“What do you have to lose?” This was the question Donald Trump robustiously put to blacks in America in an appeal for our vote in the 2016 presidential election. This was the question he posed after having declared, “African Americans and Hispanics are living in hell. You walk down the street and you get shot.” This was the question he lobbed at African Americans after attempting to publicly demean our Civil Rights leader and icon, Congressman John Lewis by falsely characterizing him as “all talk, talk, talk-no action or results. Sad!”
Donald Trump promised that in exchange for the black vote he would design and implement an agenda replete with policies and programs that would strengthen predominantly African American communities socially and economically. He proclaimed that the actions of his administration would lead to better jobs, quality education, equal justice for all, and safe communities. In quintessential Trump fashion, he declared his agenda a “New Deal for Black Americans.”
As we approach the one year anniversary of the election of Donald Trump – an election in which eight percent of Blacks, though not a majority but still a significant number, voted for him, it behooves us to ask, “How’s this working out for us?”
Well let's see. In the matter of jobs, Donald Trump’s first federal budget proposal calls for the dismantling of workforce training programs such as Job Corps, a program which has benefited black youth for decades. He continues to punt to the states on the issue of raising the minimum wage, which would help put more money in the pockets of African Americans and African American communities.
Concerning education, his appointed Secretary, Betsy DeVos, who, with little experience and knowledge about public education, is advancing a plan to improve school quality through school choice via charter schools and vouchers, despite extensive research indicating that choice plans foster segregation in the schools and that only four percent of charter schools have demonstrated improvement in educational attainment over traditional public schools. Additionally, Secretary DeVos is reducing the Department's investigation of civil rights complaints in schools and universities, despite the proven effectiveness of these investigations in calling out racial discrimination and the disproportionate criminalization of black and brown children by schools across the nation.
As for demonstrating a commitment to principles of equal justice, the President’s appointment of former Alabama state attorney and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General signaled that previous efforts under the Obama Administration to address and overcome systemic unfairness and injustice experienced by blacks would likely come to a screeching halt. And, indeed, it has. Wasting no time in his first months, Jeff Sessions, who has a history of opposing voting rights and showing contempt for civil rights efforts, has renewed America’s War on Drugs, which has been the greatest contributor to mass incarceration and the destabilization of predominantly African American, low income communities. Sessions has also assembled a team of lawyers to investigate and challenge affirmative action practices at colleges and universities that are alleged to harm white applicants. And, Sessions has slowed down the enforcement of consent decrees in several cities to address systemic biases against communities of color by law enforcement.
Despite Trump's assertion that he would make our challenged communities safe, as president he has proposed a budget that would further destabilize them. By cutting the Community Development Block Grant, our communities stand to lose millions of dollars in funding for economic development, affordable housing, youth jobs, infrastructure, and disaster relief. He also has proposed a dramatic cut in funding for The Legal Services Corporation, which works with low-income individuals, many of whom are African American, on housing issues to prevent eviction and foreclosure.
As if all of this were not enough, Trump’s unrelenting desires to undermine and overturn President Obama’s legacy wherever possible, particularly as it concerns healthcare in America is equally detrimental to the social and economic well-being of our communities. As a result of President Obama’s leadership, 2.3 million African Americans gained healthcare coverage. Now with Trump’s and the GOP’s antics, their coverage is at risk.
With Donald Trump as our president, the African American community is poised to lose and lose big. We continue to witness his lack of moral leadership in the face of racism and violence. He continues to tell us who he is with every negative tweet. The Trump Administration’s “New Deal” sets the stage to take us back, way back to the days where treating African Americans as second class citizens was not just legal, but acceptable.
And so, I ask, how’s that working for us? How’s that working for you? And what are you going to do about it?
Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq., is the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director at FPWA. Her guest column is sponsored by the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.