There’s another way to look at Trump’s statements, though, and that’s to place them in a long line of rationalizations for discriminatory policy wrapped in the language of concern for its targets.
Like much of what comes out of Trump’s mouth, his “outreach” to black voters is full of lies and exaggerations. As my colleague Andrew McGill writes, that includes homicides among black Americans are at historic lows, more black students are graduating from high school, and unemployment among black Americans is dropping. That’s not to say that black Americans no longer suffer disproportionately from poverty, substandard schools, and crime. But black communities are not the urban hellscapes portrayed in Trump speeches.
His speeches do not characterize white communities in the same way. On the contrary, he consistently tells white voters that their problems are the result of a “rigged system” and the machinations of corrupt elites. He tells them “I will fight for you,” He reassures them that he “has very special place in my heart for those who make a living as tradesmen, craftsmen and construction workers,” he tells them how he feels “more comfortable around blue collar workers than Wall Street executives.” He does not tell them they are violent, stupid and jobless. He doesn’t do this because he actually wants them to vote for him.
Trump has made a rhetorical commitment to pluralism, promising: “When I talk about making America great again, I'm talking about making it great again for everyone.” Trump’s policies, though, including mass deportation at gunpoint, stop and frisk, racial profiling, and a ban on Muslims entering the country, are commitments to use the vast power of the federal government to engage in discrimination against people of color and religious minorities.
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s outreach has not moved the needle among black voters. But neither is Trump’s outreach mere reassurance to white voters that he is not prejudiced against people of color. It is something far more insidious, an incessant reiteration of the worst stereotypes about black people. Trump has taken racist beliefs about black Americans––the idea that blacks are violent, uneducated, unemployed criminals––and repackaged them as expressions of concern about the problems of crime, poverty, and education.
In this way, Trump reminds many of the white voters who comprise his base that he shares their perceptions about who people of color are––immigrants and blacks are criminal, Muslims are terrorists––while deflecting accusations of racism by framing those generalizations as promises to improve their lives. He is reminding his supporters that they are better than Those People, while showing them how to express their prejudices as a kind of affection.
Trump is hardly the first person to do package racism as concern for the well-being of people of color––it is a rhetorical technique that predates the abolition of slavery.