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How President Trump Interacts With The Black Community

Sep 6, 2018
Originally published on September 6, 2018 5:16 pm
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With the NFL season about to begin, President Trump is already tweeting complaints about player protests during the national anthem. His focus on the NFL protests and his tweets about several prominent African-Americans this summer has renewed attention on the way Trump interacts with the black community. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe reports.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Back in June, President Trump scrapped the White House celebration for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We always will stand for the national anthem.

(CHEERING)

RASCOE: He blamed the NFL protests which have been mostly carried out by black players. That wasn't the only time this summer Trump got into disputes with notable African-Americans. His summer was marked by tweeted insults about black Americans who criticize him and praise for black celebrities who back him. NPR looked at Trump's tweets from June until Labor Day. He tweeted about 900 times. Nearly 50 tweets were focused on a black person or black people in general. Of those, 20 were negative in tone. A top target was California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a black woman.

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TRUMP: Maxine Waters is leading the charge.

(BOOING)

TRUMP: Maxine - she's a real beauty, Maxine - a seriously low-IQ person.

RASCOE: That was Trump at an August campaign rally. On Twitter, Trump continued to challenge her intellect. He also questioned the intelligence of former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, NBA superstar LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon. He even called Manigault Newman a dog. Ian Haney Lopez of UC Berkeley wrote a book about racial dog whistles in politics. He says Trump's words can't be disconnected from this country's long history of racist stereotypes and discrimination.

IAN HANEY LOPEZ: When he takes on African-Americans as public figures and he begins to use words like dog or dumb or low-life, these are words that when applied African-Americans carry a very heavy racial charge.

RASCOE: One example of charged language was a July tweet about the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia who Trump tweeted was, quote, "crime-loving." Trump didn't refer to her by name, but that nominee, Stacey Abrams, is black. Typically Trump calls Democrats weak on crime, so why the different language about Abrams? A White House official says it wasn't aimed at her but at Democrats as a whole. Haney Lopez, though, says Trump shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt. After all, he started his political career pushing false allegations that former President Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

HANEY LOPEZ: Dog whistling by its definition involves both pushing race into the public conversation and denying that you're doing any such thing.

RASCOE: White House spokesman Hogan Gidley says Trump's insults are not about race, that Trump is a, quote, "counterpuncher who defends himself when attacked." Trump's tweets this summer do include name-calling for black and white people that have aggrieved him. Mark Burns is a black pastor who has advised the president. He says he doesn't agree with everything Trump says, but...

MARK BURNS: Privately I've seen a man who really treats everybody the same regardless of color. And that's the God honest truth.

RASCOE: Trump does seem to relish highlighting any black celebrity who voices support for him like Tiger Woods, Jim Brown and Kanye West.

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TRUMP: Kanye West Gets It. He gots (ph) it. He gets it.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And he saw that. When he sees that African-American unemployment is the lowest in history, you know, people are watching.

RASCOE: Low black unemployment is something Trump mentions constantly like he did at that Michigan rally. The White House says it's those economic policies, not his language, that should matter. But Clarence Lusane of Howard University says Trump's talk of low black unemployment is just a way to shield himself from accusations of racism.

CLARENCE LUSANE: The target is really white voters who are going to be uncomfortable with thinking that they're voting for an overtly racist president.

RASCOE: Going into Labor Day, a new poll showed Trump's approval rating with African-Americans at just 3 percent. Two days later, Trump tweeted about black celebrities who he considers allies and again highlighted low black unemployment. Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.