Editor’s Note: Rick C. Wade was senior adviser and national director for African-American vote for Obama for America and deputy chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. He has endorsed Hillary Clinton in this year’s Democratic campaign. Wade is an entrepreneur and president of a global business development firm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Rick C. Wade: Donald Trump has yet to show a real understanding of the plight of the African-American electorate
If he wants to win black voters, Trump will need to offer prescriptive solution to socioeconomic imbalances in America
Last week, Donald Trump, running as Savior-in-Chief, tried to appeal to the African-American electorate by attending his first black church, Detroit’s Great Faith Ministries. Though it took him long enough, at least Trump finally spoke to black folks rather than past them.
That said, he has yet to show any real understanding of the plight of African-Americans or to lay out a comprehensive plan to address their concerns. Given his racist history – from being sued for housing discrimination in the 1970s to embracing avowed white supremacists in the present day – he has some serious work to do if he wants to win over African-American voters.
The problem is, in addition to Trump’s checkered past, he has done little to woo black voters since declaring his candidacy – and he has had plenty of opportunities, beginning with the primary in South Carolina, where blacks account for nearly 30% of the population.
If Trump was serious about education reform, he could have visited crumbling, underfunded and predominantly black schools along Interstate 95 known as the “Corridor of Shame” and unveiled his plan for America’s public schools.
If he was committed to helping minority businesses, he could have toured manufacturing plants in Greenville and explained his plan for expanding their access to capital and corporate supply chains.
If he was sincere about healing divisions, he could have worshiped at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, where a man who police said wanted to start a race war admitted killing nine churchgoers, including the pastor – my friend and state senator Clementa Pinckney – and talked about racial reconciliation.
But Trump did none of those things. And since then, Trump also declined invitations to speak before the National Urban League, the NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists.
To date, Trump’s only major pronouncement has been the need for a “civil rights agenda for our time,” but he has failed to offer one, except a call to fight crime and expand charter schools. While seeking to temper his racially divisive image to center-right whites and suburban moms, he has reinforced the very stereotypes that blacks have worked for decades to overcome. Everyone is not impoverished, uneducated, jobless and getting shot.
Surely the Trump campaign didn’t believe that his outreach strategy – void of apologizing for his condescending tone or offering any prescriptive policy solutions – would increase his support among blacks. Today’s African-Americans are too smart to fall for that “okey-doke.” They are more sophisticated and knowledgeable, rightfully expecting candidates to earn their votes. Millennials, in particular, are more analytical and independent, less likely to engage in group think. They stay dialed in on politics through social media, and are more interested in accountability on issues like criminal justice reform than traditional church stump speeches.
Still, the most important, lasting way to win black voters is by building trusting, respectful relationships and addressing their needs. Despite job growth, the unemployment rate is 9.5% for African-Americans – twice the national average – and 6.6% for Hispanics. According to the Corporation for Economic Development and the Institute for Policy Studies, at this rate it will take black households 228 years and Hispanic households 84 years to close the wealth gap with whites. Baltimore, Detroit and Chicago are all recent portraits of America’s racial and socioeconomic imbalance. Crime and violence, widespread across segregated black neighborhoods, is rooted in concentrated poverty. With these problems staring him squarely in the face, Trump, up to now, has looked the other way.
Let me be clear: It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect a president to singlehandedly heal America’s socioeconomic ills. But we should expect our president to have a plan to ensure everyone has a seat at America’s economic table. What minorities need is not more rhetoric and research, but policies that drive private investment to their communities to develop high-growth enterprises and raise wages, in sectors such as energy, technology and manufacturing.
Clinton gets that, and has proposed a thoughtful Economic Revitalization Initiative, which includes $50 billion to create jobs in struggling communities, $20 billion to support youth jobs, $5 billion for prison re-entry programs, and $25 billion to support entrepreneurs and increase private investment in underserved communities.
As successful a businessman as he claims to be, Trump should have gotten it long ago. But it’s not too late for him to demonstrate leadership. He can start by committing to improve his own company’s record – increasing the number of blacks at executive levels, building businesses in minority communities and hiring minority contractors.
Then, he could lay out a plan that includes freeing up capital for minority-owned businesses, incentives for large companies to locate in distressed areas, pathways for more minority-owned firms to do government work and access foreign markets, and investments in STEM, entrepreneurship and job training.
Many have framed this election as a disturbing and negative result of America’s ongoing racial and ethnic transformation. But minorities represent more than votes. They are key drivers of America’s economy and the future of the country’s workforce, which has been changing far more significantly than its politics for the past four decades.
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By 2020, the white working-age population will have declined by 19 percentage points. The minority working-age population will have doubled to 37% – and during the next president’s term. The fact that minorities will make up more than a third of the workforce means our next president must address the economic conditions of people of color.
So while Trump swayed to the choir music at Great Faith Ministries and praised black Christians, it is not enough. He has to “walk the walk” with African-Americans. He has a long road to travel – and little time to get there.
Rick C. Wade was senior adviser and national director for African-American vote for Obama for America and deputy chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. He has endorsed Hillary Clinton in this year’s Democratic campaign. Wade is an entrepreneur and president of a global business development firm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.