Donald Trump has spent the last week and a half making a jarring pitch to black voters. Roughly: Your life is a disaster, these losers in the Democratic Party have failed you, and only I can fix it.
This argument is reductive, ignorant and condescending. It is also approximately the same argument he has been making to white voters for over a year, winning many of them over. So while this isn’t going to work, I can half understand why Trump believes it might.
The Washington Post reported that Trump and many of his advisers believe he has the foundation to make inroads with black voters, in some cases for hilarious reasons.
“People who have helped manage the Trump Organisation’s brand said the company’s private research over the past decades showed that many black people admired Trump’s ostentatious lifestyle,” reported the Post.
The idea that Trump can win the black vote because his consumption aesthetics align with the worst rap video stereotypes is condescending.
But is it any more condescending than the idea that the thrice-married, not-apparently-religious Trump, a man who leaked juicy details about his personal life to the press, could walk into evangelical Christian settings, proclaim the Bible his favourite book while demonstrating no familiarity with its contents, admit he has never sought forgiveness from God for anything, and still win the community’s votes?
People remember Trump’s “two Corinthians” gaffe, but you shouldn’t forget Trump followed up his mangled reference to the Bible verse with, “Is that the one you like?” as though he were asking Italians about an unusual pasta dish.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has treated white evangelicals like a strange Other. He has made no effort to give the impression he has done his homework about their faith or their values. He has consolidated their votes anyway.
Evangelicals aren’t the only core constituency Trump has courted in a ham-fisted, ignorant, and successful way.
Trump has talked about abortion and gun rights in ways that make him sound like a liberal caricature of conservatives — declaring that women should be punished for having abortions, and suggesting (sarcastically, he later said) that gun-rights activists might shoot his opponent.
He also, of course, once declared, “I love the poorly educated,” and he is indeed performing quite well among white voters without a college degree.
Trump has gotten flak this week for comparing black neighbourhoods to “war zones.” But he’s also said upstate New York looks like a war zone. And if his New York campaign co-chair Carl Paladino’s performance in the 2010 governor’s race is any indication, he’ll probably do pretty well there, even as he gets crushed statewide and nationally.
Don’t get me wrong: Trump’s pitch to black voters is not going to work. But the reason isn’t because reductive, ignorant and condescending pitches to voting blocs never work.
Trump has won over his voting blocs by signalling that he is on their side of the culture war. In part, he started this process in 2011 by becoming a leading champion of the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was a fake American, born abroad, who wasn’t even legally entitled to serve as president.
Trump made the right enemies, insulted the right people, and breached the right norms that enabled him to form a kinship with certain voting blocs, despite his geographical and economic removal from them — and despite his ignorance of the details of their interests and values.
This is a culture-war election, and by getting himself firmly and eagerly on one side of the war, he got a lot of voters to cut him a lot of slack. The flip side has been alienation of voters on the other side, who do not want an American politics that is more hostile to minority groups and meaner overall.
So while many white evangelicals were seemingly eager to be condescended to, Trump should expect to find the opposite with the black vote.
This is an editorial. The opinions and conclusions expressed above are those of the author.
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