President Trump And Racial Politics: An Embarrassing Administration

09/12/2017 06:37 pm ET
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

First, in addition to sending all of my heartfelt best wishes for a speedy and full recovery to all those suffering  losses and hardships from the Hurricane storms in the Houston area and throughout Texas, I would also like to thank so many people out there who have emailed and reached out to me over the past two years asking where I was and why I hadn’t been writing or appearing on cable news shows providing political commentary, especially during such a momentous time that included a presidential election.

I am so appreciative of that concern and it absolutely made things far easier for me to endure during these past two years.

In fact, it was exactly two years ago this August that I was originally diagnosed with cancer, and by the grace of God, and with the love and support of my family, and with an inner strength and resolve that I believe all of us have, I persevered and fought back and overcame two separate cancers plus the effects of a complete stem cell transplant and a panic attack in between eight months of initial chemotherapy for the first cancer that I could have died from, and then fought through another additional five months of chemotherapy associated with the transplant, and after that enduring major surgery to fight the second cancer, and I not only survived but am making a slow but steady recovery that my doctors say is “one of too few true success stories” in the measure of individual battles to overcome cancer as I am likely to fully resume the life I had before my diagnosis.

One of the effects of fighting cancer, and particularly during long periods of the intense protocol of chemotherapy, is that for much of the past two years I was forced to be in bed during both the night and the day except for hospital visits.

What that meant was that I watched far more of last year’s presidential campaign on TV than I ever would have been able to watch otherwise, so I saw so much more coverage to evaluate directly firsthand rather than being out there as part of the analysis.

And from that new and unexpected perspective, I was able to conclude that the media itself and all of their extensions were major “enablers” of the Donald Trump campaign for president.

What became clear to me in a way that I might not have believed had it just been told to me was that the mainstream media and the liberal media were so determined to present an image of being “fair and balanced” to the public and to the rest of the media itself that they were, either unwittingly or deliberately, willing to bash Hillary Clinton absolutely on a non-stop continuous basis while more often than not giving Donald Trump a pass when they shouldn’t have.

There are many examples that I could point out (don’t forget the Matt Lauer interview with Clinton one night followed by his interview with Trump the next night which even network executives criticized as unbalanced in Trump’s favor), and I made copious notes throughout the campaign to document the examples, but I will submit the following one as a key example of many.

With Hillary Clinton, in virtually every single news and commentary segment that featured Clinton as a main topic, the Anchor or commentators would lash out at Hillary on the email controversy and then highlight the fact that “everyone” was calling for her to release the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches.

Yet, with Donald Trump, those same anchors and commentators would mention maybe once or twice a week the calls for him to release his tax returns and mention that every president since Richard Nixon had done so.

But the trick that allowed the media to get away with this was the fact that they could and did say that they were calling out Trump for not releasing his tax returns and then point to times on their show when they did just that ― and what everyone missed is that calling out Hillary every single news segment each and every day was NOT the same as calling out Trump on his taxes once or twice a week.

And since many of these same anchors and commentators and network executives were supporting Hillary privately, it was more important to them to be able to say “see how fair we are as we are really going after Hillary” than for them to actually be fair in the coverage of the two candidates.

That’s just one example and the “trick” part of that as I just explained is what most people missed and what I likely would have missed had I not been right there much of the day every day for so long watching it for myself.

And this kind of coverage DID have an effect on the body politic and did, over time and multiplied by the number of shows and segments that were doing it, actually have an effect on the election and made it easier for Donald Trump to get away with things that no candidate for president of the United States should ever have been able to get away with before the election.

There was another reason that contributed to the mainstream media giving Trump a pass on so much of what we heard from him and what he did during the campaign (leading chants of “lock her up” almost qualifies for detainment under the John Adams Alien and Sedition Act and was just embarrassing and shameful) ― but the other reason was that the Media, and in this point I would also include the conservative media and Fox as well ― the media simply did not take Donald Trump very seriously and never really expected that he would or could win.

On the latter point, there really were no exceptions to the general attitude that Trump was not going to win, either from emotion, or wishful thinking, or from objective analysis of the actual polls.

