I'm black, and I'm politically conservative. And I have struggled mightily with the presidency and candidacy of Donald Trump.
This wasn't a big problem for me in 2016. I didn't work in conservative political media then. I worked at a university, doing decidedly non-political work. I was an observer. I never had to have opinions on politics, unless I wanted to. Usually, I kept them to myself.
Now, every day, I immerse myself in politics. I know everything Trump does and says. I'm very aware that there is an election coming up, and regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, there will be only one candidate who isn't hostile to my values — Donald Trump.
I didn't vote in the general election in 2016. I voted in the Republican primary, for Marco Rubio. That vote didn't age well.
I thought Trump's candidacy was a joke when it began. I felt he lacked substance and presidential demeanor during the debates. I didn't think he really believed most of the stances he was running on. I found him lacking in moral character. I didn't think he was qualified to be president. So I didn't want to vote for him.
Now it's 2020, and as it turns out, Trump has done a pretty good job as president, by many standards. Is my life better than it was in 2016? Yeah, it is. Trump may not be responsible for that, but his policies haven't hurt.
That reality strips away much of the basis of my 2016 opposition, and forces me to confront an uncomfortable truth: It can be very hard for black people to support Donald Trump, even if it's in their best interest to do so from a policy standpoint.
Black Trump supporters are certainly out there. There are possibly more of them than you might imagine. They don't advertise it, but when you really get into the conversation you'll often hear sort of an apologetic admission from a black person that they actually agree with much of what Trump has done.
But Trump is a racist. At least, that's the prevailing narrative. Yes, there's the black unemployment rate. Yes, there's criminal justice reform. But there's also a history of racially questionable conduct and comments to reckon with. There's the not-so-subtle exploitation of white angst and fear of immigrants to mobilize support. There's the immigration policy and rhetoric which, regardless of who started it, had some truly devastating human consequences.
There exists a strong social pressure for a black voters not to support Trump. And if they must support him, they might want to keep it quiet. Otherwise, they may be subject to shaming and ridicule. Sell out. Uncle Tom. Bigot. Even racist. "Trump supporter" is often an insult in the black community. Go look at some of the comments Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the U.S. Senate, gets. Even working for a conservative outlet like TheBlaze in the Trump era arouses suspicion among friends and family about my beliefs.
Appealing to black voters with policy achievements and economic statistics is fine, and a necessary strategy. Criminal justice reform is a good thing for the black community. Federal financial support for historically black colleges and universities is good for the black community. Opportunity zones and school choice are good for black communities. And I'll grant that they may move the needle some on the black vote. But we're still leaving a lot of potential untapped if we view that like the only approach.
Because numbers and policies don't cut through what a black voter might feel when they remember the president calling football players protesting police brutality "sons of bitches" while a mostly white, deep south audience cheers. That issue matters to us.
Legislation doesn't remove hesitation when we think about how excited white nationalist groups got about Trump, and why that might be. Budget allocations don't make us feel good about seeing the president tweet that American minority lawmakers should "go back" to the "crime infested places from which they came." Stats don't change how we might interpret him calling Haiti and African nations "s**thole countries," or why it might not seem appealing to vote for someone who talks about Nigerian people going "back to their huts."
The conservative establishment is great at telling us why these things don't matter, or how they are out of context, or why they shouldn't be offensive. And sometimes, they're right. Other times, it's a matter of opinion. And you can hold whatever opinion you want on those incidents, but if you want black votes, it might require more understanding and openness to a different opinion. All these occurrences have a cumulative impact. You can insist none of this matters, but if you want black voters to "Blexit" or "Walk Away" from the Democratic Party, it needs to start mattering.
This isn't an anti-Trump article. It's not a pro-Trump one, either. It's an "I need you to understand why this isn't as simple as you might think" article. The biggest problem with GOP outreach to minority communities has been, and continues to be, a lack of empathy and a tendency to defensively dismiss all race-based concerns. Don't be a snowflake. Don't be a victim. Reject PC culture. Move on from the wounds and remnants of segregation. Stop race-baiting.
Trump only needed 8% of black voters to become president. He may get slightly more than that in November. And if that's all Republicans want, then maybe nothing needs to change. But if we want more, there needs to be a sincere acknowledgment of the non-policy obstacles that cause millions of minorities to vote against their own values.
I don't have all the answers on this one. I don't have an action step or an outreach plan. For now, I just want you to understand. To see a different perspective. To respect it and be willing to talk about it with your guard down. If we start there, maybe we can get somewhere.