During a press conference last week, President Donald Trump announced the administrations’ “Platinum Plan,” an initiative for Blacks that would designate Antifa and the KKK as terrorist organizations, make lynching a national hate crime, and increase capital in Black communities by $500 billion. The plan would also allow Black churches to compete for federal resources for their communities, improve homeownership opportunities, and provide literacy resources for Blacks. During the press conference, the President also criticized Joe Biden and the Democratic Party and boasted about what he has done for the Black community. But scholars and critics describe Trump’s record on race relations in America less than favorably — criticizing his perspectives on the needs of Blacks as short-sided and argue that he uses racially divisive rhetoric that perpetuates xenophobia, racism, and white supremacy.
While announcing the “Platinum Plan” on Friday, President Trump was critical of the Democrats. “For decades, Democrat politicians like Joe Biden have taken Black voters for granted. They made you big promises before every election—and then the moment they got to Washington, they abandoned you and sold you out,” Trump said. During the press conference, he also highlighted efforts that he has pushed forward during his presidency for the Black community – an argument that he has made on several occasions. “My Admin has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln. Passed Opportunity Zones with @SenatorTimScott, guaranteed funding for HBCU’s, School Choice, passed Criminal Justice Reform, lowest Black unemployment, poverty, and crime rates in history.” Trump tweeted on June 2. On March 2 during a campaign rally, he said,“My administration is delivering for African Americans like never before. No President has done more for our black community.”
Some argue that the president’s claims are not too far from the truth. Under the current administration, Black employment rates have increased, but critics point out that Black employment numbers depend largely on population growth. In other words, although it’s commendable that 160 million people in the U.S. were employed before the pandemic, population growth must also be considered. It would be impossible for a previous president such as Harry Truman to hit similar numbers in 1950 when the population was only 152 million. Furthermore, it’s hard to assess Black employment relative to historical numbers when data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics only goes back as far as 1972. A 2020 Washington Post Post-Isopos poll found that few Blacks feel that Trump should receive credit for improved employment rates in the Black community. Instead, they feel that former President Barak Obama laid much of the groundwork for increased employment numbers — a theory that’s supported by employment projections based on the continued trend of rising employment rates among Blacks that began during the Obama administration. That said, Black unemployment has surged disproportionately during the coronavirus pandemic.
Working alongside celebrities such as Kim Kardashian Trump passed The First Step Act, which reduced mandatory minimum sentences and the federal three-strikes rules that have been criticized for being responsible for racially biased sentencing in drug related nonviolent crimes committed by Blacks. The law also gave judges more freedom in sentencing and made the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. That said, some argue that, once again, the act simply builds on the groundwork that Obama built. During Barak Obama’s presidency he reduced the difference in sentences that were imposed for crack and powder cocaine — differences that aligned with the defendant’s race — but applied only from 2010 forward. The First Step Act extended that backward. While passing the The First Step Act has been instrumental in continuing the charge to address racial inequity and bias in the justice system, scholars have pointed out that a large majority of Black Americans aren’t directly affected by its passing. In 2001, The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only about 1 in 6 black Americans were likely to end up in a state or federal prison in and officials have shared that Trump regretted reducing prison sentences when it didn’t result in increased Black votes.
The administration is also responsible for “opportunity zones,” a 2017 tax bill that Trump signed into law that rewards investments made in impoverished areas by deferring taxes on the sale of stocks and other holdings if the assets from those sales are invested in certain high-need impoverished areas. However, the New York Times reported last August that wealthy American investors have benefited most from the passing of bill. “Billions of untaxed investment profits are beginning to pour into high-end apartment buildings and hotels, storage facilities that employ only a handful of workers, and student housing in bustling college towns, among other projects,” Jesse Drucker and Eric Lipton reported. “Many of the projects that will enjoy special tax status were underway long before the opportunity-zone provision was enacted.”
Trump has also said that he saved HBCUs, but Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, in New Orleans took to Twitter to offer a different perspective of Trump’s contributions to HBCUs. “The President did sign the bill for [fiscal year 2020] which provided record HBCU funding,” Kimbrough wrote. “It was the result of bipartisan work in the Congress; the president simply signed it as part of the overall budget for the nation.” Additionally, Trump signed the Future Act — passed by bipartisan votes in both chambers, which provides additional financial support for HBCUs by continuing a program that was started by George W. Bush. Signing this law, Kimbrough argued, once again, fell in line with the actions of Barak Obama, who extended funding when the act was scheduled to expire during his presidency.
When asked to share her opinions about President Trump, Carol Anderson, a professor of African American Studies at Emory University, compared him to Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln as president and assisted Southern whites in reestablishing much of the racial hegemony they lost during the Civil War while Lincoln was in office. “Johnson made it clear that he was really the president of a few people, not the American people,” Anderson said. “And Trump has done the same.” Some argue that Anderson’s sentiments are supported by the President’s behavior both before and after entering the White House. Trump has been criticized for comments he made against protestors since the killing of George Floyd and has regularly conflated peaceful protestors with individuals involved in looting and physical and criminal violence. White House insiders have confided that Trump has, on several occasions, voiced that Black Americans have mainly themselves to blame for their struggle for equality — hindered more due to laziness and a lack of ambition than societal challenges.
Equally damning, Trump has also gone on record referring to African countries as, “shit holes.” In June, after reversing regulations designed to expand affordable housing for racial and ethnic minorities, President Trump tweeted that he was able to spare those who wish to live a “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” from being “bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in [their] neighborhoods.” Most recently, he ordered aids to significantly change racial sensitivity training at federal agencies so that trainings no longer examine “white privilege” and racist policies in America — referring to racial sensitivity training and the use of Critical Race Theory as “racist” during the first Presidential Debate last night, while also telling the Proud Boys, a supposedly neo-fascist “alt-right extremist group”, to “stand back and stand by.”
While it is commendable that Trump has continued to build on some of the work of his predecessors, some are not convinced by Trump’s “Platinum Plan” and remain less optimistic about his authentic desire to directly address issues that disproportionately impact the Black community. Trump also continues to receive widespread criticism about having a narrow perspective about the needs of Black Americans — reducing them to inner-city improvements, prison reform, and criminal sentencing. Although important, these issues only capture a small fragment of the Black experience.