The four political analysts that I respect the most, David Gergen, Ron Brownstein, Jeffrey Toobin, and my mentor Howard Fineman, they all missed it ― as I did and everyone else ― and the four of them were objectively analyzing the actual polls. Everyone had Hillary winning, and I believe Trump himself did not really expect to win and that’s one reason why he didn’t want to release his potentially embarrassing tax returns ― he didn’t want to lose and have that info out in public.

And either consciously or sub-consciously, that thinking caused much of the media to be more amused by Trump and his antics than anything else, and that made it easier to give him a pass since, in their minds, he wasn’t going to win anyway.

Now by no means am I suggesting that the media’s approach here caused Hillary to lose (her stupidly taking two weeks off in September for fundraising instead of campaigning in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania didn’t help either).

As you see, everyone was guilty of not taking Trump seriously enough to think he would win ― but the media should never have allowed itself to fall into that trap to the degree that they felt even more comfortable in bashing Hillary while giving Trump a pass ― because it mattered.

Of course there were other major reasons that contributed to Hillary’s loss:

1.  Clinton was arrogant in the approach to the campaign and probably made many decisions based on the assumption that she would win, and with so many young and unseasoned  staffers heading up her campaign she was bound to pay a price for that arrogance (she needed a Bob Schrum or the sainted Bob Strauss or Ron Brown if the latter two were still with us or someone like that heading up her campaign) - John Podesta was just out of touch and thus unable to counter Bernie Sanders and his very effective bashing of Clinton                                       

2.   Clinton’s message was too broad streamed and idealistic ― “we are stronger together” - no one remembers when we were not strong but many people remember when they thought America was great in contrast to what they might think now. Clinton needed a more specific message ― a “plan of action” with four or five bullet points that would be easy for people to remember.

3.  And yes, with the media’s constant bashing of Hillary over the emails and the speeches, it was difficult if not impossible for her to move past that, and the mistake in setting up the email server in her home did cost her ― I had less sympathy for her on this point when I learned that she was given specific advice from senior advisors not to set up the server at her home ― arrogance.

4.   Being on the sidelines the last two years also enabled me to get an appreciation that I did not have before of just how much Hillary Clinton was absolutely hated by so many Americans - they just hated her and really would have voted for anyone but Hillary.  That’s too bad - Hillary was a very flawed candidate, but I genuinely believe she would have made a great president!

5.  No one else has said this but someone needs to - another major factor in Hillary’s loss was the effect of the constant and ultimately vicious anti-Hillary campaigning of Bernie Sanders and the attacks on Hillary and her campaign by Sanders and particularly by his surrogates, many of whom came across as almost vicious in the intensity of their attacks on Hillary - It is very hard to win the White House when your campaign rivals in your own Party often are more intense in their attacks on you than candidates from the opposing Party, and in the last two months of the primary season, Sanders and his surrogates really reached that level.

And we must remember that Sanders appealed to many young, idealistic and politically novice supporters who took his bitter attacks on Clinton to heart and for many, those attacks kept them from ever being able to switch their allegiance and then support Hillary in the fall election - and now they are really disillusioned and unhappy with American politics thanks to the actions and conduct of President Trump.

Bernie Sanders used the Democratic Party to propel himself to national stature. 

After all, he was in Washington for almost 30 years and virtually no one outside of Washington had ever heard of him. And Sanders used the Party to raise millions and millions of dollars, much of which he never spent and still has.  And then when it was all over he didn’t have the decency to go back to the  Senate as a Democrat - instead he went back registered as an Independent again. And as late as two weeks before the election Sanders said “in all probability I will vote for Hillary Clinton.” Really - that’s a fine way to get your supporters to vote for your party’s main candidate.

I for one attest here and now that if Sanders announces again for the 2020 campaign for president,  I might personally go out to head up a “Never Sanders” movement in the Democratic Party.    But it won’t matter - if Sanders was the Democratic nominee in 2020 not only would Donald Trump win the Electoral College but Trump would also win the popular vote in possibly a landslide - I hope Democrats out there are listening - and Trump won’t be easy to beat - watch his poll numbers go up after Houston’s storms.

