might be a miscalculation for Democrats to assume that black voters are a lock for their nominee, even with the first black president and Barack Obama both campaigning for her.

Second, the number of everyday black voters who we assume will dismiss Trump because of his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attacks might well be inflated. While I certainly have had my say about Trump being a “religious and racial arsonist” (and he responded quickly on Twitter), not everyone in black America agrees with me. I have been taken by myriad conversations I’ve had with black folk who don’t find those comments by Trump necessarily or automatically disqualifying…
… In California where I live, Latinos are still smarting from the lack of black voter support in 1994 to help defeat the anti-immigrant Proposition 187. At best, it’s a big assumption to think that both the black political establishment and everyday black voters share the same sentiment on Trump’s anti-immigrant stance. Scary, but honestly, I’m not so sure.

I’ve talked privately to some of Trump’s black friends since I read that piece, and to a person, their critique of him is highly nuanced. Men and women from black America’s most privileged class, either genuinely like this guy or they’re afraid of being caught in his social media meat grinder. Those whose job it is to comment on politics have been strong in condemning Trump, but those who earn their wealth elsewhere have been too quiet. In any event, it’s going to be interesting to watch how these BFOTs (black friends of Trump) support the Democratic nominee even as they try to remain neutral on Trump.

Finally, it’s mind-numbing to some of us that a reckless member of the billionaire class has somehow convinced hardworking, everyday people that he is their savior. But all rich guys aren’t created equal. Ultimately, Trump’s policies might not be that different from what Mitt Romney’s would have been, but they apparently sound different to working class voters.

To me the key takeaways from this are a) Clinton can’t rely on black voters to turn out her the way they did for Obama, b) unsurprisingly, black Americans have the same concern about illegal immigration as white Americans, perhaps moreso as black Americans are much more likely to hold a job that is vulnerable to usurpation by illegals or to know someone in that position, c) the coyness Trump is displaying with racist groups seems to bother conservatives and white liberals much more than blacks (one could postulate that if you think all white people are racists anyway then Trump and his white power flirtation would be a refreshing change in the direction of candor), and d) black business and opinion leaders aren’t necessarily anti-Trump.

To me the most important insight was the last paragraph. To a great extent Donald Trump is Mitt Romney. Romney have have better table manners and you’d trust him alone with your wife or daughter but their business have a lot of the same features. Usually there are broken middle class people and neighborhoods wherever they choose to operate. They are both crony capitalists and rent-seekers at heart. Both had a late in life conversion to being pro-life (somehow we credit Romney’s story more than Trump’s, for reasons I don’t really understand). Yet somehow Trump is able to convince working class men and women that it is he, not the up-by-their-own-bootstraps sons of immigrants, who can best protect their interests.

None of this is good news for Hillary. If she has to face Trump without a high black turnout, or leakage in the 10% range to Trump, and with disaffected Sanders voters sitting it out, she is in deep trouble because then her election depends upon public sector union employees and aging lesbians.

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