A Black Trump Supporter Weighs In

The candidate in Virginia today (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last night, in chapter #81 of the Trump Time Capsule series, I argued that Donald Trump’s recent “outreach” to black voters amounted to talking about African Americans as a problem group, rather than to them as part of the “us” of America.

Reader Jamie Douglas, who is black, writes in to disagree. I am leaving in some of the complimentary things he says about non-Trump articles I’ve written, because they provide context for what he doesn’t like in my recent political coverage. After his message I’ll summarize why I see things differently.

Over to Jamie Douglas:

I’ve read many of the articles you published about the new China.  I lived in Sichuan and Guizhou for several years (from about 2000-2005) and your articles, I felt, focused on things that Americans really needed to understand about where China was and is headed.  Other journalists spent way too much time in Beijing writing about the machinations of the Communist party, and in doing so, they missed the real story.

I’m not writing today about anything related to China. Rather, what concerns me is your coverage of Donald Trump. I’m a black American from New York. My parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Grenada in the 1960s. And I wholeheartedly support the Trump campaign.

You’ve made it clear that you think Trump would be a disaster and that he has to be stopped. Trump inspires strong feelings, and from what I knew of you, I would have been shocked had you not been strongly opposed to his campaign.

I’m surprised, though, by how willing you are to do the easy thing and focus on Trump’s many gaffes, his off-putting braggadocio, and his very nontraditional tactics. There is a bigger story here and I’m still waiting for a journalist of your stature to address it. I believe that someone capable of writing something as honest and introspective as, “What Did You Do In the Class War, Daddy?”  is very much able to produce a similar piece honestly analyzing Trump’s appeal and the visceral dislike that you and your colleagues in the media feel for him.  

***

To your credit, you’ve acknowledged that you were badly mistaken when you dismissed Trump’s chances of becoming president. [JF note: see this item, from nearly six months ago.]  I remember the blog post you wrote about it. Your reasoning seemed to boil down to the following: “No one fitting this candidate’s profile has ever come close to winning. Therefore he cannot win.” I would have thought that your failed prediction would have left you chastened and at least made you wonder about what else you might be missing about Trump.

Instead, you’ve taken a fairly tone deaf approach in your Trump Time Capsules. Like your latest one about Trump’s “What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?” comments. Illegal immigration has badly hurt the employment prospects and cultural standing of black Americans. I cannot see how any serious person could argue otherwise. Likewise, the victimology that the Democrats have been pushing for more than 50 years has had a deleterious effect on black Americans’ economic and cultural progress.

I’ve seen this firsthand. My parents and the other black West Indians who flooded into New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s came with little more than the clothes on their back. In a fairly short amount of time, however, they had already exceeded the achievements of the native black population. Similar things can be said about the Nigerians who came to the U.S. during those years. Same genetic stock, different mindset, different results.

As for the “total catastrophe” remark that Trump made about the situation black Americans are in, many reasonable people think this is true. And frankly, whether it’s true or not, will blacks make more progress thinking that their situation is horrific and that they really need to improve, or that things are alright and they just need to tweak a few things?  In any case, by continuing to harp on Trump’s blunt and imprecise language, you continue to miss the forest for the trees.  

***

I thank Mr. Douglas for his care in making his case. There is more here than I can try to address right now, including the relations (and sometimes tensions) between Caribbean-origin black immigrants and black families who have been in the U.S. for generations or centuries. But to summarize, I will say:

  • I understand the distinction between talking about Trump the man, and talking about “Trumpism” the phenomenon.
                                                                                                              
  • I think there’s been a lot of journalistic attention to the phenomenon, and will be more—up until the election, and thereafter.
                                                                                                              
  • I have paid attention to the man himself, because I think his traits are significant in two ways. First, his ignorance and temperamental instability put him outside the range for potential presidents, in my view. Second, I sincerely believe that his demagogic skills have themselves been important in whipping up hostilities that otherwise might not have taken their current form.
                                                                                                              
  • I say this on the basis of having reported in a lot of “Trump’s America” over the past three years, and having seen reactions very different from those at a Trump rally. That’s what my wife Deb and I saw most recently in western Kansas, as reported here (most people there will vote for Trump, but they are not furious or exclusionist in the way he is) and also in the challenged industrial town of Erie, as we’ll start reporting this week.
                                                                                                              
  • Why am I, personally, hostile to Donald Trump as a public figure? Because the things I value most about our country, and the qualities I most respect in public leaders, are the things he has gone out of his way to attack and demean. I believe that the country, despite its acute and obvious problems, is in an improving rather than deteriorating stage of its history—and that its ability to embrace multitudes and thrive from diversity is its fundamental strength. This is not the Trump vision, and not what a vote for him represents.

That’s all for now. Thanks to Jamie Douglas for his note.