But I reserve my most damning criticism and chagrin with respect to the 2016 Presidential election for African-Americans, and I can speak on this topic in a way that many other commentators and analysts either can’t or haven’t.

Interesting to segue from Bernie Sanders to this next theme regarding the African-American vote, as Sanders attracted many Black spokespersons who were often on Cable News attacking Hillary as if her 40 years of public service advancing every civil rights, education and social justice cause you could identify in America didn’t exist.

And those attacks did have an effect in putting a damper on enthusiasm among African-Americans, especially young ones, to support the Clinton campaign.

But here are the facts.  In 2016, two million fewer African-Americans voted in the Presidential election than voted in 2008 and 2012 for Barack Obama - TWO MILLION fewer Black votes. Yet, the TOTAL number of votes combined that Donald Trump won the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania by was less than 77, 000 votes combined.   

So not considering any other factor in the victory by Donald Trump, and there were many others, the fact is that the votes needed to have defeated Donald Trump were right there in the African-American community - and among African-American voters who had voted before for President, not new or first time voters.

To me, that is the real tragedy of the 2016 election, and I also genuinely believe that what we have seen in just this first year of the Trump Presidency convinces me even more firmly that this is a tragedy as the Trump Presidency is really an “embarrassment”,  and we could have done better.

But for African-Americans, the lesson here is more painful than one can hardly bear.   And to those African-American spokesmen who supported Sanders - that’s not the problem as I respect that - but who in supporting Sanders felt it necessary to denigrate the record of Hillary Clinton and of Bill Clinton in what they stood for and fought for on behalf of African-Americans and all minorities in this country for over 40 years, I just hope everybody’s happy now - but look what you have wrought.

But first, let’s be clear, the only reason I don’t castigate Black Republicans is that as Republicans, they were not going to vote for Hillary in the first place, and second, they don’t really matter as I have always asserted that Black Republicans and Black conservatives are the most irrelevant political group in America today - that statement still stands and speaks for itself.   

But for African-Americans who voted for Barack Obama but for whom two million did not feel a need to vote for Hillary or vote at all when 77,000 votes gave Trump three States and put him in the White House, and to Black Democrats who wound up attacking Hillary on behalf of Sanders more than promoting the real interests of the African-American community, I ask them to consider the following “highlights” of these first eight months of the Trump administration.  

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump said Blacks should vote for him, after all, “what do they have to lose” ― turns out, EVERYTHING!

And the losses keep piling up.

Soon after taking office,  Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, hand picked by Trump possibly as a reward for being the first sitting US Senator to endorse Trump in the campaign, issued a memo to all Justice Dept prosecutors to seek the “harshest sentences possible”  for non-violent drug offenders, a category already disproportionately populated by young African-American and Hispanic males, at a time when every professional involved with this area and many others has asserted that our nation’s criminal justice system needs a complete overhauling to address inequities in how minorities are treated.

And the president, fulfilling a campaign pledge, makes an appointment to the Supreme Court that guarantees that the high Court will rule against Affirmative Action and other programs designed to address inequalities in the country, not perpetuate them.

Then the administration, through the Attorney General that Trump selected, went after voting rights in the South by seeking to gut the monitoring and compliance requirements that the previous Justice Department and the Courts had decreed needed to remain in place to address issues lingering still after almost fifty years of continued violations and embarrassing vestiges remaining in the South after the Civil Rights movement.

And of course, in an effort to get back in the good graces of the president who had been relentlessly attacking him, the Attorney General who the president personally selected, announced that the Justice Department was now going to attack college and university affirmative action programs on the grounds of reverse discrimination, an argument debunked by serious educators all over the country as entirely without merit.

And I would personally add that education, of all the areas where aggressive remedies for prejudice and discrimination need to be applied, is the one area that can provide a long term permanent solution to the social and urban ills that most Whites seem to focus on at the expense of addressing the underlying problems that cause those very ills to begin with.  

