As the Democratic Party remains in the coma it entered in November 2016, President Trump is performing his greatest magic trick.
And he’s doing it right under their noses.
Anyone who thinks Trump’s decision to pardon boxer Jack Johnson and commute Alice Marie Johnson’s unfair sentence wasn’t part of a greater plan is delusional.
Donald Trump is wooing black voters.
He doesn’t really have to do much.
He does it by inviting the presidents of some of the nation’s historically black colleges to gather in the Oval Office for a photo-op and watch them do it, because their schools are struggling or dying.
He does it by freeing the Johnsons — freeing the history of Jack and commuting the sentence of Alice.
Anyone who thinks that Trump didn’t gain some black votes by those recent actions doesn’t understand the power of connecting with the disconnected.
In Detroit, and other urban areas — where we can’t get more than 14% to 20% of registered voters to turn out for a municipal election and where many people still love Kanye West (though he thinks slavery was a choice) or R. Kelly (who is avoiding jail by inexplicable means) — Trump might be resonating.
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And now he’s considering pardoning Muhammad Ali, who doesn’t need his support, but that won’t stop Trump from claiming that he saved his reputation. The Supreme Court overturned Ali’s draft evasion conviction in 1971. Six years later, President Carter pardoned every objector who declined the draft.
After Trump floated the pardon idea, Ron Tweel, lawyer for the boxer’s estate and his widow, Lonnie, issued a statement: “We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”.
It is one more distraction, among a series of distractions from federal investigations that Trump has tried. He also has tried threatening to fire people. He has even raised the idea of pardoning himself.
But, fearing little, he’s now working on his re-election campaign.
Oh, you missed that? Most people did. When Trump announced, it was barely a blip on the national radar. He announced it while being federally investigated and waving off charges that his family is benefiting from his being in office. He had raised $10 million by April.
And the NAACP didn’t march.
And the Urban League didn’t put out a statement.
And in Detroit, no one said a word.
While the Democratic Party is sleeping, focused on winning November’s midterms rather than uniting behind a single 2020 candidate to challenge Trump, the president is wooing black voters with the help of Kim Kardashian, who’s married to the Mad Rapper and has millions of Twitter followers, many of whom are black.
Trump is succeeding at something few people thought possible. He is getting some black people to compare him to Barack Obama. Obama didn’t get Alice Johnson out of jail. Obama didn’t pardon Jack Johnson, even though Ken Burns asked him to and produced an entire documentary explaining why.
Trump isn’t killing the Republican Party.
He is killing the Democratic Party.
He is single-handedly making people forget the strength and resilience and heart of the party that once tried to define itself as the place for the little guy, for the left-outs, for the have-nots.
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He is making people forget that the Democratic Party champions programs for the descendants of the enslaved while the GOP attempts to convince us that slavery wasn’t as big a deal as we have been taught.
A fellow columnist approached me at my book signing to recount his wife’s experience at their child’s school. The subject was slavery, and the teacher said to the class, “If slaves were property, do you think that people would beat up their cars or take care of them?” His wife reported it to the principal, but what if that teacher is among thousands trying to teach that crap, damaging young black children in the process?
Trump is wooing black voters by accepting the friendship of people like comedian Steve Harvey, who believes that wealth is a choice, and Kanye, who believes that slavery was a choice.
By pardoning the Johnsons, Trump ramped up his efforts to woo black voters. I can imagine he thought pardoning Ali would connect him with many more.
Instead, he should ask Kardashian for the names of about 100,000 other people, mostly black, in prison for long terms that were inhumane. There are plenty of folks who could deserve what he gave Alice Johnson.
Donald Trump, who’s not the best businessman and maybe not the best husband, is the best modern reality star of all time.
And now he’s performing his biggest trick: convincing people that he cares more about black people than the Democratic Party. This, after he convinced poor people that he’s better for them than any party.
If they’re not careful, the Democrats will look up and realize that the black base they’ve taken for granted for decades might not be as enthusiastic as in the past. It’s not that they might vote for Trump. But they may not vote against him.
That gives Trump his second term, and should give us all pause.
And Trump’s second biggest magic trick, after being elected, will be complete.
Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, where this piece first appeared, and author ofThe Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery. Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.