On the last day of Black History Month, President Donald Trump delivered his first presidential address to Congress. In yet another twist of irony in this epoch of political transgressions, the nation’s 45th president continued to show a flagrant disregard for the Black community, maintaining his place as one of the least popular commanders in chief among African Americans.
During the relatively staid State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Trump relied on his usual banter about urban violence, namely in Chicago, in an effort to connect with “the Blacks,” as he is fond of saying.
“[T]o break the cycle of poverty, we must also break the cycle of violence,” he said, according to a White House transcript of the speech. “The murder rate in 2015 experienced its largest single-year increase in nearly half a century. In Chicago, more than 4,000 people were shot last year alone, and the murder rate so far this year has been even higher. This is not acceptable in our society.
Beyond calling for “law and order,” Trump has yet to map out a blueprint that shows how he plans to help tackle the violence bedeviling large swaths of the South and West Sides of Chicago.
“Every American child should be able to grow up in a safe community, to attend a great school, and to have access to a high-paying job,” Trump said Tuesday. “But to create this future, we must work with, not against––not against––the men and women of law enforcement. We must build bridges of cooperation and trust––not drive the wedge of disunity and, really, it’s what it is, division. It’s pure, unadulterated division. We have to unify.
Singing the praises of law enforcement officers while failing to acknowledge calls for criminal justice reform is tone deaf, especially for communities of color that bear the brunt of police brutality and as his administration has been hostile to movements like Black Lives Matter.
He continued to attack the Affordable Care Act at a time when the rate of uninsured Americans has hit a record low, even as the plan’s future remains a question mark. Blacks have an uninsured rate of 15.1 percent, according to CNBC.
“Tonight, I am also calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Trump said to applause, “with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and, at the same time, provide better healthcare.
“Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for our country,” he continued to applause. “The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we are going do.”
He also stumbled on education, calling it “the civil rights issue of our time.” Perhaps Trump has never heard about a little case called Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation in public schools, served as a catalyst for the early civil rights movement, inspired education reform, and formed the legal means of challenging segregation in all areas of society.
The flub came on the heels of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos calling HBCUs “pioneers” of school choice (a wildly ahistorical and insulting characterization of segregation-era America).
The one highlight in Trump’s mention about education was Denisha Merriweather, who was invited to sit in the gallery. The young African-American woman, who struggled as a young girl in school and failed third grade twice, was able to enroll in a private center for learning, with the help of a tax credit and a scholarship program,Trump said.
“Today, she is the first in her family to graduate, not just from high school, but from college. Later this year she will get her master’s degree in social work. We want all children to be able to break the cycle of poverty just like Denisha,” the president said to applause.
Indeed, the Trump who delivered the State of the Union Address did not paint a picture of “American Carnage” as much as he did on Inauguration Day. But for those who see his administration as hostile to immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, environmental activists, women’s rights activists, and African-Americans, last night’s speech didn’t change anything. Do you agree? Sound off in comments.
Joshua Adams is a writer and arts & culture journalist from Chicago. He holds a B.A. in African-American Studies from the University of Virginia and a M.A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California. His writings often explain current and historical cultural phenomena through personal narratives. Follow him on Twitter at @JournoJoshua.