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A look back at Trump’s first Black History Month as president

Trump spent his Black History Month events criticizing CNN and bragging about the election.

President Donald Trump. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Donald Trump spent his first Black History Month as president bragging about how much he wins and wins, suggesting that just any black person — even a reporter — can set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, and swearing in an education secretary who went on to praise the “school choice” brought on by a racially segregated school system.

Here’s a quick rundown of the past month in Trump:

  • February 1: At his Black History Month kickoff speech, Trump spent most of his time talking about how the media has treated him unfairly, how CNN is “fake news” and “hostile” but “Fox has treated me very nice,” and how well he did with black voters, whom he lost to Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls, 89 percent to 8 percent.
  • February 1: In one of the few moments in which Trump actually addressed black history, he named abolitionist Frederick Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and he’s being recognized more and more, I noticed.” It’s not clear what Trump was talking about here, since Douglass is already well-known among historians as a civil rights hero of the 19th century. White House press secretary Sean Spicer did little to tame the confusion, arguing that “through a lot of the actions and statements that [Trump is] going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
  • February 7: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s nomination was embroiled in a minor political controversy when Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was silenced in the Senate after she tried to read a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King, a civil rights hero and wife of Martin Luther King Jr., condemning Sessions’s civil rights record.
  • February 16: When asked by April Ryan, a black reporter, if he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump immediately assumed that Ryan could set up a meeting, asking her repeatedly to do just that. Trump’s response seemed to presume that because Ryan is black, she’d be able to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, continuing a pattern in which Trump treats black people as a monolithic group.
  • February 16: The Congressional Black Caucus, by the way, disclosed that it had tried to set up a meeting with Trump the month before. According to the caucus, he never responded.
  • February 21: At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump again used a Black History Month speech to brag about his electoral victory, boasting that he won South Carolina by “double, double, double digits” after acknowledging one of his guests, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
  • February 27: Sessions admitted he hadn’t read the Justice Department’s reports on policing in Ferguson, Missouri, and Chicago, both of which documented a history of abuses against black people. Sessions reasoned that the reports seemed “pretty anecdotal,” even though they drew on data from both cities’ police departments to gauge patterns of racial bias.
  • February 27: In a press release, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hailed historically black colleges and universities as “pioneers of school choice.” The praise was tone-deaf, overlooking that these schools came about in large part because black students were denied choice when they were shut out of mainstream colleges and universities by Jim Crow laws.
  • February 28: Sessions said the Justice Department will “pull back” from investigating civil rights abuses by police departments.

Black History Month is supposed to be a time in which the country humbly reflects back on, well, black history: the heroes who made America better, the key historical moments, and the systemic racism that’s plagued this country since its founding.

Instead, Trump consistently used his speeches to talk about how great he is and how unfairly he’s treated by the media, and at one point veered into outright racism. Other administration officials didn’t fare much better, resurrecting old criticisms by a civil rights figure and praising the “school choice” brought on by segregation.

Trump is obviously not well-known for humility or reflection, but that doesn’t make his performance as president over the past month any less alarming. Presidents are typically expected to draw from the 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 themselves in check, and so on. That Trump and his team couldn’t even look like they were doing that during the one month they’re especially supposed to is a very bad sign.


Watch: It’s now on America’s institutions — and Republicans — to check Donald Trump