So why would we want to do anything that would restrict or limit the ability to utilize the education tool as the most effective method to erase the social and cultural inequities that exist in our nation and are the root cause of so many of the crime and drug issues that the mainstream society seems far more interested in focusing on.    

And speaking of the much needed criminal justice reform and the absolute need for  reform in law enforcement practices that see unarmed young African-American males often shot 10 or 12 times only to hear later that the officer involved “feared for his life” against this unarmed young Black male who somehow needed to have 10 or 12 shots fired into his body in order to convince the officer that  his was not the life to fear for.

Nevertheless, in this volatile environment, President Trump goes before an assemblage of law enforcement officers and tells them that they are “being much too nice” in how they make arrests and that they should abandon some of the standard practices designed to provide even a modicum of safety protection to citizens being arrested by police.    

And finally in this area, Attorney General  Sessions, handpicked for his job by the president, announced recently that the Justice Department would switch course in a reversal of “embarrassing” insensitivity and now support Republican efforts in the state of Ohio to purge voters from the voter roll lists if they haven’t actually voted in recent elections, a policy that clearly disproportionately affects blacks.

May I remind everyone that in this country we encourage people to vote, but we don’t punish them for not voting - other than making them live with the results as we are all doing right now.   

Let me also remind everyone that during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Jeff Sessions was nominated to the Federal Bench, and his nomination was rejected by the U.S. Senate primarily because of evidence of racial bias in his background.  

So a Republican administration in the 1980s rejected Sessions for a judicial appointment to one seat on the bench,  but 30 years later he’s the best man for the job as the nation’s single top law enforcement officer sworn to protect the constitutional rights of voting and civil rights of ALL the citizens, not just those in the Republican base, and not just those of a single person, even if that person is President and you need to somehow endear yourself to that President before he fires you.  

And that’s supposed to be “draining the swamp ?”  Meanwhile, President Trump has loaded up his Cabinet with members who have a combined net worth of over 4.5 BILLION dollars with mostly all having extensive Wall Street backgrounds.  No, that’s not “draining the swamp”, that’s re-filling it right to the top!

And before one thinks that I want to lay all of this at the feet of the Attorney General,  let me also state as assertively as I can that if there were one thing and one thing alone that I felt would have disqualified Donald Trump from ever being the nominee of either Party to the office of President of the United States, it was the fact that in the 1970′s Trump was sued by the Federal Government for discrimination in his use of “red-lining” to deny Blacks from being able to apply and rent apartments in any of his buildings in any of the boroughs of New York City - not Selma, Alabama or Jackson, Mississippi, but New York City.

That is an embarrassment to every American and a stain on our country that either Party of this great nation would nominate a candidate to the highest office in the land even with just the accusation of these charges.  

And in Trump’s case he actually settled the case with a huge monetary fine - and what did he say during the 2016 campaign - “I never settle cases because it encourages others” - so he must have really been guilty to settle this one - by his own standards.

You see - this is all so embarrassing for our country, as is Attorney General Sessions not remembering his meetings with the Russians to the point of either lying about it or simply not remembering it BOTH in oral testimony and in writing.

Incidentally,  the one bright spot I personally see in the President’s Cabinet is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who I think has conducted himself with dignity and integrity since he was first appointed and, I believe,  has represented the US admirably on his foreign trips and has succeeded in providing some gravitas and an image of being one who can provide proper “adult supervision” to an otherwise cluster of individuals playing musical chairs at the White House every week and governing in an environment of continuous chaos.   

And I must absolutely commend Secretary Tillerson for his speech  to the State Department after Charlottesville on the disgusting nature of racism and Anti-Semitism  in any form and for his assertion that the State Department will be at the forefront of advancing diversity and equal opportunity under his tenure.   

But if this weren’t enough,  President Trump’s decision to grant a Pardon to Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona after Arpaio was ruled guilty in Court of violating a judicial edict that banned him from engaging in racial profiling in ordering law enforcement  officers in Arizona to seek out and arrest Hispanics and those who even looked like they were Hispanic or foreign or met what he considered to be characteristics of criminals.  And once apprehended, Arpaio’s officers were ordered to seek to deport all of them.

