Following his controversial Black History Month kickoff, Donald Trump's weekly presidential address, delivered via Facebook Live, was anticipated to be an outreach attempt to Black citizens. But it turned out to be less than five minutes of whitewashing and glossing-over of select recent events for the benefit of his base.
Donald Trump took to Facebook for his weekly presidential address, ostensibly as an attempt to reach out to Black citizens, and eschewing journalists’ probes in favor of a few minutes of “likes” from supporters, who posted comments such as “The devil is at work in the Democratic Party” and “please don’t release your tax returns, it’s driving them crazy,” along with calls to investigate Pope Francis and sue House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
On the cusp of a controversially expensive weekend trip to his Florida estate, Trump addressed these supporters and paid lip service to the gathering he hosted on the first day of Black History Month, commenting:
I was pleased to host African American leaders at the White House who are determined to deliver more opportunity, jobs and safety for the African American citizens of our country. America can really never ever rest until children of every color are included in the American Dream. So important.
But as my colleague, Tommy Christopher, reported, that gathering of “African American leaders” was virtually empty of anyone who actually represents the overwhelming majority of Black Americans (only 8 percent of whom voted for Trump). The meeting instead was filled entirely with members of his administration or campaign — an act not of outreach or concern on the part of the administration, but rather a hollow photo-op to impress white Americans, who may not dig deeper than the optics of his feigned concern to uncover the hollow core at the center of his Black outreach.
As one glaring example of that void, during Trump’s prior bumbling Black History Month comments to the few Black members of his team, he seemed to have just recently discovered 19th century abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass:
The president mentioned the great abolitionist, former slave, and suffrage campaigner during a Black History Month event Wednesday morning, but there’s little to indicate that Trump knows anything about his subject, based on the rambling, vacuous commentary he offered:
“I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.”
Combined with Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to commemorate Black History Month by praising a white man rather than the contributions of the Black women and men whom the month is intended to recognize, the administration has not only evinced disregard for the true concerns of the Black community, but has in turn become the laughing stock of Black social media, inspiring hashtags such as #realFrederickDouglass and #penceblackhistory.
Trump’s Facebook chat did nothing to assure Black people that he actually sees us for who we really are, or that he is serious about addressing matters of concern to our community.
And in addition to whitewashing his earlier mishaps on race, Trump took the time to pay lip service to a few items from the second tumultuous week of his presidency, glossing over the substantive concerns and challenges that have arisen with respect to these matters, and ignoring matters he would prefer for us to forget.
Citing his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Trump called him “one of the most qualified people ever to be nominated to the post. He’s a graduate of Columbia, Harvard and Oxford. He’s a man of principle, he’s respected by everyone.” However, he conveniently ignored the double standard that President Obama’s equally qualified pick to fill that same seat, Merrick Garland, was denied a vote or even a hearing by obstructionist Senate Republicans. Or that Gorsuch’s legitimacy for the post is in question.
Trump also made brief note of his simplistic regulation-cutting strategy and took credit for jobs that were created during the Obama administration. And while he mentioned fallen U.S. Navy Seal Chief William “Ryan” Owens as the lead-in for promoting his disastrous immigration ban, he failed to note that he was not even present in the situation room during the raid in which Chief Owens was killed, and that his ill-prepared executive order halting immigration from several Muslim nations has faced widespread protest, criticism, and legal challenge due to its bias and ineffectiveness, and which has been decried even from within the heart of “red state” America.
Trump also conveniently failed to mention his escalating war of words and threat to send troops to Mexico, his disastrous phone call with the Australian prime minister, and his embarrassing behavior at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which he asked attending clergy to pray for improved Celebrity Apprentice ratings — all while Congressional investigations are brewing regarding Russian interference in American elections, which Trump has dismissed, in favor of pursuing a cozier relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Trump faced his public on social media in a transparent attempt to improve the image of a presidency that faces Nixon-era support for impeachment. Needless to say, the attempt failed.