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Donald Trump has done more for African Americans than we think

The Hill logo The Hill 8/11/2020 Michael Starr Hopkins, opinion contributor
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: Donald Trump has done more for African Americans than we think © Getty Images Donald Trump has done more for African Americans than we think

For close to four years, Donald Trump has claimed that he has done more for black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. He notes the unemployment rate, opportunity zones, and the First Step Act, while ignoring the actions of presidents like Harry Truman, who integrated the military, and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

Surprisingly, however, Trump is not exactly wrong. He has been one of the best presidents for black Americans, just not for the reasons he thinks. His administration has raised the curtain on the battles against both structural and "in your face" racism in the country. Not enough people listened to us before, but we seem to have their attention these days. We are more than a decade removed from the election of our first black president and even less than a year removed from the death of the last living person who has benefits from the Civil War. As Meek Mill says, "There are levels to this."

Does anyone really believe that major companies would be posting videos on social media talking over why Black Lives Matter if Hillary Clinton were elected president? Does anyone think that protests would be taking place in every single state across the nation? The answer is of course not. Much of what we have seen with regard to race relations and the paradigm shift that has been taking place can be connected to the election of Trump.

If the election of Barack Obama represented waves of racial changes, the election of Trump represented reactions by the ghosts of Eugene Connor and George Wallace. His administration looks like the worst possible case for many who are unfamiliar with the treatment of black Americans at the hands of the government. But for black Americans, that is their reality.

Black Americans do not have to imagine a government that imposes hard physical and psychological damage on its own citizens. They do not have to imagine a government that allows entire segments of the population to dwindle in poverty, while falling victim to an unfair education system that provides little to no opportunities. They live and breathe this every day.

Black Americans have been gaslit when they hear others speak things like "slavery was a long time ago" and "my family was not here when there was slavery." That kind of rhetoric fails to acknowledge the institutional racism and bias that have infected the country. What is difficult to deny, however, is the fact that the momentous election of Obama ushered in the era that many conservatives insincerely claimed would bring an end to racism.

It was as if somehow the election of our first black president cleared away the stains of bigotry that have smeared the country. When Trayvon Martin was murdered by a racist vigilante who stalked him on his way back home from the convenience store, conservatives defended George Zimmerman, who would later commit numerous crimes, then declared that Democrats were engaging in identity politics by raising the problem of this killing.

When football player Colin Kaepernick would kneel during the anthem to show us the injustices against black Americans, conservatives called him "ungrateful" and leveled the lines made normal by the news analysts who peddle intellectual racism. Moreover, conservatives tried to delegitimize Obama by raising some questions about his religion, his citizenship, and his intelligence. These tactics sadly worked to stoke fears about him.

Lee Atwater once told us the most effective racism does not sound like it is racism at all. Many Republicans still follow his playbook and manage to not say the bad part out loud. Trump wrote his own playbook. His rhetoric and indefensible behavior have done more to shine a light on the need for social and economic justice than any other president in recent memory.

The death of George Floyd might be the moment that historians look back on as the inflection point that forced the country to look in the mirror. But that does not tell the whole story. The election of Trump and spread of his bigotry spraked unintended effects. One of these is that white Americans now hear us. This irony here is not lost on me. Trump has been one of the best presidents for black Americans, just not for the reasons he thinks.

Michael Starr Hopkins is the founder of Northern Starr Strategies and the host of "The Starr Report" podcast. Follow his updates @TheOnlyHonest.

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