How Donald Trump Speaks to—and About—Minorities

Does the presumptive Republican nominee see African Americans and Hispanics as part of the American “we”?

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Celebrating his big win in Indiana—and his elevation to presumptive nominee of the Republican Party—Tuesday night, Donald Trump spoke at Trump Tower in New York City, where he delivered a promise to heal the deep fractures in his party.

“We want to bring unity to the Republican Party,” he said. “We have to bring unity. It's so much easier if we have it.”

That will be a tall order. But as a general-election candidate, Trump will need to win over more than just Republicans. In his inimitable way, he pledged to bring together the rest of the nation as well.

“We're going to bring back our jobs, and we're going to save our jobs, and people are going to have great jobs again, and this country, which is very, very divided in so many different ways, is going to become one beautiful loving country, and we're going to love each other, we're going to cherish each other and take care of each other, and we're going to have great economic development and we're not going to let other countries take it away from us, because that's what's been happening for far too many years and we're not going to do it anymore,” he said. (That’s a single sentence, if you’re keeping track at home.)

Trump faces significant obstacles to achieving that unity, particular with blocs that are not white men. Seven in 10 women view him unfavorably. It’s even worse with minorities. A recent Gallup poll found that 77 percent of Hispanics view Trump unfavorably. A Washington Post poll pegged that number at eight in 10, seven of them “very unfavorable.” An NBC News/Survey Monkey poll found an astonishing 86 percent of African Americans had a negative view of Trump.

One reason for those atrocious ratings is the way Trump speaks to and about minorities, which was on display during his victory speech Tuesday.

“We're going to have great relationships with the Hispanics,” he said. “The Hispanics have been so incredible to me. They want jobs. Everybody wants jobs. The African Americans want jobs. If you look at what's going on, they want jobs.”

Part of Trump’s rhetorical power is his supercharged used of “we,” a method that persuades people across the country that they are part of a larger movement, and somehow share with Trump his aura of wealthy and luxury. (It’s the same technique he’s used to sell real estate for years.) In the midst of his spiel about all the ways “we” would make America great again, Trump tossed in this passage about minorities.

His phrasing is telling. First, it suggests that for Trump, blacks and Hispanics aren’t part of “we”—“they” constitute separate groups. Perhaps that’s an accidental, unthinking division, but subconscious racial division is no less dangerous. Second, it shows him assuming that minority concerns can be reduced to economics. That view is perhaps unsurprising for a man who has spent his career trying to accumulate wealth, but it is a two-dimensional view of black and Hispanic Americans.

The fact that his policies simply don’t line up with what most African Americans want in a president is one reason his numbers with black voters are so bad. Another factor is a presidential campaign driven in large parts by divisive appeals to racism and bigotry against Hispanics, Muslims, and other groups. Trump also has a long history of racially charged incidents, from alleged tenant discrimination to his strident reaction to the Central Park Five.

The entertainer has long spoken about minority groups with the outdated formulation involving a definite article: “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks,” he said in 2011, using language that undermined his claim. He’s said similar things about “the Hispanics.”

Changing the way Trump speaks about African Americans and Hispanics won’t solve his problems with those groups, but if he wishes to unify the country, beginning to speak about them as though they are part of the American populace would be a good place to start.