Here is Martin Luther King Jr., who would have just turned 90 had he not been murdered in Memphis in 1968, giving an optimistic, inspiring vision of race relations at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”
“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation…crime and drugs that have stolen too many lives,” he said. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
That is a distorted, negative view of black American life in 2019, a time of a growing middle class and increased black and Latino political power.
It is as if the 72-year-old President missed the powerful fight against legal segregation by the civil rights movement.
And more insidiously, while painting that damning picture of black life, Trump has become the leader of people who want to push the memory of the movement for racial justice decisively into the past so they can ignore the ongoing fight for equality that is far from won.
It is as if the President has no idea that black and brown people still face persistent racism in the job market, housing and schools, not to mention at the ballot box.
But let’s take Trump at his word.
Trump is right that there is a high percentage of poverty — 21.7% — in black America. The high school drop-out rate among blacks is also high, 24%, and black people have the highest rate of out-of-wedlock births — 70%. Those are big problems. Also, high rates of school and housing racial segregation continue to limit opportunities for American minorities.
If the President is genuinely concerned about those statistics and he believes “Afghanistan [is] safer than some of our inner cities,” that would trigger big questions: What has he done in his two years in the White House to improve life for black people? What has he done to address structural and systemic racial disadvantages and bring King’s Dream closer to reality?
Trump’s only response when being called out for his lack of action to help black America has been to claim credit for the nation’s record-low black unemployment rate.
“Someone please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” he tweeted last January after the rapper criticized Trump for reportedly saying immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America come from “shithole countries.”
Trump’s response hides the truth that black unemployment went down from nearly 17% in 2010 to 7.8% while Barack Obama was President. Under Trump it fell just over another point to 6.6% in December 2018.
And Trump fails to mention that black unemployment remains close to twice the white unemployment rate.
He also fails to mention Census Bureau findings reporting in 2018 that median black household income fell slightly — to $40,258 — during 2017, Trump’s first year in office. Meanwhile, white median household income rose to $68,145 in 2017, a 2% jump.
When he shut down the government in December by refusing to sign a funding bill passed by Republicans and Democrats because it did not include money for a wall on the Mexican border, Trump added to his legacy as a President who does not worry about hurting the black middle class.
Black Americans are 33% more likely than whites to hold public sector, government jobs, according to a University of California at Berkeley study. Black Americans are 18% of the federal workforce, from soldiers to U.S. Postal Service workers.
Trump cut more than 10,000 federal jobs in his first six months as President. He tried to cancel 2019 pay raises for federal workers and he has eliminated federal guidelines requiring federal contractors to have good records on hiring and retaining minority workers.
The budget he proposed in 2018 eliminated the Minority Business Development Agency. He similarly tried to get rid of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund and Community Development Block Grants, together key to the growth of retail shops and housing in low-income neighborhoods.
This is Trump’s legacy of weakening the greatest achievement of the last 70 years of the civil rights movement, the growth of the black middle class.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Justice Department took a stand against the Black Lives Matter movement by pulling away from consent decrees intended to ease tensions between police and black neighborhoods.
And his Department of Education is a leader in opposing affirmative action to get more young people of color into colleges, while it weakens Obama-era rules trying to stop black students, who are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school for the same disciplinary infractions as whites, from being subjected to unfair punishment that often pushes them on a downward spiral.
Trump has also pushed unproven claims of voter fraud and championed imposing added voter identification laws that suppress the black vote.
That failed record is a key source of increased racial tensions in the country under the Trump presidency. It is not just the white working class — Trump’s “forgotten” people — who feel they are being left behind in an era of political polarization and increased income inequality.
Trump’s lone achievement in the area of racial justice was to sign a criminal justice reform bill to reduce federal sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes. President Obama championed the bill, but Republicans in Congress blocked it until now. It is still the case that black men guilty of the same crimes as white men get federal prison time nearly 20% longer.
But that one bill is the glaring exception to Trump’s failure to address racial inequality and extend his populist pitch to the needs of black people.
Instead, he famously talked to his nearly all-white campaign rallies about blacks as a threat to white America. He spoke about street violence and higher taxes to pay for welfare programs because “African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever.”
Again, where is the presidential action to address his apocalyptic view of 21st century black America?
Instead, he made racist statements, such as calling for NFL owners to fire “son-of-a-bitch” players who protest police brutality; and calling a black woman who worked for him a “dog”; and demeaning a black congresswoman as an “extraordinarily low IQ person.”
All that came after years of promoting the Birther movement, the lie that the first black President was not American-born. Trump continued that harmful charade even after Obama produced his birth certificate.
Again, Trump — a man who understands the power of symbolism as well as any President we’ve ever had — has no reservation about using racial division to stir his base. The President camouflages that crass racist strategy by selling himself as a politically incorrect politician who deserves support for standing against the threat of poor blacks and immigrants, barbarians to be kept at bay.
During his campaign for President, Trump never meaningfully celebrated the amazing contributions black Americans have made to American life over the last half-century despite on-going job discrimination and a history of poor-quality schools based on government enforced racial segregation.
His political appeal is the exact opposite of King’s vision of America as a place where “my four little children will one day…not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Where King reached out across the racial divide with healing words, Trump provokes and divides on the basis of race.
In his campaign for a border wall, he demonizes illegal immigrants to his base of white supporters as invaders, a threat to commit crimes, even a source of terrorism and disease.
Given that ugly talk, it is no surprise that reports of hate crimes went up 17% in 2017, Trump’s first year in office.
Reports of hate crimes against black people went up 16% in 2017; against Jews, they went up 37%. These damning numbers stand in contrast to a decrease in violent crime in the same year.
Trump has emboldened racist groups, most notably after neo-Nazis and white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Va.
Trump infamously said “very fine people” were on both sides of the violence that led to one woman’s death. He incredibly equated the KKK and anti-Semites with people who protested against them.
Last year, polls showed 49% of Americans, including 11% of Republicans, willing to say Trump is a racist. In fact, 22% of Republicans in a Quinnipiac poll conceded that Trump’s words and behavior have “emboldened people who hold racist beliefs to express those beliefs publicly.”
Trump can’t be blamed for Rep. Steve King’s awful, casual assertion to a reporter that “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive.”
But keep in mind that Trump bragged that he was the top fundraiser for King’s recent congressional campaign.
Those donations came despite King’s long record of racist statements about the damage done by racial diversity and immigrants. King has a record of attacks on the idea of racial diversity, saying it is impossible to retain “civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
“Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said,” wrote Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, in an opinion column condemning King’s words.
While House Republican leaders have now punished King by taking away his committee assignments. Trump, true to form, has not said a word.
He is playing a game that would have shamed and disgusted Martin Luther King.
Williams is co-host of Fox News Channel’s “The Five,” an FNC political analyst, a columnist for The Hill and author of “What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?: Trump’s War on Civil Rights.”