This was racial profiling in its worse form, and it was and remains an embarrassment to all Americans that this type of activity can be tolerated in 2017, let alone officially forgiven by the President in the form of a Pardon.

In a conversation with a Canadian businessman a couple of months ago discussing the Trump presidency, the Canadian said ”Carl, if I were an American I would be embarrassed by what’s going on with Donald Trump″ - and that was the inspiration for my thinking about much of what has been happening with the entire Donald Trump saga as an “embarrassment.”

And of course there is the famous “Wall” the president proposes to build along the border costing  up to 10 Billion dollars. During the campaign, Trump called for building the wall and forcefully asserted that “Mexico will pay for it.”

Now, he seems to be getting away with not being able to get Mexico to pay for it, and Mexico made that clear both before the election and after the election - why is the president being allowed to get away with just discarding that part of the “wall” promise and focus only on building it with money to be provided by U.S. taxpayers - Why? And that’s money we now need to spend in Texas rather than along its border  to help victims of the floods in Houston and throughout the state.

Building a wall and instituting a “Muslim ban” brings out the worst instincts in the heart and soul of the essence of the American Dream and of the concept of the greatness of America.   We need to abandon both objectives, regardless of where the funding is coming from.

And finally to Charlottesville, an episode that reaches new depths of embarrassment and moral depravity for our country that we likely could never have predicted we would ever see again in this great land of ours.

First, let me say after listening to all the responses to Charlottesville from conservatives and Republicans during the last two weeks ,  I don’t want to hear one more person tell us that “after all, the Republican Party is the Party of Lincoln” as a response to why Republicans under the leadership of Donald Trump should not shoulder much of the blame for inciting and permitting racial and religious prejudices to have an environment to flourish starting not just with Charlottesville but going all the way back to describing Mexico’s immigrants to the US as “murderers, criminals and rapists” and criticizing judges as being incapable of fairness because of their racial or ethnic heritage.

Party of Lincoln?  The Republican Party hasn’t been the Party of Lincoln since at least 1968 when Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” was implemented with “wink-winks” and “code words” like law & order that were designed to reassure southern Whites that all these uprisings from Blacks demanding social justice will soon come to an end if Nixon was elected,  and not just law and order but also the traditional social order of the South in terms of race would be restored and preserved as well - and it worked,  and the Democrats haven’t been able to carry the South since (although fellow southerner Jimmy Carter did make some inroads in a few southern States primarily because of how badly Nixon messed things up while he was in the White House).  No, today’s Republican Party is closer to being the Party of Lincoln Savings than it is to being the Party of Lincoln.

As to Charlottesville itself, a million words have been written or more about this incident both here and around the world, and many of those words are far more eloquent than what I could say.

But I do have one overriding observation and conclusion to share regarding this event , and this may be the most embarrassing observation of all as to where we are in America today.  For almost 70 years, no matter how much a politician or public servant disagreed with their opponent, and no matter how riled up each side’s supporters were, if you publicly labeled your opponent as a Nazi or compared that opponent to Hitler or praised the Klu Klux Klan you were immediately condemned by ALL sides in the debate.  

And what’s more, you were then forced to retract the statement and apologize usually by the very next day - and it could cost you the election.

What President Trump has done in his remarks and actions after Charlottesville was to “normalize” the inclusion of Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists as part of our normal conversation about race and cultural heritage and politics in this country.  

And you can just see where this might be headed perhaps in another year or so as an after growth of this new mood the president has created. Imagine the following scenario perhaps a year or so from now.  

An anchor or prime time show host welcomes the guest panelists and commentators, and after introducing the esteemed professionals joining the show, the Anchor says the following: “And we also want to welcome to the show Joe Smith. As you know, Joe started out as a far right conservative and then switched to the Neo-Nazi Party.  He has rapidly climbed the ranks within the party, and many see him ascending further in the near future as a rising star on the national stage - Welcome Joe.”  THAT’S what President Trump has started, and when the president of the United States receives public thank you notes for his comments from the former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, not only is this conduct embarrassing, it is simply unforgivable!

