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Trump says he’s the best president for Black people since Abraham Lincoln but is not actually Lincoln

Donald Trump can be funny — but also misses the joke when it’s on him.

President Donald Trump responds to questions during the final presidential debate on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee,
Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Donald Trump would like you to believe that he has done more for the Black community in America than anyone except for Abraham Lincoln — but, to clarify, he is not actually Abraham Lincoln.

During the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, the president apparently got tripped up by a joke made by his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. In a section discussing race in America and how Black families have to give “the talk” to their children about interactions with the police, President Trump started off with what is often his typical defense. He pointed to Biden’s role in the 1994 crime bill, touted his own record on race, and claimed he’s the biggest gift to Black people in America since Lincoln.

“Nobody has done more for the black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln,” he said, before adding, “I’m the least racist person in this room.”

When Biden was asked to respond, he began with an obvious joke and a hit: “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history.”

Except Trump didn’t get the joke. After Biden finished his response, Trump said, “You made a reference to ‘Abraham Lincoln here.’ Where did that come in?”

“You said you’re Abraham Lincoln,” Biden said, again, continuing the joke.

“No, no, I said not since Abraham Lincoln has anybody done what I’ve done for the Black community. I didn’t say I’m Abraham Lincoln,” Trump said.

In case you are confused: Donald Trump is not Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States who died on April 15, 1865.

There are a couple of things going on here. For one thing, Trump is, indeed, not the best thing to happen to Black America since Lincoln. Per my colleague at Vox, Fabiola Cineas:

While Trump may be confident in his claim of having done the most for Black Americans, his record begs to differ. He has repeatedly cited his efforts on criminal justice reform and the economy as the reasons he’s been the best president for Black America since Lincoln — who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved people in the Confederacy, and clearing the way for the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery across the US — but rarely does Trump put his supposed “wins” in context. For example, Trump often tries to take credit for a decline in violent crime, though the downward trend predates him by many years.

Trump’s “since Lincoln” bit is also untrue on its face: Ulysses S. Grant created the Department of Justice and pushed for the prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan; Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Justice Department pushed for poll tax repeal; Harry S. Truman desegregated the military; Lyndon B. Johnson through Great Society legislation signed the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act, and desegregated hospitals in the South through the Social Security Act Amendments of 1965; and Barack Obama, the first Black president, passed the Affordable Care Act, which has reduced racial disparities in health care.

But beyond that, the president is weird at jokes. He can be and often is funny on the campaign trail — in a way that his critics, so emphatic about catching him in some sort of pickle, sometimes fail to understand. But in this case, it was Trump who wasn’t in on the joke. He often plays the role of the insult comic — Crooked Hillary, Sleepy Joe, Crazy Bernie — and on Thursday, he missed the subtle wink aimed at him. And so, he was left explaining that he is aware he is not a person who has been dead for 150 years.

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