Separating fact from fiction among beliefs held by Black Trump supporters

So here we are, about six months from Election Day. President Joe Biden is presiding over a booming economy with low unemployment and wages rising faster than inflation. He has also done a lot of good things for middle- and working-class Americans such as expanding health care, protecting pensions for union workers and retirees, and canceling billions in student loan debt.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump — who inspired a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after losing the last presidential election — recently became the first American president to ever face a criminal trial. If reelected, he wants to institute mass deportations, create migrant detention camps, and pardon insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Given the stark contrast between the two, you would think the country’s choice would be clear. Yet, in Pennsylvania — a critical swing state — Trump leads Biden 47% to 44% with registered voters in a two-way race, according to a recent Inquirer/New York Times/Siena College poll.

I’ve written before about how Biden appears to be losing some support among one of his key Democratic constituencies, African Americans. Granted, the overwhelming majority of Black voters will once again vote for Biden. I intend to be among them. But if the polls are correct (and that isn’t a given; polls don’t always do a good job of surveying African American populations), as many as 30% of Black voters nationwide may support Trump, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Looking at these numbers has me worried, so I set out to interview African Americans who say they intend to vote for Trump. It isn’t always easy to find Black Trump voters willing to speak on the record about their political beliefs. After scores of conversations, I connected with about a dozen Black Trump supporters in our region who were willing to go on the record.

In conversations with these voters, I kept trying to better understand exactly just what their attraction to Trump is.

The more time I spent talking to these voters, the more I realized that many of them keep coming back to some of the same key talking points in Trump’s hyperbolic messaging. Here are four of the biggest myths I’ve heard Black voters use to justify their support for Donald Trump — and the reality that disproves them:

Myth

Trump “saved” historically Black colleges and universities.

Reality

In 2019, Trump signed a bipartisan bill that restored a permanent funding stream of more than $250 million to benefit historically Black colleges and universities. It actually replaced a previous funding provision that had lapsed several months earlier. Still, Trump falsely claimed he “saved” HBCUs. Biden actually has accomplished far more for HBCUs by investing more than $7 billion into them. In other words, Biden has invested roughly 28 times more into HBCUs than Trump has.

Myth

Trump championed prison sentencing reform.

Reality

Trump did sign the historic First Step Act in 2018, which was a bipartisan bill passed by Congress to reduce the size of the federal prison population, among other things. In actuality, an earlier version of the bill had been developed during President Barack Obama’s administration, but it got bogged down by partisanship and was unable to move forward. Ironically, Trump and his advisers are reportedly torn about whether or not to even highlight his support of the measure because they worry about turning off their base. Exhibit A: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls it the “jailbreak bill” because of the number of prisoners it has helped free. Clearly, Trump is no champion of prison reform measures.

Myth

Trump is a successful businessman.

Reality

Trump certainly gives off the air of being a successful businessman. However, a review of his tax returns by the New York Times found that his businesses take in hundreds of millions annually, yet “rack up chronic losses.” The Times reported that from 1985 to 1994, Trump’s businesses lost more than a billion dollars. When compared with other high-income earners during that period, the Times found that Trump “appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.” The former president’s business prowess is an illusion.

Myth

Trump did more for Black people than Biden.

Reality

Biden campaigned on a promise to select a cabinet that looked more like America and has assembled one that is even more diverse than Obama’s. Biden also named Kamala Harris, who is Black and Asian, to be the first female vice president, and went on to appoint Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black female justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. Collectively, Biden nominated more people of color for judicial posts than any other president to that point through the first three years of his tenure. Also, the Black unemployment rate is at a historic low. As he makes a pitch for a second term, Trump has vowed to focus on “anti-white” racism and promised to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Oh, and three of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees joined the majority in last year’s landmark decision that eliminated affirmative action in college admissions.

So much of the rhetoric about Trump is rooted in erroneous mythology. To the Republican Party’s credit, he is good at spinning up a story about himself that some Black voters may be eager to believe. The most egregious are the former president’s claims that he has done more for our people than any other president. This is patently false; historians have established this many times over.

What’s missing from the dialogue about African American support for the 45th president is this hard truth: Trump may be the most racist president in the modern era. He has a long record of racism, as The Inquirer detailed in a recent editorial.

I will never forget how in the 1990s — long before he entered politics — Trump wanted five Black and Latino men put to death after they were charged with raping a woman in Central Park. Prosecutors later acknowledged that the men were wrongly accused, and they were exonerated after serving years in prison. To this day, Trump has refused to apologize.

We cannot afford another Trump presidency. It would be damaging for Black folks and absolutely devastating for race relations. Trump’s time in the White House deepened our divisions and left us more polarized — both politically and culturally — than at any other point in my lifetime.

I don’t understand how so many people of color are still under his spell, but they are. One of my best girlfriends, who used to be a big Hillary Clinton fan, delights in reminding me she’s a Trump voter now.

I haven’t given up on her, though. Nor have I given up on the other Trump supporters I interviewed earlier this year. We still have six months to help them see the truth, rather than Trump’s lies.


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