The president was given another opportunity to salvage both his image and his credibility with Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and I do give the president credit for how he has handled the storm crisis and how he has directed the relief efforts from the federal government as well as showing some empathy with the victims directly when he made his trips to Houston and the affected areas, notwithstanding the “what a great turnout” remarks seemingly more directed to a campaign rally rather than such somber circumstances as the Houston disaster.

But more importantly, I would point out that in California, when a natural disaster hits, landlords are forbidden under law from evicting tenants and then repairing the damage to apartments and raising the rent to then rent to new applicants.  Furthermore, California landlords must under law offer the repaired apartment back to the original tenant under the same rent terms as before prior to offering the apartment to a new tenant.  In Texas, landlords are NOT prohibited from engaging in this really reprehensible behavior,  and there have already been numerous reports of landlords in the Houston area having commenced eviction procedures already with the intent of raising the rent for new tenants and thus leaving the storm victims who occupied those apartments in an even worse condition.

President Trump likes to issue executive orders. The president should issue a new executive order prohibiting landlords in Texas and maybe go further to cover the entire nation - but prohibit them from engaging in the activity described above that California has so commendably already taken steps to prevent .

And while the president was on the ground showing empathy for the victims of the storms in Houston, his administration at the same time was cutting the budget for “Navigators” from 100 million dollars down to 10 million dollars.

And what do “Navigators” do?  Navigators help people enroll in the federal health care coverage programs. When will conservatives and Republicans learn that when middle class and poor people don’t have health insurance, they forgo preventive care and wind up having to go to the emergency room for treatment which, in the end, costs all Americans even more money than if those citizens were covered - Mr. President, restore that budget for the Navigators, a move that will really help so many of the victims of the Houston floods that you expressed such a commitment to help.

Finally Mr. President, your first year in office has seen your poll approval numbers plummet and confidence in both your credibility and temperment to be President  fall even lower.   

Yet, I believe there is hope for you (along with the benefit of time), and I also believe you will get a real bounce upwards in the polls from your handling of the Texas floods, and I also believe that ultimately whatever action you take in response to North Korea will likely also give you higher national approval ratings as Americans always rally behind their president in a national emergency or national security or defense crisis.

But for your permanent legacy, whether you serve one term or two,  I have a policy issue that could give you a permanent legacy similar to John F. Kennedy’s race to put a “man on the moon within a decade” or his Peace Corp or Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty” which still remains a positive component of his legacy even though the Vietnam War and the budget demands it created as well as the dissension in the country that it created stifled the ultimate success of the poverty programs.   And I would also submit that Ronald Reagan’s detente with the Soviet Union serves as a lasting positive legacy for his Administration along with President Obama’s effort to provide all Americans with some basic health care coverage even with its ensuing and continuing controversy, as well as President Clinton’s efforts to protect Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity for minorities and women.  All of these policy projects  have served to solidify some permanent components of the permanent legacies of these former presidents.

President Trump, forget about the 5 or 10 billion dollars for a wall that divides us and discredits the true spirit and meaning of the essence of what America stands for, and also renew the DACA program out of a basic sense of decency.

Instead I ask you, President Trump, to make a prime time address to the nation and declare that you will seek to find a cure for cancer during your term in office and ask Congress for 5 or 10 billion dollars for that cause instead of that Wall ― and don’t worry about appeasing your base. That 30 to 35 percent base will be there for you whenever you need them ― but with this cancer program you can also get some of that additional 25 to 30 percent of Independents that you won last year and have already lost in this year.

Cancer robs our society of its most precious commodity, human beings, and we need every human being and every American to live out their full potential and be able to contribute to our society in a meaningful way.

As a very recent cancer survivor who still has to fight to prevent its’ return, I will join you in that fight, and when we win, your legacy will be secured for all eternity,  and most importantly, instead of being embarrassed,  we all will have made America great not just again, but we will have made America great for the future and for all time!

Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles based columnist, TV political analyst, radio commentator, and a national lecturer and business consultant.   Jeffers is President of Intelli Marketing Associates.

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