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Mellowed Trump reaches out to African Americans

world Updated: Sep 04, 2016 11:41 IST
Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a church service at Great Faith Ministries in Detroit.(AP Photo)

Donald Trump shut his eyes and swayed ever so gently to the beat of a gospel song at a church for African Americans in Detroit—the Republican nominee’s first such visit as part of a larger effort to court a community that has been deeply hostile to him.

“Our nation is too divided,” Trump said after the service on Saturday, reading from a script. The septuagenarian spoke softly in a measured tone devoid of his usual bombast. “We talk past each other, not to each other. And those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what’s going on. They don’t know. They have no clue.”

At Michigan state’s most populous city, the presidential candidate spoke for nearly 10 minutes — short by his standard; invoked his party’s icon Abraham Lincoln who ended slavery; and called for a “civil rights agenda our time”. But Trump did not use the “you don’t have anything to lose” line he has deployed lately to ask Blacks to give him a chance, arguing Democrats have only taken advantage of their support.

African Americans have voted mostly Democratic for decades now and overwhelmingly since 2008 when President Barack Obama first ran for the White House. His Republican rivals John McCain (2008) and Mitt Romney (2012) managed only 4% and 6% of Black votes respectively. Trump will do even worse if his current numbers hold — he managed only 1% in a recent poll to rival Hillary Clinton’s 91%.

Trump cannot win the White House without expanding his support among African Americans and Hispanics, the two largest ethnic minorities in the country. And he is struggling with both.

Trump started out with the Hispanic community on the wrong foot, describing illegal immigrants, most of whom are of Hispanic, as rapists and criminals. He proceeded to compound his problems questioning the impartiality of a federal judge overseeing cases against Trump University because he was of Mexican descent.

The 70-year-old nominee’s problems with African Americans run deeper, and for much longer. His company was once accused of discriminating against African Americans who wanted to rent housing structures it constructed.

Trump also became a leading member a section of conservatives called “birthers” who questioned President Obama’s fitness to be president fanning conspiracy theories about him being born outside the US, which would disqualify him for the White House, and his faith — that he is Muslim, like his Kenyan father.

And earlier this year, the nominee, who was then in the middle of the primaries, refused to denounce support from a former member of the racist Ku Klux Klan, saying he didn’t know him.

Now, all of that is coming to haunt him as he seeks the community’s support. Tristin Wilkerson, co-founder of Black and Brown People Vote, a bipartisan activist group, told The Washington Post that Trump’s message is getting no traction because “he has been so flat-out disrespectful and inconsiderate of African Americans and people of colour and their contributions to this country”.