-- In 1932 a quarter of the American workforce was unemployed, housing prices had fallen by 10.5 percent and President Herbert Hoover’s inability to turn things around paved the way for Franklin D. Roosevelt to win the White House in one of the biggest landslides in presidential election history.
With FDR came the New Deal, a series of programs and initiatives designed to help those suffering from the ramifications of the Great Depression which began three years earlier. Among the new policies was an emphasis on federally backed mortgages to help people keep their homes or buy new ones. As time went on, this program took on different names but continued the same mission.
From 1934 to 1962, more than $120 billion worth of home loans were backed by the government. However less than 2% of those loans were awarded to minorities due to an appraisal system that identified integrated communities as high risk.
Systematic racism at its finest.
There is a legitimate conversation to be had about how the black community is fairing under Democratic leadership but Donald Trump is not interested in having a legitimate conversation. If he were, he’d be in the heart of urban America trying to talk to black people not holding rallies in predominantly white suburbs to talk about black people.
If Trump truly cared about poverty in the black community he’d acknowledge how the tentacles of systematic racism continues to haunt us. How the Wagner Act made it legal for unions to exclude minorities thus denying blacks access to higher wages, pensions and health care for decades. How the Social Security Act of 1935 excluded those same jobs, thus leaving blacks without a safety net in retirement. Those practices, combined with decades of mortgage discrimination, has helped white families acquire generational wealth that now stands at more than 20 times that of black families. We should discuss whether or not blacks have lost political leverage by being so loyal to the Democratic Party. But Trump, a man whose company was sued by the Department of Justice for racial discrimination, doesn’t really want to talk about that. If he did instead of choosing a reality TV show villain to be in charge of his campaign's outreach to the black community he would have looked to tap one of the hundreds of grassroots leaders who have spent their lives trying to close the socioeconomic gap between the races.
I want to talk about how this two-party system has handcuffed black voters but to do so would requires a campfire. Trump is a flame thrower, gleefully hurling statistics such as Detroit’s violent crime rate or black childhood poverty to antagonize political rivals not attract new supporters. After all, “what the hell do you have to lose?” is not something a man who retweets content from white supremacy groups should be asking minorities. But Trump does so because he has no real interest in the answer. If he did, perhaps instead of the 30 black students at Valdosta State University being removed from his rally in February, he would have held a meeting with them to hear what they had to say.
This was not supposed to play out this way for the Republican Party. After its 2012 defeat, party officials conducted its “autopsy” and released a 100-page report that among other things, stressed the importance of minority inclusion going forward. Millions were designated for outreach. “Growth and Opportunity Project” is what it was called.
Four years later the autopsy needs an autopsy.
The interesting thing about FDR and the New Deal is that it marked the beginning of racial realignment. While Hoover was hesitant to use the federal government to help people, Roosevelt’s philosophy was quite the opposite. Though far from a civil rights advocate, FDR’s policies not only attracted the white working class but blacks as well, who until that point was largely loyal to the party of Lincoln. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration employed upwards of 350,000 blacks while the National Youth Administration helped 300,000 black youth during the Depression. By 1960, only a third of black voters identified as Republican. Four years later, when Lydon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act a month before Sen. Barry Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination for president, the migration was complete.
Policies that promoted equality and opportunity is what led the black community to switch its support. And there is an argument to be made about that the current Democratic policies do not support equality and opportunity in the most effective way. But Donald Trump—a man who was hesitant to denounce the support of David Duke, a man who proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country, a man who began his campaign saying “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”—is not the person to make these arguments.
In fact, there is very little in Trump’s life to show that he is even interested in the outcome of such a discussion. He’s just cherry picking a few stats here and there in a half-hearted attempt to appease those who told him he needs to broaden his support. Normally the condescending manner in which a presidential candidate talks about the legitimate concerns of a community would be offensive. But Trump has spent the better part of a year perfecting his thinly-veiled racist rhetoric as if it’s a piece of art. And judging by the size of his rallies for a lot of Americans it is.