Donald Trump Tuesday night joined a long line of American presidential candidates who have made the promise to restore “law and order” a cornerstone of their campaigns. In a speech aimed at the African American community, Trump promised that more and intensified policing in American cities will “break up the gangs, the cartels and criminal syndicates terrorizing our neighborhoods.”
However, Trump, who has notably refused to speak to African American groups like the National Urban League and the NAACP, chose to deliver the speech in West Bend, Wisconsin, a 95 percent white community where only about one in 100 residents is African American.
After days of riots over the police shooting of an armed African-American man rocked the city of Milwaukee, some 40 miles away, Trump told the overwhelmingly white crowd, “Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, the violent disruptor. Our job is to make life more comfortable for the African-American parent who wants their kids to be able to safely walk the streets.”
In his speech Tuesday night, Trump echoed earlier GOP politicians who have made a detailed litany of the troubles facing African American neighborhoods part of their pitch to their largely white constituencies. Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan all campaigned on “law and order” platforms.
“There is no compassion in allowing drug dealers, gang members, and felons to prey on innocent people,” Trump said. “It is the first duty of government to keep the innocent safe, and when I am president I will fight for the safety of every American – and especially those Americans who have not known safety for a very, very long time.”
“I am asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different future,” Trump said. “It is time for our society to address some honest and very difficult truths: The Democratic Party has failed and betrayed the African-American community. Democratic crime policies, education policies, and economic policies have produced only more crime, more broken homes, and more poverty.”
Trump, to be clear, has virtually no chance of winning anything close to a large share of the African American vote. Though he can point to some high-profile African American supporters, like Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, his share of the black vote is minuscule. A recent Fox News poll showed him pulling one percent of the African American vote nationwide. He has posted similar numbers in polls of battleground states.
His speech comes at a time when crime rates across the country are down dramatically from historical averages, despite the fact that numerous major cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, DC are facing sharp upticks in violence. A seemingly endless stream of videos showing police officers needlessly shooting unarmed or incapacitated black men has fed fury in the African American community, leading to protests and riots in cities across the country.
Trump, who has made border security a major pillar of his campaign, also suggested that illegal immigration has sucked jobs and opportunities from American cities. Trump’s focus on border control has included disparaging comments about Mexicans and repeated promises to build a massive border wall between the US and its southern neighbor.
Some African Americans saw the conflation of the troubles in American cities and the immigration issue as an attempt to pit two minority communities against each other.
Speaking on CNN, commentator Van Jones said, “His message tonight was so shocking in its divisiveness -- trying to pit Blacks against Latinos, which is the worst thing that you can do.”
"I watched this speech with alarm in my heart that an American leader would walk into a situation like this with so little grace."
Trump also attacked his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who is currently polling near 90 percent among African Americans as a bigot who “panders to and talks down to communities of color, and sees them only as votes, not as individual human beings worthy of a better future.”
While Clinton has had her troubles with the African American community -- she helped spread the myth of the “super-predator” terrorizing American inner cities in the 1990s -- she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton are generally viewed in a positive light by black voters.