23 January 2020
23 January 2020

On perfect D.C. afternoons when the sun is warm and the air is cool, my running route invariably takes me to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

We have this ritual — Dr. King and I. I slow from a run to a walk as I near his likeness carved in stone. I catch his eye and then touch the brim of my running cap in a silent salute.

There are more tourists than usual at the memorial on the holiday honoring this great non-violent force for social change. On Martin Luther King Day, I weave around the groups of parents and kids… civil rights veterans… and school groups. Despite the crowds, I still have my moment to “connect” with Dr. King and wonder what he would think of the America of today.

I can only guess.

But a new survey does offer some insight into the thoughts of those he championed in his campaign against racism — the successor generations of African-Americans, the little children of his famous 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech.

This survey of more than 1000 black adults was conducted in early January by the Washington Post and Ipsos – a nonpartisan public research firm. It found concern and worry running rampant in the African-American community in the age of Donald J. Trump.

This is the businessman-turned-politician who courted the black electorate in 2016 by claiming it had been taken for granted by the Democratic Party — this at a time, when Barack Obama was still president.    “What do you have to lose?” Trump asked.

Apparently, plenty.

According to the Post/IPSOS poll, 8 in 10 black Americans say they believe Trump is a racist and that he has made racism a bigger problem in the country. Almost all of those surveyed — 9 in 10 — disapprove of his job performance.

Now Trump would say that he has actually done things to help the black community — that the economy is booming and black unemployment has reached new lows.

Last summer, he said “What I’ve done for African Americans in two and a half years, no president has been able to do anything like that.”

Sorry, Mr. President. They aren’t buying what you are selling.

The Post/Ipsos pollsters asked the black Americans they surveyed for their thoughts on this. They even went back and did detailed follow-up interviews with some of the respondents.

More than 3/4ths of those polled said Trump deserved “only some” or “hardly any” of the credit for the improving unemployment numbers — noting that the biggest drop in the black jobless rate actually occurred during the Obama administration.

Most of the survey respondents said their personal financial situation has not gotten any better since Donald Trump was elected president. And in response after response, they indicated they are concerned the racial divide in America has gotten worse.

A 65 percent majority agreed with the statement that “it is a bad time” to be a black person in America.    By contrast, 77 percent said it is “a good time” to be a white person.

The Trump re-election campaign is likely to ignore this poll as it tries to convince black voters to support the president’s bid for a second term.

There is a certain disconnect here.

Listen to the words recently uttered by President Trump before an almost totally white audience at a rally in Wisconsin:

“There’s never been a movement like this, never happened before, but we’re a movement for all Americans who believe in fairness and justice, equality and dignity, opportunity and safety,” Trump said.

And then came this: “And that’s why African Americans are joining the Republican Party like nobody every thought possible. They love us and we love them.”

Recent data shows that’s not so. More than 8 in 10 black Americans are registered Democrats. According to the Pew Research firm, which has been tracking voter registration numbers, about 20 percent of the Democratic Party is black compared with only two percent of the Republican Party.

Diversity is not exactly the GOP’s strong suit.

Donald Trump won in 2016 because he energized the white electorate in work-class and rural communities.

This year, it could be black voters that make the difference. But there is a catch.

In 2008 and 2012,  they turned out in droves to elect Barack Obama, our first African American president. In 2016,  far fewer went to the polls for Hillary Clinton.

So the big question now is with no historic “first African-American” on the ballot in 2020, will this anger and concern over President Trump rekindle that zeal and compel them to go to the polls?

In other words, will they be as fired up to vote AGAINST Trump, as they were to vote FOR Obama?

The answer may lie in another national survey of black voters — this one conducted in December 2019.    It found African-Americans are preparing to vote in large numbers in November 2020 because of their opposition to the Trump administration.

Many of those surveyed in December said they believe Donald Trump’s presidency has emboldened people with racist views to express them publicly. Now, they say, it s time for black America to make its voice heard.

Make your voice heard.

That sounds like the kind of advice they would get from Dr. King.

Heed his words:

“A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”


Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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