Wednesday is the first day of Black History Month. Typically, presidents honor the day by talking about the many black heroes who have changed the course of American history — Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and many more.
Trump took a different approach. He did name some of these black heroes. But he also spent a lot of time talking about himself, how CNN is “fake news,” how much everyone loves him, and how he did so well with the black vote (which he lost by more than 10 to 1 to Hillary Clinton).
Take, for example, Trump’s comments about Martin Luther King:
Here is a transcript of President Trump's comments on Dr. Martin Luther King at his Black History Month gathering this morning. pic.twitter.com/qHq9i1Ligg— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 1, 2017
One sentence about how great Martin Luther King was, followed by 10 about how a journalist misreported a story about Trump. So when talking about one of the most important men in US history, Trump pivoted his speech to make it all about himself and how he’s so misunderstood by the media.
It doesn’t stop there. Later on in the speech, Trump again briefly mentioned King and other black heroes. Then he spent most of his time on a rant about how the “great friends and supporters” around him for the event have fought for him, including on TV, even as “hostile” and “fake news” outlets like CNN have gone after him — adding that “Fox has treated me very nice.”
Frederick Douglass did “an amazing job” and CNN is “fake news,” President Trump says in African-American History Month listening session pic.twitter.com/p3ixDIpSsW— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 1, 2017
This is a full transcript of President Trump's speech to his Black History Month event. pic.twitter.com/uJ9iXvUOGr— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 1, 2017
Trump later went on: “If you remember, I wasn’t going to do well with the African-American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and lots of other things, we ended up getting — I won’t go into details — but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who had run in the past years.”
It’s unclear what Trump means here. He lost the black vote by quite a bit: According to exit polls, Clinton got 89 percent of the black vote, and Trump got 8 percent of it.
The broader point, however, is that Trump was given an opportunity to talk about Black History Month and he spent most of his time talking about himself and his own problems. (Of course, he left out all the accusations of racism that dogged him during his campaign — from saying a judge should recuse himself from a case because of his “Mexican heritage” to pushing for “stop and frisk,” an aggressive police tactic that was deemed unconstitutional because it was used in a racially biased way.)
This isn’t the first time Trump has done something like this. Last month, when he was asked about his heroes, he spent most of his response talking about himself and how he triumphed in the 2016 campaign despite all the odds against him:
This can all seem silly at some level, but it’s a seriously concerning character trait for a president. Presidents are supposed to feel the full weight of history and its heroes and villains — to learn from what they did, to gauge the consequences of the office’s actions, to keep himself in check, and so on. That Trump can’t even properly reflect on much of that history when he’s explicitly tasked with the opportunity to do so is a very bad sign.