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The Myth of Donald Trump’s Black Voter Outreach

By Paris, VICE Op-Ed

As the Republican nominee makes overtures to minority voters, he's pursuing a strategy of dividing and conquering.

So Donald Trump is polling with a favorability rating of zero percent among African Americans in the latest national survey from Public Policy Polling, which should come as a surprise to exactly no one. The man has exhibited racist behavior for a long, long time, from systematically discriminating against blacks in housing rentals and at Trump casinos, to inciting hatred in the racially-charged rape case of the Central Park jogger, to his more recent embrace of birtherism and disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants made during the current presidential campaign. And we all know he loves to tweet, and has been known to recirculate messages from white nationalists and Nazi sympathizers.

Now Trump has seemingly come to the realization that he's actually turning off a significant portion of white voters with all of this racial animus, and has started to make token efforts to reach out and engage black people—mostly in all-white neighborhoods. His motivation, as some have argued, is only to gain more white votes.

"You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?" he asked in a recent speech, ostensibly addressing black voters while speaking in the lily-white suburb of Dimondale, Michigan.

But as with almost everything related to Trump, his self-serving diatribes are rooted more in fiction than in fact. While poverty and inadequate education remain a concern among many black voters, the unemployment rate among black youth, though still too high, is less than half of the figure Trump cites.

"Look, it is a disaster the way African Americans are living," Trump continued. "We'll get rid of the crime. You'll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot." But again, his caricatures of crime in black communities are little more than lies intended to fire up anger and mobilize those whites currently on the fence about supporting a Republican candidate that they see as racist.

Indeed, in spite of his supposed efforts to engage black voters, Trump lately seems to be doing all he can to continue to push racial buttons and stoke the coals of racist white resentment, from suggesting that NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick "find a country that works better for him"—a comment that contains shades of "go back to Africa"—to interjecting his opinion about black crime in the wake of the tragic murder of NBA star Dwyane Wade's cousin.

The most disturbing aspect of all this is not that Trump has become an enemy to the non-white electorate, but that his candidacy serves to all but guarantee black and Latino support for the Democratic Party, further allowing that party to take us for granted, taking away any reason they might have to need to address the issues that we are concerned about.

The only silver lining to this mess is perhaps that the counter-accusations of racism Trump has leveled against Democrats may force them to at least marginally deal with the issues of race upon which the party has been silent for far too long. Criminal justice reform, for instance, has finally become a concern for the party this election cycle, but there is still much room for debate on issues like police terrorism, mass incarceration, affordable housing, education, and the need for better job opportunities in poor and minority communities.

It seems that Trump's approach is now to not only insult but to divide and conquer the very communities that he has never seemed too concerned with in the first place. He has anchored this strategy around the issue of immigration—the ultimate political dog whistle. We hear it often, and it's always ugly: His call to "Make America Great Again" has come to exemplify the thinly veiled racism embedded in the nationalist rhetoric and anger that has come to define his presidential campaign. Since the start of his campaign, Trump has relentlessly trumpeted that unauthorized immigration is increasing, that it yields upticks in violent crime, that it causes undue stress on our healthcare system, and that it unfairly increases job competition.

Of course, none of this is true. Illegal immigration is not increasing. A report released by the Pew Research Center last fall revealed that the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States had remained essentially stable for five years, and the number of Mexican immigrants—who make up 49 percent of those here illegally—has actually declined in recent years.

And, contrary to common right-wing lore, illegal immigration does not result in an increase in the violent crime rate. In October 2015, Newsweek reported that "even though the number of undocumented immigrants doubled from 1994 to the record level of 12 million in 2007, the violent crime rate in America dropped 34 percent, and the property crime rate fell 26 percent." The Newsweek story went on to detail that Mexican immigrants, regardless of their legal status, had an incarceration rate equal to one-eighth of those born in the US, and maintained a rate "lower than that of American-born whites and blacks of similar socioeconomic status and education.

"An analysis of the impact of unauthorized immigration on the US healthcare system yielded similar results. A report published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine last year detailed that undocumented immigrants contributed a surplus of $35.1 billion to a Medicare program known as the Hospital Insurance Trust fund (HITF) between 2000 and 2011, and that "unauthorized immigrants generated an average surplus of $316 per capita to the Trust Fund, while other Americans generated a deficit of $106 per capita."

The study further concluded that had unauthorized immigrants "not contributed to nor drawn HITF funds from 2000 to 2011, the HITF would become insolvent in 2029–1 year earlier than is currently predicted by Medicare's Trustees based on their intermediate cost assumptions."

The final, and perhaps most common myth—that illegal immigrants harm American workers—has also been rebuked, including by a recent Forbes article, which noted that "illegal immigrants actually raise wages for documented/native workers" by freeing up "low-skill American workers who can then specialize in tasks that require better English.

"Given that all of this information is readily available from reputable sources, it can be rationalized that ongoing misconceptions about undocumented immigrants persist either as a result of blatant racism or by a laziness of some to look beyond their comfort zone and get a real sense of the facts.

The focus I've put on Trump is not intended to give Hillary Clinton a pass—the Democratic nominee has clearly had her own issues with African Americans. It is intended, however, to rebuff the boogeyman narrative about non-whites that Trump willingly and repeatedly embraces. The reality is that both parties seem to only view minority concerns as inconvenient obstacles that need to be "managed" in an election year. So it's easy to see why many voters remain disillusioned with the current political system and the choices it offers.

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