In the past weeks, we have seen Donald Trump make an explicit —albeit unsuccessful — attempt to appeal to African-American voters, most recently claiming at a rally in North Carolina that African-American communities are "in the worst shape that they've ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever."
Now President Barack Obama is calling bullshit.
"I think even most 8-year-olds will tell you that whole slavery thing wasn't very good for black people," Obama told ABC News Friday. "Jim Crow wasn't very good for black people. What we have to do is use our history to propel us to make even more progress in the future."
Trump has made a habit of commenting on the state of African-American communities in this final leg of his presidential campaign — even pulling stunts like claiming he "ended" the Obama birther movement last week, seemingly as an attempt to distance himself from the racist conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace (which Trump himself brought to the mainstream).
For a presidential candidate who has won the support of many white nationalists, and even the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, Trump’s newfound and often misguided interest in black communities has hit some road blocks. Most recently he proposed expanding New York’s stop-and-frisk policies, an unconstitutional, ineffective policy that once permitted officers to search any person (usually black or Latino men) they suspected of a minor crime.
But as my colleague Dara Lind explains, Trump’s appeal to the African-American electorate isn’t really about winning their vote — it’s about reassuring wavering white Republicans that they can vote for Trump:
The reason Trump’s unity message is perfect for wavering Republicans is that they want to view the Republican Party as the party that sees Americans for the content of their character — while Democrats seem content to characterize Americans for the color of their skin. If Trump is reaching out to black voters — and he is! He says he is! — then it’s the fault of black voters themselves if they stay duped by the Democratic Party.
This is why Trump’s "pitch" to black voters, which focuses on how terrible inner cities are("You're living in poverty, your schools are no good. You have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed") is appealing to suburban Republicans. They may not all agree on whether African Americans are morally deserving of their high-crime surroundings and poor economic prospects, but they certainly tend to be united in blaming generations of Democratic political leadership for allowing those things to happen.